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A Lesson on Perseverance

When I think about the word perseverance I picture the running man.

“The running man,” as I’ve come to call him, is an older gentleman in my local area who has been pounding the pavement for as long as I can remember. He is tall, lanky and, by now, quite old. Although I’m not sure how old he is precisely (it would be improper of me to roll down my car window and ask), my best guess is early to mid-seventies. Despite his age, the running man has never abandoned his exercise routine which just so happens to be a long distance run along some of the busiest roads not far from my house.

For decades, I’ve spotted this man out on his runs which he faithfully takes in every season and through all sorts of inclement weather. And, for decades, I’ve been wondering how much longer he can keep up this exercise. Even twenty years ago, when I first started noticing him, he ran at such a slow clip I feared he might keel over right then and there. From my perspective, the man’s labored stride looked unsustainable at best and dangerous at worst.

About ten years ago I noticed that the man’s running pace had declined into a forced prodding. As uncomfortable as it looked, I couldn’t help but admire his determination. Muscle degeneration, stiffness and aging couldn’t stop him from pressing upward and onward (both literally and figuratively since his running route covered quite a few hills). And, yet, he refused to be deterred or defeated. Even if he had to move slowly, the running man was clearly determined to keep moving.

I truly didn’t believe that the running man could get any slower or become any clearer a picture of perseverance – until yesterday.

To call what I saw the man doing a “run” would be an inaccurate description of his arduous effort. In the past year since I last saw him out for his exercise, the running man’s pace has progressed from slow to snail. His every step is painfully strained and strenuous. Even from afar I could see his heavy breathing as he jerked his arms back and forth while shuffling his legs ever so slightly. And yet, he refused to be deterred or defeated. Even if he had to move slowly, the running man was clearly determined to keep moving.

The running man simply will not give up and that’s what makes him such a striking picture of perseverance. Webster’s defines perseverance as “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.” In other words, the refusal to quit just because it’s hard. To persevere is to press on even when the road ahead is wrought with challenges; push through pain and overcome discouragement. When a person perseveres, they keep moving forward even when it isn’t easy, and the progress made doesn’t look promising.

Most importantly, those who persevere know that speed is not the ultimate measure of success. Faithfulness is. Dedication is. Resoluteness is. Those who practice perseverance know that the true prize is the character developed on the way to the finish line.

Obviously, these perseverance principles are important for physical training, exercise and running but where they truly shine is in spiritual training.

As God’s word says, “physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things.” (1 Timothy 4:8) And key to godliness is perseverance. In order for God to strengthen the spiritual muscles of His people He must test and try them, just like a runner tests and tries his physical muscles. But if we, the spiritual runners, simply give up we will never reap the reward God has in store for us. If we hang up our spiritual sneakers, so to speak, we will miss all the blessings God longs to bestow upon as we press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus has taken hold of us. (Philippians 3:12)

But, you might be wondering, how is it possible to persevere? When the going gets extraordinary tough, how can weak and feeble people find it in themselves to keep going? Is it by our own effort? Are we supposed to soldier on in our own strength? I thought the Bible said we are supposed to be weak so God can be strong. How does that align with this perseverance talk?

The answer is found in James 1:2-4, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

The key to spiritual perseverance is joy. When we respond to our challenges with a sincerely joyful heart it is as if we are inviting the Holy Spirit’s overcoming power to come and indwell us. When we choose to rejoice in the fullness of faith instead of complaining and finding every excuse to give up, the Spirit of the living God begins to produce within us the fruit of perseverance. He sows the seeds of resolve and determination that, in time, work in us a harvest of spiritual maturation and completeness.

Beloved, even if the road ahead looks daunting and your spiritual legs feel exhausted, consider it pure joy. Rejoice and refuse to be deterred or defeated. Even if you have to move slowly, keep pressing on and into the challenges ahead knowing that God will use every labored step, no matter how small, to cultivate the fruit of perseverance within you to the glory and honor of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

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