Perseverance. I just can’t seem to get the word out of my head the last few days. It keeps coming up in different ways, almost playing a constant theme everywhere I look. My wife and I enjoy the show “American Ninja Warrior”, and so many stories of the athletes that compete there are all about perseverance. Just a couple of weeks ago, they aired their all-star challenge, and we got to see some of our favorites compete, and persevere through obstacles that they have never faced before. Some of them even got to compete and complete obstacles that had taken them our during the regular season a few months before.
My home town college basketball team, the East Tennessee State University Buccaneers from Johnson City, TN have shown some great perseverance this season. This past Monday evening they won the Souther Conference Tournament, earning a spot to play in the NCAA March Madness Tournament that kicks off next week. This was a team that only had one shot, winning their conference tournament, and they did so beating the number one seed UNCG team that had beaten ETSU twice already this season.
Even a movie that Kelley and I watched just a couple nights ago was full of the theme of perseverance. The 2001 film The Musketeer is a lesser know versions of the story often known as the “Three Musketeers”. In it, the main character perseveres through the hardships of life after his parents are murdered in front of him. He is trained in the ways of the Musketeers and travels to Paris to join them, only to find that they have been disbanded. Not to give away too much of the story if you haven’t seen the movie (or any of them), I’ll just say the rest of the story is about pressing on through hardship after hardship to accomplish his task. In other words, he continues to persevere.
Much of this life, especially as a Christ follower, is about perseverance. That’s why I have been noticing this theme all around me recently. Life may go smoothly for a while, but inevitably, it is going to get rough again at some point. Like I told our faith family this past Sunday, Jesus never promised following Him would be easy, only that it would be worth it in the end.
Much of this life is about perseverance.
The fact of the matter is life is not fair, easy, or smooth most of the time. How can we expect it to be easy when Jesus Himself said that we must take up our cross daily? Luke records Jesus’ words in Luke 9:23-26;
23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
So, without perseverance, without pressing on through all of life’s hardships, then we will just simply get overwhelmed. We are going to face trials of many kinds in this life. But we have to keep focused on Jesus. We have to be focused on the goal rather then what is going on around us at the time. Paul knew this first hand. He lived it. That is why I take so much comfort in his words to the church in Philippi. He starts out talking about how much he could have boasted in himself at one point in his life, but he realized that only in Jesus Christ is there anything to boast about. Then he wraps up this section by stating that he realizes that he hasn’t obtained this yet, but he is going to keep on pressing toward the goal. He writes in Philippians 3:1-14;
Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
We have to be focused on the goal rather then what is going on around us at the time.
That’s my goal. Forgetting what is behind me. The good and the bad things that I’ve accomplished in my life mean nothing if I don’t keep focused on the prize ahead. This life is a battle, and perseverance through Jesus Christ is the only way to get through it. Not only do I take comfort in the words of Paul here in Philippians, I take comfort in the idea that he accomplished his goal. Not that he was perfect, none of us will be. But his words to Timothy in II Timothy 4:6-8, near the end of his life, are words that I want to be able to echo in my own life. Paul writes;
6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store 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 longed for his appearing.
May we all press on, forgetting what is behind and strain for what is ahead. That’s the type of perseverance I long for in my life.