I’m not sure how God feels about our having favorite books of the Bible. It’s not like any of his words are throw-aways. Perhaps such preferences betray certain kinds of immaturity in us, not being able to see more glory in books we consider somewhat boring or confusing. But I must confess, I do have my favorites. And the epistle to the Hebrews is one of them. I love Hebrews for many reasons. I love how it radiates with the transcendent glory of God the Son.
I love its magisterial grasp of how the old covenant is fulfilled and surpassed by the new covenant. And I love the beautiful, compelling portrait of the cloud of witnesses, who by their remarkable examples call us to live by faith in the unfailing promises of our faithful God. I also love Hebrews because it is a letter to weary Christians, some of whom are standing right on the cliff’s edge, tempted to “throw away [their] confidence, which has a great reward” (Hebrews 10:35).
I’ve been there: weary, disillusioned, full of doubts about the reality of it all, seriously wondering if being a Christian was worth the fight. I too have wondered if it’s all just a house of cards, if life on earth really is just an anomalous, absurd blip of desperate turmoil in a purposeless universe destined to burn out. And gazing at the cliff’s edge, God used this precious book to keep me from tossing over my confidence in him, the Great Reward. I trust he will pardon my partiality for Hebrews.
Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:12–13)
Lift? Strengthen? Make? Those don’t sound like relief words; they sound like work words. If our faith is already lame, won’t these increase our weariness and pain rather than heal us? No, they won’t. Or at least, if they make us weary and wince, it will be for healing purposes. Under the Great Physician’s inspired direction, the author of Hebrews is instructing us on faith-rehabilitation. Ask anyone who has experienced successful post-operation or post-injury rehabilitation on a knee, and they will tell you that rehab was both hard and necessary for the knee’s healing and restored strength and function. It is similar with injured faith. Some rest and recuperation may be needed. But soon, usually sooner than we wish, our divine Doctor wants us in rehab, where we begin working to restore damaged faith through various kinds of faith lifting and strengthening. Typically this experience is hard and uncomfortable and can push us to our limits.
Every patient in a knee-rehab program has to develop and follow a recovery plan so that the knee will continue to strengthen and avoid re-injury. The faith-recovery equivalent is, “Make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (Hebrews 12:13). We need to remember that the verses leading up to Hebrews 12:12–13 are all about the discipline of the Lord. That’s what a faith-rehab plan is — a disciplined approach to restoring and strengthening faith. And this is a helpful way to understand the purpose for what we call the Christian (or spiritual) disciplines.
A number of things probably come to your mind when you read “spiritual disciplines.” But David Mathis, in his excellent book Habits of Grace, wonderfully summarizes the disciplines in three simple phrases: 1) hear God’s voice (soak in his words), 2) have God’s ear(learn to really pray), and 3) belong to God’s body (enjoy the full benefits of biblical fellowship). These three overarching disciplines, or types of exercises, comprise God’s primary faith-rehab program, the way his weak and often weary people work on lifting their drooping hands, strengthening their weak knees, and making straight paths for their feet. None of these exercises is easy; all of them produce discomfort. But under the skilled supervision of our Great Physician, they work together for the progress and joy of our faith (Philippians 1:25). Or as the author of Hebrews puts it,
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)
Chances are you are among the massive majority of Christians who rarely or never fast. It’s not because we haven’t read our Bibles or sat under faithful preaching or heard about the power of fasting, or even that we don’t genuinely want to do it. We just never actually get around to putting down the fork.