Sunday, January 8, 2017

PERSEVERANCE

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing (2 Timothy 4:7-8 NAS). 

PERSEVERANCE 

In the woods in back of the farm where I was raised are the ruins of an old farming homestead. The house and small barn of the old place have now long since collapsed, leaving nothing but the rotting logs of the buildings.

When I was a boy however, the shell of the old log house was still standing, shaded by tall hemlock trees by its side. The roof of the house had mostly fallen in, and the floor had been torn up by some kids who had heard the boyhood tale that the family that once lived there had buried some treasure under the floor boards. There was no glass in the window sashes of course. I am sure they were the first things to be broken.

The fields around the house were grown up in poplars and alders. The fence rows of stone that once had surrounded the fields had also long ago toppled, and trees grew through the stones. The farmstead had a look of total abandonment.

As a young lad, I would often meander around this old site and wonder about this family who lived there before I was born. Did they have boys like me who liked to explore the woods and walk along the creeks? Did the small children run out to the field at noon to tell their Dad that it was time to come in for dinner? The truth actually was that the family did not live there very long. They made a beginning, but after only several years at the farm, they moved on to a different life.

I am sure that this move from their farm was not their plan from the beginning. They certainly would not have put so much effort into building a house and barn, clearing the land and digging a well, if they had not planned on staying long. The beginning that they made was one of permanency.

I do not know the particulars of what happened to this family or what circumstances occasioned their departure. Perhaps they had to endure death or some other tragedy that had caused their plans to change. I mean no criticism of the abandonment of their plans, but it has taught me a lesson of permanency.

Procrastination

Good beginnings are important. We sometimes procrastinate in starting a project because we know that it will involve a commitment of time and effort. This procrastination needs to be overcome and the work needs to begin. This is what my own Dad meant when he used to say that a job well started is a job half done.

But a good beginning is not enough, as the abandoned farmstead testifies. It is not enough to simply overcome procrastination, because procrastination has a brother named discouragement. Procrastination may keep us from beginning a task, but even if we manage to overcome procrastination and begin, it is discouragement that will bring thoughts of abandonment.

There are very few tasks of consequence that can be carried to completion on the strength of a strong beginning alone. Because of this, we must also come to know another pair of brothers. Just as we saw that procrastination has a partner in discouragement, so must initiation of a task look for an ally. He has found one in perseverance. 

Perseverance

A good beginning needs to be coupled with perseverance in order for the task to be finished. Perseverance is what the apostle Paul had in mind when he said, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary” (Galatians 6:9 NAS). In speaking of reaping, Paul brings to mind a farmer who, if he keeps to the task, will in the end be able to benefit from the harvest of his crop.

The illustration of a farmer growing his crop is a good one because having a successful growing season requires constant effort until the crop is ready to be harvested. If the farmer were to give up the first time some weeds started to appear, or the first time he saw an insect attacking his crop, he would not harvest a bountiful crop. It is only by constant effort that he is able to see abundance in the harvest.

In fact, this agricultural illustration is so applicable that James also uses it in his writing, urging his readers to be patient. 

See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy (James 5:7-11 NIV). 

Many times the New Testament writers encourage their readers to hold fast to the teachings and not to become discouraged. 

But Christ was faithful as a Son over His house – whose house we are if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end…For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end (Hebrews 3:6, 14 NAS). 

For God is not so unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name…And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end (Hebrews 6:10-11 NAS). 

In Addition to Endurance…

But even endurance alone in not enough to bring us to completion. The endurance must be coupled with the ability to overcome even very great discouragement, for if the task is a worthy task, this level of great discouragement will surely come. The writer of Hebrews, intending that his readers not take his words about endurance too lightly, shared what some have had to suffer. 

...Others were tortured, not accepting their release so that they may obtain a better resurrection. And others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground (Hebrews 11:35-38 NAS). 

Few have known better than the apostle Paul what is required for one to endure and persevere. He says, “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake (2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 11 NAS).

How was Paul ever to keep rising above the formidable difficulties that he constantly faced? For one thing, he knew his call was from God, and if he was to continue, that power must also come from God.

Paul told his readers, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels (speaking of the earthen vessel as his own body), so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7 NAS). 

Begin Again

What is more, Paul also knew that perseverance is really a series of new beginnings. Discouragement may make one give up and surrender. It is then when we call on the need to initiate again. It once again requires us to overcome procrastination.

When are weary in our task and discouragement comes knocking at our door to cause us to quit, it is perseverance that we should send to answer the door.

Perseverance brings with it the strength to begin again. It is perseverance that enables us to renew our strength.
 
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:16-17 NAS). 

The Task Must be Worthy of our Effort

There is one more thing. To persevere, one must have goals that are worthy of the perseverance. If one feels that the goals that he has do not merit the discouragement and the sufferings necessary to achieve those goals, one will not continue.

Paul was convinced that his own goals for which he was striving were worth every difficulty that he encountered. He continues, “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things that are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18 NAS).

It is exactly for this reason, when the writer of Hebrews was telling of the sufferings of many who had been able to endure through it all, he added the parenthesis to describe these individuals, “[these were] men of whom the world was not worthy.”

If the goals of these men and woman would have been merely worldly goals, they would not have been able to persevere. “But as it is,” the writer says, “they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:16 NAS).

The world can never be worthy of men and woman who have their sights set on a heavenly kingdom. 

Our Goals are not Worldly Goals

It may be possible to abandon farms or other endeavors of this world when it becomes evident that they are not worth the effort one is putting into them. This might be true in some of our worldly pursuits. When one comes to a realization that an endeavor or a task of this world can only come to an undesirable end, it may be best to abandon the effort.

It is because some things of this world simply are not worth the effort that we have such clichés in our everyday parlance such as “to cut one’s losses” or “to give it up as a bad job.” No doubt, the family that began the farm in the woods in back of our house had decided this.

However, if the goal is a heavenly one, there is no amount of discouragement that should come between us and that to where we have set our sights. We look to things that are eternal. The world is not worthy of such things.

“The one who endures to the end will be saved”  (Matthew 24:13 NLT)

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