Publication: Pastoral Letter, March 2007
Dear Friend in Christ:
You may not believe this, but I recently watched an episode of “American Idol.” (I did so under duress!) I will not go into all of my reasons for watching, but it was informative. Because of the show’s great popularity, we must consider it an expression of our culture. I also looked at “YouTube” online. It, too, is an expression of our postmodern culture. Both expressions, among others, leave me concerned about how many among us view life and what their goals are.
Life is not a sprint to some meaningless, immediate goal of personal fulfillment; it is a marathon, a long series of challenges to be overcome. The ultimate prize belongs to the trained, the equipped, and the prepared; those whose objectives are worthy of ultimate effort.
That statement, which I believe to be correct, raises this issue: How do we deal with life when it becomes difficult? We all must answer that question at some point ahead. I turn to the Bible for answers because it has endured for thousands of years and can help me to endure and overcome life’s challenges.
VICTORY THROUGH ENDURANCE
The Lord recently drew my attention to 2 Timothy 2:3, “You therefore endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” This brief verse has many implications, both for Timothy to whom it was written, and for us who are heirs of its truth. It implies that we will face battles, hardship, and that we can last, survive, overcome, and enjoy victory in those battles. We can win the prize through endurance.
The soldier analogy is both inspired and most appropriate to us. The United States and its allies are in a war, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but against terrorism world-wide. In addition, Iran is building alliances with numerous nations in Latin America and elsewhere. Meanwhile, powerful people in our own nation seek to weaken our resolve to endure. The struggle that faces us will be long-term and insidious. It will require endurance; the question is, do we have it?
The deeper challenge in our struggle is spiritual. The political and military war is but a manifestation of the spiritual battle that we face corporately and personally_the will to proclaim the Gospel of Christ’s liberating Kingdom to a world in the tyranny of evil and in need of deliverance. This is the battle about which Paul warned Timothy. Paul understood the need of endurance and courage, having personally faced persecution, imprisonment, beatings, and hostility. Later Paul was beheaded.
Paul, Timothy, and the early Church did indeed endure, and we have enjoyed the blessings and freedom that have come from their sacrifices. Paul was a good soldier and gave his life for Christ’s Kingdom. We, too, are called to be good soldiers in the spiritual and natural battles that are currently before us, if those currently under the tyranny of evil are to be set free. Our legacy demands it.
ISSUES TO ENDURE
The Bible lists many issues that arise in our lives that must be endured if we are to triumph: Hardship, suffering, grief, testing, hostility, chastening, persecution, warfare, imprisonment, the cross, deprivation, or whatever else may come our way. Hebrews 11 is the one chapter among many others that catalogues what must be overcome. The fact that we are called “overcomers” should be a clue to all of us.
Endurance is not a popular Western virtue. We are used to quick results and have growing impatience toward delay. This lack of willingness to endure patiently often gets transferred over into our religion. When things get difficult, some interpret it to mean a failure of faith or that our goal was somehow not of God. That interpretation leads to the false notion that God’s intent for us is a challenge-free life. When those who hold such a theology see others who are walking a tough road, they surmise that it must be because of some sin or lack of faith. (That is, until it comes their way, and it will.)
Such a view as I have described is the result, not of biblical knowledge, but of biblical ignorance. The very biblical sources that some like to quote are ones that endured suffering and often apparent failure. Biblical faith was not about escaping difficulty, it was about enduring and overcoming difficulty.
MODELS OF ENDURANCE
I enjoy sports, especially football. I believe that most sports teach the great lessons of life. Like it or not, life is full of competition and challenge. The most exciting games are those that are undecided until the last seconds. Everyone watches breathlessly to see who will make the deciding “play.” (It is not “play” at all!) The likely winners will be those who were best conditioned, prepared, and who kept their focus. They play intensely until the very end.
The spectators love such a game. Unfortunately, many of them do not take the message home. They leave the lesson at the stadium, unaware that they are going home, going to work, and going into a world of life and death issues. Those people love winners but often become losers.
The great heroes of history lived life the way winners play the game_until the very end. They lived the way soldiers win wars; they endured. Contemporaries may have reviled and ridiculed them, but they stayed focused and won the prize. Contemporaries may have laughed at them but history loves them. Hebrews 6:15 says that Abraham “patiently endured.” He waited 30 years for the son of promise. His heirs waited 400 years until they received the Promised Land. Noah endured the building of the Ark for 100 years in the face of mocking neighbors. Moses endured the Exodus 40 years while leading complainers and rebels.
