Publication: One-to-One, Summer 2010
DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO RUN LIFE’S RACE?
I recently had the privilege of being part of a celebration at Covenant Life Church in Atlanta. We rejoiced in the lives and ministry of John and Ellen Duke, on the occasion of his Fiftieth Anniversary in the ministry and almost twenty-three years as pastor there. It was a joyful event with numerous testimonies from family and friends regarding their influence upon so many people. I added my own stories about John and Ellen and our friendship since 1966. John has been a close friend and confidant.
It was a rich blessing to the many who gathered from a variety of places to enjoy the fruits of endurance. John and Ellen are certainly worthy of those accolades and rewards, having endured years and trials to see so many people so blessed. I could only pray that all the servants of God endure to that extent and enjoy the fruits of their service, and that other churches would honor their leaders in a similar way. Tragically, many of God’s servants never enjoy such an encouraging day.
I WOULD HAVE FAINTED
I chose for my text on that occasion Psalm 27, and specifically verse 13. David wrote, “I would have fainted unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” That is one of John’s favorite texts – and mine.
David might have said, “I could have fainted,” because he had many opportunities as he faced the lion, the bear, the giant, King Saul, or other adversaries. He could have, but he did not. He did not because he believed to see the goodness of God in this life. We all have opportunities to “faint” or draw back. But faith in our God’s goodness leads us to endure to see His goodness, and a season of reward for having endured.
Our newspaper recently carried an article and large photo of a 106 year-old woman. The article told how, in her younger years, she did a man’s work, plowing with mules in the field. “She could do anything a man could do,” her children said. “That’s what kept her strong.” Her toil through adversity built the character for endurance, and endurance, brought rewards (see Psalm 126:5-6; Romans 5:1-5).
God endures forever, and through faith in Him, David endured trials. He did not faint. Endurance is based upon faith in the One who endures. We need faith in the One who transcends our circumstance if we are to persevere. A faith in fickle objects, ideas, or people produces a fickle personality. Such “faith” produces people who faint in the day of adversity (see Proverbs 24:10).
A faith in fads fades when the fads fade. And they always do, leaving disillusionment in their wake.
Our God is no fad or fickle deity whose mind is ever-changing. I recently heard a story about a church whose pastors kept leaving after a few months. Finally they called a pastor who said that the Lord was leading him to become pastor and that he would stay for a long time. But alas, like the others after a short time, he got up to announce to the congregation that the Lord was leading him to leave. A man stood up in the back of the auditorium and said, “I have a prayer request.”
“What is it?” the pastor asked. “I want us to pray for God,” he said.
“Yes,” the man continued, “I want us to pray for God. He can’t seem to make up His mind. I want us to pray that He will make up His mind.”
This true story would be humorous, if it wasn’t so sad. Too often God is represented by us as being unstable, when in fact He is the eternal unchanging God (see Malachi 3:6). The world and the Church desperately need Him and true models of His evidence.
God endures; His Word endures. His truth, love, righteousness, judgments, His name, and all of His other attributes endure forever. He is not this subject of time and change. When heaven and earth pass away, He remains. Those who are anchored in Him should at the very least present stability to an unstable world. What God truly does stands the test of time and the tests that time will present.
Our current celebrity culture honors a lot of unproven ideas and personal lives that are unworthy of honor. Christians are too often involved in giving undeserved honor. Everyone seems to want their fifteen minutes of fame. Meanwhile, many who deserve honor go unnoticed, the people who day-in and day-out do their jobs in a way that makes society function. In God’s economy, endurance is one way to measure success (see Matthew 4:13-20). Without endurance, there is no fruitfulness, and that is another measure of success.
We get more of whatever we honor. Unfortunately, when we honor the wrong people or attributes, they get multiplied while the more deserving get discouraged. We need to rectify this. We place too much focus on “charisma” to the neglect of character. Charisma is only skin deep; character is to the bone. Charisma rubs off, but character holds on. We need to ask before we applaud, how long has this endured? Does it display character or mere charisma? Then we need to encourage those who do their tasks well and endure.
I honor my parents, not only because they were my parents, but because they persevered in marriage, parenting, service, and character. They were married 56 years prior to Mother’s passing. Dad pastored for more than 60 years. He was with his last pastorate for 35 years. They were never flashy, but always faithful. They kept their word, showed up on time, and remained in the hard times. So it was with my wife’s parents. I think it was more true of their generation than the current one. Given that endurance reaps, what does our future hold?
We are here enjoying the blessings of history because of those who endured. We are here because of our enduring Lord and those who served Him. As I read history, I am impressed by those who persisted through persecution, depression, deprivation, and temptation. They were pillars who did not crumble in life’s earthquakes, did not falter in the world’s floods, and did not faint in the heat of adversity.
I marvel at our Lord who endured the Cross, despising its shame. I admire Washington who
did not faint at Valley Forge or Churchill who did not draw back in the face of Hitler. Those who endured the most formidable odds are the ones who got us here, people like the soldiers who gave life and treasure to purchase our freedom. These are worthy of honor. When we neglect our own history, we do ourselves and our children a great disservice. When we rewrite our own history, we betray our very existence .
What if these to whom I refer had fainted in the day of adversity? What if Moses had fainted in the wilderness or David before the giant? What if our Lord Jesus had drawn back from the Cross? What if our forefathers had surrendered to adversity and hardship? Thankfully, we do not have to answer these questions.
