Our ‘devoted to’ series comes to an end next week… we have used Acts as a basis for this study, with a particular emphasis on 2:42 where we hear about the devotion of the early Christians and get a glimpse into how their lives looked.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
We have covered these four areas of Christian life which these early followers of ‘the way’ were devoted to…. the apostles teaching…. fellowship…. the breaking of bread…. And prayer…..
Today is ‘devoted to perseverance’…. that sounds tough and dreary…doesn’t it?...... like the... what were they called? The puritans or Quakers of old...those minimalist groups…. no hot water... no tasty food…. to keep going day after day... the drudgery…..
The word perseverance in the biblical sense is to bear a heavy weight… and to keep going
There is no doubt that we are called to persevere as Christians…. this is a good Christian characteristic…..and we will look at some of the passages which calls us to perseverance this morning……
But... as I try to get my mind around this concept a couple of questions are roused in my simple head….
Is persevering about survival? Is there a difference between perseverance and preservation? Is perseverance summed up in Jesus words in Luke 21? ‘Stand firm and you will win life”?......just stand firm….
How do we go about persevering?....
What is this weight we are meant to carry? What are we persevering in?....I need some specifics…. Just because I am going through something difficult,....does this mean I am persevering?
Will we all be asked to persevere?
Like prayer last week.....perseverance is something we all agree, is an important part of Christian life….. But it is different to prayer as many of us struggle with prayer, but perseverance is something that, if we were asked, most of would say that we are quite good at it……..
The first issue it is important to deal with is the misperception that perseverance is about hanging in there…. Sure there are times when we need to hang in there… to survive…. But this by no means encompasses the full meaning of perseverance….
In fact we often make the mistake of thinking that we are good at perseverance because we manage to get by….
Very often this just amounts to preservation which means to ‘stay safe’…. perseverance has nothing to do with staying safe, or keeping out of harms way…. In fact I would suggest that it is just the opposite…. those who persevere in the correct sense of the word tend to put themselves in harms way….
One of the great examples of perseverance in the Bible is the apostle Paul… just reading through Acts gives us an appreciation of what perseverance really is….
You have to love Paul’s summary description of his own life…. and his own perseverance...found in 2 Corinthians
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked
5 times...3 times…only pelted with stones once though….
He could have stayed at home and preserved, but he chose to persevere instead……. This means getting out there and doing something…perseverance is not about survival ...it is not preservation…….
Paul gives us advice about this in one of the most famous passages about perseverance ... found in Hebrews 12
12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
See how the runner here is not running to get away from something...this runner is not trying to escape from a lion or some other predator…. You only run in a race of your own free will…. You only run a race in order to achieve something…they run with a goal in mind….. otherwise you would just run for fun…. this runner is in a race….
We are not called to survive our lives here on Earth…. We are called to ‘achieve’ a goal...there is a race to be run..... we are to do ‘good works’ planned in advance for us to do….
This may sound like semantics, but if you and I do not have a purpose in mind as we strive through life without trying to achieve something worthwhile then any trial we face is just preservation and no perseverance is required….
I am not a very good runner, but there are a couple of things I can share about running…. It is difficult…. I have been running 5 days a week for the past two months…. trying to get my fitness back….
Running is sore…. I run until I am exhausted…. The other day…...look after me...
It is so sore that I am broken by the time I get home…. Every time….
If at any point of any run I thought that the purpose of that run was just to get home I would stop running and walk home…. In fact I would not get out of bed or pull my running shoes on… I would just never leave home…..purpose achieved…...why would anyone put themselves through that….
I can tell you I don’t do it just because my wife makes me…. I know you were thinking that… People who are forced to do something are lousy at persevering…. they look for the easiest way out...at best they preserve themselves…. They hang in there….
I don’t do it just because I love spending time with the boys….. If this was true I would run much slower and make sure we enjoyed the time together….
The goal has to be something specific...and something bigger….. Something worth all the effort…..
In fact, for me, I break it down….. In the short term, as I am climbing a hill and my legs are burning I concentrate on the fact that my leg muscles are getting stronger….. When my breathing is painful I keep my mind on how it is making my heart stronger……. When the boys lag behind or fall off their bikes i use it as a teaching opportunity to influence their approach to life…..
In the long term I am concerned about the advancing years and I want to be fit and healthy for my family….. This is my goal...
There is a popular motivational guy around on the internet, Simon Sinek… he has written a book called ‘The Infinite life’....He has stolen/borrowed some Biblical principles in his motivations….. His contention is that in order to be successful we need to live lives which look past ourselves and what we are doing right now….. We need to be looking to something bigger than ourselves… it seems that people are designed to thrive on the long view….
I take great encouragement from the genealogy of Jesus….. As we read through the list of names and we see Rahab, Ruth and Boaz...Jesse, David…. We get to see a glimpse of the infinite God we serve…. He has History in His hands….
My place in His plans is also important...the things I do in my life have eternal significance… what I do today impacts my own eternity and quite possibly those who I come into contact with…. Eternity…. How is that for a long view on life…..
As we go through life we cannot be seduced into thinking that how we feel right now should dictate our actions….. We have to have a much bigger eternal view of the World
A Christian who is trying to survive the Christian life….. Is going to be a very unsatisfied Christian….
This passage we read in Hebrew does not just say…. let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles….. It says ‘ let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,....’
Sometimes we cast off the things which hinder and they just climb back on again because we are standing right there next to them….. The verse says that we should cast them off and RUN...run…. As Christians our purpose is not to cast things off with perseverance...our purpose is to run…. to run with perseverance….