The Bible is full of examples of those who endured. Our Lord is the first and best example among those who endure. He endured an unbelieving nation, doubting disciples, blood-thirsty hypocrites, the Cross for six hours, and then Hell itself, before He took His place at the Father’s right hand.
The apostles, to whom the faith was once and for all entrusted, became models of endurance. Most were martyred; all were persecuted but endured to become foundation STONES of the Heavenly City_whose Builder and Maker is God. The very words “Stone” or “Rock” speak of endurance. The Heavenly City is not built of wood, hay, stubble, or fads.
One could easily extend the list of those who endured from apostolic times until now. Both our political and spiritual heritage are written in the blood of selfless sacrifice and enduring hope. We desperately need to review our history to learn endurance once again.
HOW TO ENDURE
Endurance or perseverance is a critical quality to those who would succeed and win the prize. So, how can we join the ranks of endurers? The answers are simple, but by no means easy_no more than being a good soldier is easy. Allow me to offer some answers.
Understand the purpose of tribulation. It is for training, not punishment. It is to build and prove our character. To some it may mean they have “missed God”; but to the one who would persevere, it is an opportunity to strengthen character. Tribulation is meant to draw us into the grace of God by which we can stand. (See Romans 5:1-5.)
Understanding the role of difficulty in our lives is the difference between one who wins and one who is regularly running away from life. Conquering difficulties ushers us into a higher level of confidence in God and prepares us for greater opportunity.
Keep your eyes on the prize. The writer of Hebrews exhorts us to run with patience and endurance, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the Cross, though He despised the shame, and sat down at the Right Hand of the Father. Jesus never forgot what He came to do, and the reward that would follow His obedience.
Commit to the Father’s will. Again, Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done.” In the Garden, He prayed that same prayer. If we are truly committed to His will, He will give us the grace and resources to accomplish it. It is not our will that makes us endure; it is His. Prayer is a powerful means to access God’s will_if we are willing.
Fellowship faith. The apostle John invites us to fellowship to share life with himself, the Father, and His son (see 1 John 1:3). Fellowship with God through the Holy Spirit enables us to draw eternal life enduring life_from the very source of life. Avoid sharing life with unbelief. Doubting dooms us to failure.Seek out faithful people and those who demonstrate proven faith.
Discount Circumstance. When we stop looking up and begin looking around, we begin to doubt. Moses got distracted by the murmuring of the people. In his anger, he lost sight of God’s purpose and it cost him dearly. Peter also began looking around at the storm when Jesus had invited him to walk on water. He started to sink, but he regained his footing when he looked up at Jesus, when Jesus took his hand.
Remember that salvation or deliverance often come at the last minute. Jesus said those that endure to the end will see deliverance.(see Matthew 10:22). David said, “I would have fainted unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (see Psalm 27:13). And Peter reminds us that maturity and stability come after we suffer awhile (see 1 Peter 5:10). Endurance, like a good soldier, will bring us to the moment of deliverance.
Finally, choose good role models. The Bible offers us great models of endurance. But there are also good models around us. My parents, who served God and were married for more than 50 years, were the primary models in my life. My wife, who has suffered major surgeries and cancer, has been an outstanding model of faith and endurance. Winston Churchill is one of my favorite historical models. My pastor, Ken Sumrall, has been a model of service and endurance since the 1950s. Good models have created footprints on the path to achievement.
STANDING BY GRACE
The Lord has helped us more than we’ll ever know. I began ministry in 1955, began pastoring in 1957, and began publishing in 1969. There have been many trials, and I have not always passed the tests. But by God’s grace we have stood and will stand.
This time of the year is always a time of financial tests at CSM. As you may know, I receive no salary from CSM, though our small staff does. Above staff cost, we publish and support other ministries. You have helped us to endure and to publish the truth as we understand it. Thank you. Please keep us in your prayers and in your budget this month. I pray that what we publish will enable you to be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in Him (see 1 Corinthians 15:58).
Charles V. Simpson
Scripture Reference: 2 Timothy, Hebrews, Exodus