Recently the themes of endurance and perseverance have seemed prominent in my study of Scripture and in the books I’ve been reading. It has become glaringly apparent to me how little this is truly appreciated by much of the church in America today. Thus, it would do us well to be challenged in this particular area of our faith.
John Piper, in his book entitled “Roots of Endurance” (from the Swans are not Silent series), offers as clear and precise an evaluation of our culture as I have read in some time. He says this: “One of the pervasive marks of our time is emotional fragility. It hangs in the air we breathe. We are easily hurt. We pout and mope easily. We blame easily. We break easily. Our marriages break easily. Our faith breaks easily. Our happiness breaks easily. And our commitment to the church breaks easily. We are easily disheartened, and it seems we have little capacity for surviving and thriving in the face of criticism and opposition….When historians list the character traits of America in the last third of the twentieth century, commitment, constancy, tenacity, endurance, patience, resolve, and perseverance will not be on the list. The list will begin with an all-consuming interest in self-esteem. It will be followed by the sub-headings of self-assertiveness, self-enhancement, and self-realization. And if we think that we are not children of our times, let us simply test ourselves to see how we respond when people reject our ideas or spurn our good efforts or misconstrue our best intentions. We all need help here. We are surrounded by, and are part of, a society of emotionally fragile quitters.” Piper then goes on to challenge his readers to expose themselves to the men and women of God that have gone before us who have endured in the midst of deeply trying circumstances.
Others have seen the same. D. A. Carson notes, “Great endurance and patience: the expression suggests both the kind of stamina that gets under a burden and carries it with enduring fortitude, and the kind of stamina that knows how to possess its soul in patience. Those are not virtues that are popular in our age. We extol champagne: lots of fizz and a pretty good high, but having no nutritional value for the long haul. In an age when tempers are hot, quick solutions are ardently courted, success is revered, victory is cherished, independence is lauded, and easy triumphs are promised, great endurance and patience at first glance seem like less than stellar qualities.”
These observations ring with much truth to me. About a year ago I remember watching a 20/20 special which examined the challenges being faced by many business owners in relation to the new work force. Unlike their predecessors, this generation of Americans appears to be less motivated and easily bored. In an attempt to better understand why this happens to be this way, one of those interviewed remarked that this generation grew up with rooms full of participation trophies (so to speak). His point was this: this generation of adults are used to being rewarded simply for showing up. In attempt to keep from hurting anyone’s feelings, every child was given an award/trophy. Hence, they are not used to being challenged in order to earn good things. They have been given to them so that they will not feel bad about themselves (Piper’s little self-esteem comment fits nicely here). Likewise, anyone who keeps up with current news can hardly go a week without seeing a celebrity or athlete or politician apologizing for a remark that hurt someone’s feelings. The verdict is this: we are truly a culture with no backbone. Tap us and we crumble. Mix a little difficulty in there and we fold. We have cultivated a generation of babies.
Piper is right. To pretend that this cultural climate does not press in on us is to display tremendous naivete. It does. We can see it in the way we respond to life’s situations. I work with college students (primarily Christian college students), a stage of life marked by a great many unique elements, as young people transition into adulthood (a process that has become severely lengthened in the last 30 years however! Every parent with a 25 year old still living at home knows what I’m talking about. Or a 30 year old.). I observe their lives as they traverse new challenges and new circumstances. Endurance does indeed seem a precious commodity at times. We are easily broken.
In light of this, we must not pretend that there are not some healthy examples of great endurance and determination in our midst. I know several in my church as well as several on the collegiate ministry team I work with that are examples for me and others. Students I have worked with in the past as well as presently also come to mind. I treasure their faithful witness to this great command in Scripture. I can think of a couple of people right now who are far more qualified to write of these things than I am because they have lived these commands out far more faithfully than I have. Unfortunately, however, this is not the prevailing spirit of our age, both outside of the church as well as within.
What then must we do to be people who defy these tragic tendencies? Several things:
First, we must remember that the life of the Christian is accomplished through the gracious working of God’s Spirit, not some great untapped human potential that lies within us. Motivation is not the key, surrender is the key. Coming to the end of ourselves and discovering the sufficiency of Christ is at the heart of all Christian triumph and the same is true here. So we must recognize dependence on the Spirit of God for this type of consistent, patient, joyful, endurance to the end in our lives.
Second, we must acquaint ourselves with the weight given to this particular command in Scripture. It fills its pages. It is not an expendable part of Christian faith, but an essential element. James begins his epistle (rather abruptly I might add) with a lengthy exhortation to endure. Indeed one might describe James’ epistle as clarifying what true faith looks like. And the first place he goes is to endurance. True faith must be enduring faith. In fact, James asserts that trials are essentially Christian cross-training. They are the battlegrounds upon which perseverance is nurtured and strengthened. Hebrews 12:3 tells us to consider Christ, who endured such great opposition from sinful men, so that we will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1, just prior to that, commands us to run with perseverance. In 2 Timothy 4:7 Paul speaks of fighting the good fight, finishing the race, keeping the faith. Romans 5:3-4 says that our sufferings produce perseverance, our perseverance character, and our character hope. There are many more, but hopefully you get the point. The doctrine of eternal security has historically been understood as the perseverance of the saints. It’s not that we somehow get stamped when we a pray a prayer and then we can just sort of stumble in and out of whatever we want and then get into heaven one day. True salvation manifests itself in perseverance, enduring to the end, even through trial and tribulation (which again, are not communicated to be optional in Scripture, but are sure).
Third, we must expose ourselves to examples of enduring faithfulness. We should seek both to know those who have gone before us, as well as those in our midst. Their witness to us is critical to the seriousness and diligence with which we approach our own endurance.
Fourth, we must pray. Paul prays for the Colossian believers in Col. 1:11 , that they may have great endurance and patience, having been strengthened with all power according to His glorious might. We must pray for God to allot a great portion of His grace and strength to us, that we might have endurance that pursues excellence and displays joy and labors for the gospel until the end. We must not forget that this kind of endurance is not normal, it is supernatural, thus we need supernatural strength to accomplish it. If it is His power that produces such endurance, then we must faithfully beseech God for it!
There are many other things that would obviously serve us well in our commitment to endure, but these are a few thoughts that hopefully will prove useful to those whose hearts yearn to have roots that run deep, so as not to be easily uprooted. Whose souls hunger to be steady, not easily tossed to and fro. Whose thoughts treasure the future expectation of a crown of life for those who persevere to the end. Whose spirits might be bent, but are never broken. Whose hands and feet and eyes and mouths labor tirelessly so as to finish the calling entrusted to them.
Let it be said of us that our hearts were strong and not weak. Fixed and secure, not rickety. Unwavering even in the storm, not quick to jump overboard. Faithful to the end. May we hunger and thirst for these in a day when their value is ignored, for there is a heavenly city that awaits where their value will be acknowledged and their worth cherished forever more.