But what if we faint in our current circumstance? That is a question we must answer, or our children will discover the horrible answers in the future. We face some tough choices during this economy and in this unstable culture. There are also tough personal issues that confront us. Can we endure to see a better future? Or will we fold up in the face of trouble? The difference between a rewarding future and a miserable one lies in how we answer.
THE STUFF OF ENDURANCE
Do we have the right stuff? The right stuff is beyond mere ambition or desire. Without preparation, we will no more likely succeed in perseverance than an amateur astronaut or a sandlot ballplayer in the big leagues. Ambition alone will take you well beyond your boundaries into disaster. But that need not be; the Lord desires to prepare us for a future that He sees, though we do not.
David says in Psalm 10:17, “Lord, you have heard the desire of the humble; you will prepare their heart.” Humility allows God to train us for the inevitable. He knows what it will take and when we will be ready to deal with what is coming. But pride propels us into areas for which we are sadly unprepared.
I was eager to drive when I was a boy. At age 12, I was trying to drive around our yard. At age 14, I was driving a truck delivering groceries. I was proud, but unprepared. My dad tried to warn me. “It takes a wreck to make a good driver,” he said. He was wrong about me-it took me more than one. It was only God’s grace that caused me to survive. Some will tell you that I’m still not a good driver!
Sometimes we must crash before humility comes, hopefully not too late. The Bible gives us many wise warnings about pride-the enemy of endurance. It goes before destruction (see Proverbs 16:18). It brings us low (see Proverbs 29:23). God brings it down (see Daniel 4:37). It deceives us (see Obadiah 3). It is not of God (see 1 John 2:16). Because of it, Lucifer lost his place (see Ezekiel 28).
Humility, however, brings dependence upon God and His promotion. It causes us to wait on the Lord and be encouraged (see Psalm 27:14). It causes us to mount up like eagles (see Isaiah 40:31). It brings God’s exaltation (see Luke 14:11). It enables us to run with patience (see Hebrews 12:1).
I love Hebrews 12. It gives us keys to endurance. Here are some:
• Patience is essential to endurance.
• Look to Jesus who epitomizes endurance.
• Look to the joy ahead that awaits endurance.
• Consider how Jesus endured unwarranted hostility.
• Consider what you haven’t had to do-shed blood to endure.
• Accept discipline as from God-it is preparation for endurance.
• Strengthen your hands and knees so that you can stand in the time of trouble.
• Keep on the straight path. Crooked roads make us vulnerable.
• Pursue peace and holiness. Loss of either can cost you.
• Avoid bitterness that defiles you and others.
• Don’t sell out at any price.
• Look to where we are going-to eternal places.
Revelation 12:11 adds other means to endurance:
• Know what the blood of Christ purchased for you.
• Know your testimony-the word of God.
• Love not your own life, even unto death.
All of these provisions are given for our endurance and all are gifts of God’s grace. Reliance and diligence are the two attitudes that assure our survival. Galatians 6:9 promises that we will reap in due time if we do not faint. Psalm 126:5-6 also promises that if we will continue to sow, even in times of tears, we will one day reap with joy.
My pastor, Ken Sumrall, was asked how he accomplished so much, building a large church, a Bible college, a mission society, and raising so many spiritual sons. His answer was simple and direct, “I didn’t quit.”
God helps and blesses those who endure. I saw that again as I participated in John Duke’s celebration. I felt that I, too, was reaping. In fact, we all were. When we honor what is worthy, we reap the rewards with those that we honor: the joy, the victory, and the fellowship of their achievement.
I didn’t play football last year, but my favorite team won the championship. I celebrated their victories and got a small measure of their joy. I was not John Duke, but I got a measure of his joy. I wasn’t Moses, but I rejoice at His endurance. I was not Washington, but I reaped some of his rewards. And of course, we didn’t have to die on a cruel cross, but, praise God, I enjoy the benefits now and forever!
Because of this, I have been inspired to keep on, to endure whatever cross I face, and receive a crown that does not fade away. This word will meet you wherever you are. In sobriety? Make another day. In a pastorate? Make another year. In a business? Find a way. In a marriage? Fight for it. Got kids? Don’t give up on them. Fighting a physical battle? Keep fighting in faith. Feeling weak? Seek the God of all power.
You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you (see Philippians 4:13). Humble yourself before God, cry out to Him, and He will lift you up and plant your feet on the Rock. We have a lot to do and must know that it is Christ in us, the hope of Glory (see Colossians 1:27). Be rooted in Him (see Colossians 2:6-7). Let His word dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another, keep raising spiritual sons (see Colossians 3:16).
Celebrate endurance, both in those that endure, and in your own life. Use the tools and show others how. Be a model. And when reaping time comes, be sure to give the Lord all the glory!
Scripture Reference: Psalm 27; Psalm 126:5-6; Romans 5:1-5; Proverbs 24:10; Malachi 3:6; Matthew 4:13-20; Psalm 10:17; Proverbs 16:18; Proverbs 29:23; Daniel 4:37; Obadiah3; I John 2:16; Ezekiel 28; Psalm 27:14; Isaiah 40:31; Luke 14:11; Hebrews 12:1; Revelation 12:11; Galatians 6:9; Philippians 4:13; Colossians 1:27; 2:6-7; 3:16