In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins writes about Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was captured by the enemy during the Vietnam War. He was “the highest-ranking United States military officer in the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prisoner-of-war camp.” Tortured over 20 times during his eight-year imprisonment from 1965 to 1973, Stockdale lived out the war without any prisoner’s rights, no set release date, and no certainty as to whether he would even survive to see his family again. He shouldered the burden of command, doing everything he could to create conditions that would increase the number of prisoners who would survive unbroken, while fighting an internal war against his captors and their attempts to use the prisoners for propaganda.
At one point, he beat himself with a stool and cut himself with a razor, deliberately disfiguring himself, so he could not be put on videotape as an example of a “well-treated prisoner.” He exchanged secret intelligence information with his wife through their letters, knowing that discovery would mean more torture and perhaps death.
Collins had the chance to meet Stockdale, who now walks with a limp because “his stiff leg never fully recovered from the repeated torture.” Collins asked Stockdale how he could deal with the uncertainty of his fate and the brutality of his captors when he did not know the end of the story.
“I never lost faith in the end of the story,” he said. “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”
The community of faith in the book of Hebrews is facing an uncertain future. They have been waiting over sixty years for Jesus to return. They are tired. I can image many of them saying, “I didn’t sign on for all of this,” or “How much longer will we have to endure this waiting and not knowing?”
Paul writes to the Hebrew church, “Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart” (Hebrews 12:3). Paul writes to encourage them. Why? Because Paul never lost faith in the end of the story. He knew the resurrected Christ personally. He knew the hope that came from trusting, even the unknown. So…Paul holds the one perfect example before them…Jesus.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witness, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin that clings to closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
What encouragement do you need to face the future with confidence and hope? Is Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of your faith? Why? Why not?
No matter what we face…we do not lose heart!