Run what?… the race set out for us…What is our race?.....Run your race!!! Seems so far off, so generic… what does this mean for me?
Your specific race is between you and God…. but he has a race for you… planned in advance for you to do….
We are told that God has planned ‘good works’ for us to do…. and this might be a good place to look for the unique race set out for us…..
I do think that these ‘good works’ are more obvious than we may think…. Looking after the poor… encouraging the downhearted…. Praying with the sick and those in trouble..... Serving in the local church…. Fulfilling our role in the family…. being the peacemaker… being an example of Jesus in the World…. When these things become our faithful purpose then God will reveal more of our race to us….
Paul gives a hint at his race in the passage we read in 2 Corinthians when he continues that section we read by saying: 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
Paul knows that his work is a passion for the spiritual health of all the churches he has had contact with…… this may very well be the best indicator of what our own work should be…. A concern for the spiritual health of our church and the people in it….. What can I do to grow and protect this church?
We run our race, we do our work…... so that we can experience the joy which is set before us…. There is a day when we will be in God’s presence...and there will be great joy and this is what we are working towards….. We too have a great joy set before us….
What are the things which are going to require perseverance…?
In these verses the writer makes reference to the opposition of sinners and rejection…. But for each of us these things may be different…. I have dodgy knees which at times slow me down… another person may have hamstring issues or a sore back….
As we run our race there will be tough times…...what are the things which may require us to persevere?
Jesus had to deal with the shame of the cross and opposition form sinners…. There may be times when we will need to endure opposition form sinners too…. or maybe we will need to deal with our own sin… maybe it will be doubt..our faith will be tested…..we need to persevere…. maybe there will be hardship, we may feel abandoned...we may need to endure through loneliness or loss….
These are all things which we will encounter on our run…..things which will hinder our work…..things we will have to persevere through…..
Then as a teacher I spend a good deal of time trying to convince children of a truth about perseverance, hinted at in Ecclesiastes 9
10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
11 I have seen something else under the sun:
The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.
We live in a World where talent and beauty and academic ability are highly valued…. Yes, even you…. We find ourselves saying things like, “If only I was as clever as so and so..’ I wish I was as pretty as….”..........’I won’t do this or that, because that other person is so much better at it than I could ever be’...... ‘they are so lucky’...... If only i had the same opportunities for an education…then i would be great….
Yes! Even in the church, we look up to people who are charismatic personalities and we admire those who are great speakers, we envy those with great Biblical knowledge….. We wonder at how some others teach the children….
While there is of course a danger in all this for those who have these perceived advantages in life…. The danger that they think they are better than others and this arrogance leads to horrific downfalls, but that is for another day….
The greatest danger of valuing natural ability and family advantage is that it gives the rest of us an excuse…. We love to use our lack of natural ability or our present circumstances as a reason for not being successful…. for not being involved….. for giving up...for not attempting something worthwhile…. That is for those who have the talent….
But the writer of Ecclesiastes says they have noticed that the those who achieve are not necessarily the strongest or the fastest or the most brilliant and learned…. But rather to those who work with all their might… those who keep going no matter what…. to those who persevere….
While the Bible points this out thousands of years ago, the scientific community are now coming to the same decision through wide ranging surveys of successful people…. it is now accepted that the trait most common, most indicative of success is perseverance or what the Americans call GRIT…
I suppose that the best way to look at it is that no matter what our innate talents are…. Perseverance will make the most of these talents ……
God’s word calls us to be devoted to perseverance……. so that we can be the very best that He has planned for us….
Okay so after considering these things you have decided that you would like to be better at persevering….. How do I do this?
There is bad news here…. James 1
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.
So perseverance is not a thing you either have or don’t..… it is something that grows, it develops….. It starts small and becomes something substantial in us…..
BUT we need to face trials and suffering in order for it to grow….
No thank you! I would prefer to avoid suffering and trials….. Thank you very much….
So there are two things here…. The one is that you cannot completely avoid these difficult things… this is life …..whether you are looking to follow God’s plan for your life or not…. The trials will just be different….
...there is only a choice…...perseverance comes through approaching these difficult things with the right attitude…. We can try to preserve ourselves by walking up the hills or we can keep our minds on the growth which comes from hardship……and keep going
The other thing is that quite often we expend a significant amount of energy avoiding hardship this is often the focus of our lives…..remembering that we are called to run, not to hide…..the more we go out and run the race set out for us the more we are going to come across hardship and suffering…. In a way we are looking for hardship and therefore growing in perseverance if we go out and run the race…..
This is not a uniquely Christian thing( mostly because the same God made us all) the more we go out and live life, the more we work, the more difficult situations we deal with the more competent we become….
But the outcome of perseverance in the Christian race is not just about competence it is something much more beautiful…..look at those verses again…..we will become mature and complete...not lacking anything …...and then of course hope….that stability and peace that comes with the deep understanding that our future is secure in Christ…
We often look to those who have been running the race for years and wonder about their sure footedness, their faith and wisdom….. These things are a result of persevering over a period of time and cannot be achieved in a short period of time…..
God’s will for us as Christians is that we need to get this notion of an easy life out of our minds and grow an understanding of our Christian life which values usefulness and growth above self preservation ….it will be tough, but God promises that those who persevere will receive life…. Real life a full life right here and right now…...and forever…
What a challenge to all of us to be committed...devoted to perseverance…..