The Olympics: The torch, the ceremonies, the medals, and the athletes. Night after night, we are engaged by the competition and by the inspiring background stories of the competitors. They have trained for years, investing endless hours in the gym, on the slopes or on the ice, just to compete here. Each one has a unique story, some of which are full of adversity along their paths to the Olympics – injuries, the deaths of family members, financial distress, etc. We are inspired by their ability to overcome their circumstances and to focus on the end goal: a medal.
Every person faces adversity at some point, and like these athletes, we must focus on the end goal.
One of my own challenges came in the form of my cancer diagnosis a few years ago. It was not life-threatening, but it still rocked my world. The Lord was gracious to me and used that experience to teach me about perspective, about where to place my focus. Many years ago, my great-grandmother, who was in her mid-nineties, had shared her perspective with me. She said, “Remember, we weren’t made to stay on this earth.” Her eyes were focused someplace else – on an eternal relationship with God.
How do we attain that eternal perspective?
Let’s face it, we are born thinking that we are the center of the universe, and the only thing that matters is having what we want. Our parents quickly teach us that we are not in charge. Then we grow up, leave home, and many of us revert to the idea that we are in charge of our destinies. But at some point, something unexpected will happen, making us fully aware that we are not in control, and causing us to ask the hard questions of life: “Why did this happen?” “Will I survive this?” “What’s the point?” “Why are we even here?” My cancer did that for me.
I was already a follower of Jesus when I was diagnosed with cancer, but I still felt pangs of fear as I faced surgery and possible follow-up treatments. Every time I thought about it, and the associated risks, I felt distressed. It was a burden I carried around for weeks between the diagnosis and the surgery, not telling my family about it until it was necessary because I didn’t want them to worry. The only person who knew was my husband. But God also knew.
During those weeks leading up to the surgery, God brought my attention to 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, which speak of the eternal perspective my great-grandmother had. These verses are still precious to me because they remind me to keep my eyes focused on what I was made for: eternity with Jesus.
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18).
Earlier in this chapter, Paul described the afflictions they had been enduring: they had been afflicted in every way, persecuted, and were always being given over to death for the sake of Jesus (see 2 Cor 4:8-11). The word for “affliction” here is also translated “tribulation” elsewhere in the New Testament, including references to the Great Tribulation that, according to Matthew 24:21, will be like nothing the world has ever seen. So, even though these afflictions are called “light” and “momentary,” they are serious, hard, and stressful things, like cancer. My cancer was hard for me to accept. But I just kept repeating to myself: “this is light and momentary, light and momentary…”
According to 2 Corinthians, these hard things, like cancer, grief, job loss, etc. happen for a very good reason: they are “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
These hard things in life are preparing something eternal for us.
How can we tap into that hope and live with confidence in that promise? 2 Corinthians 4:18 continues, “as we look…” Where are our eyes looking? Where are our thoughts focused? If we are looking at our circumstances, the things that we can see here, then we are only considering what is temporary. We must look beyond this life, beyond the temporary, beyond what we can see, and to the things that are unseen, for these are eternal.
One example I can think of is childbirth. It is hard. It is intensely painful. But it is “light” and “momentary” compared to the joy of parenthood. I’ve been a parent for nearly 25 years, but I was in labor for fewer than 24 hours if you add up all four of my deliveries. Part of what got me through each labor was thinking about the precious baby that I would hold in my arms when it was over. My eyes were focused on what was unseen (until he/she was finally born)!
Life is full of hard things.
Because God is good and works out all things for the good of those who love Him, we can know for sure that there is a reason He is allowing or even sending the hard things into our lives. First of all, we weren’t meant to stay here. Hardships remind us that there must be something better than this. Next, our afflictions are preparing for us an eternal glory that cannot compare with the hardship. But we must keep our eyes on the eternal.
Last summer, we were hiking with our grown children, and I was getting a little tired. I started to look at the path to see how much further we had to hike to reach the observation point and see this beautiful waterfall we had heard about. My eyes were on the path, my thoughts were about my fatigue. Then my son spoke these words of exhortation to me, “Come on, Mom. Eyes on the prize!” I needed to remember why we were hiking up the steep, winding and sometimes rocky path: to see the waterfall. I couldn’t see it yet – my eyes had to look past what I could see (the path) and to what I could not yet see (the waterfall).
That is the secret to facing hardships.
We must keep our eyes and thoughts focused not on this life and what we can see, but on that which we cannot see: Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (see Hebrews 12:2). He started a good work in us and He will finish it (see Philippians 1:6). The hardship is temporary. All of this life is temporary. But “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). As my son said to me, “Come on, Mom. Eyes on the prize!” So, I say to you: “Come on, everybody! Eyes on Jesus!”
Therefore…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (see Hebrews 12:1-2).