Let me first take us to the letter of Hebrews. The recipients of the letter to the Hebrews were experiencing a great deal of adversity. The writer of that letter acknowledged that they stood their ground in the face of suffering, that sometimes they were publicly exposed to insult and persecution, and that they joyfully accepted the confiscation of their property because they knew they had better and lasting possessions (Hebrews 10:32-34).
To these people, who were experiencing such persecution and hardship for their faith in Christ, the writer wrote, “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:36). And, “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Heb. 12:1).
Perseverance is the quality of character that enables one to pursue a goal in spite of obstacles and difficulties. It is one thing to simply bear up under adversity. This in itself is commendable. But God calls us to do more than simply bear the load of adversity. He calls us to persevere in the face of it. Note how the writer of Hebrews focuses on reaching the goal: “When you have done the will of God” and “run…the race marked out for us”. The Christian life is meant to be active, not passive. The Christian is called to pursue with diligence the will of God. To do this requires perseverance.
We saw in my previous presentations that I alluded to the fact that life is difficult. It is really a series of difficulties of different kinds and varying degrees, usually experienced over a period of many years. It has been observed that the Christian life is not a sprint but a marathon. But even those metaphors fail to adequately express reality. The Christian life could better be described as an obstacle course of marathon length. Think of a race course just over twenty-six miles in length. Add to its walls to climb over, streams to forge, hedges to jump across, and an endless variety of other unexpected obstacles. That is the Christian life. It is no wonder that someone has observed “few Christians finish well.”
But God wants all Christians to finish well. He wants us to run with perseverance, He wants us to persist in doing His will whatever the obstacles might be. William Carey, often called the father of modern missions, is a famous example of one who persevered. Despite a succession of unbelievable obstacles, he translated all or parts of the Bible into forty languages and dialects of India. And William Carey’s sister is equally an example of one who persevered. Almost totally paralysed and bedridden, she lay on her bed in London and prayed for all the details and struggles of her brother’s work in far-off India.
Few people can identify with the perseverance of William Carey in either the incredible obstacles he faced or the amazing tasks he accomplished. But we should identify with the perseverance of Carey’s sister. She persevered in doing the will of God in her invalid state. She could not do much, but she persevered in doing what she could, in doing the will of God for her. And because she persevered in prayer, her brother was strengthened and enabled to persevere in his missionary labours in India.
Carey’s sister did more than bear cheerfully her paralysis; she persevered in doing the will of God in spite of it.
Both Paul and James give us the same answer. Paul said, “We know that suffering produces perseverance,” and James said, “The testing of your faith develops perseverance” (Romans 5:3; James 1:3). We see here a mutually enhancing effect. Adversity produces perseverance, and perseverance enables us to meet adversity. A good analogy is found in weight training. Lifting weights develops muscle, and the more one’s muscles are developed, the heavier the weight he can lift.
Though perseverance is developed in the crucible of adversity, it is energised by faith. Again, consider the analogy of weight training. Although the weights on a bar provide the resistance needed to develop muscle, they do not provide the energy. That must come from within the athlete’s body. In the case of adversity, the energy must come from God through faith. It is God’s strength, not ours, that enables us to persevere. But we lay hold of His strength through faith.
We have already noted the writer’s call to perseverance in Hebrews 10:36 and 12:1. Sandwiched between those two calls to perseverance is the well-known chapter on faith, Hebrews 11. The writer is actually calling us to persevere by faith. His eleventh chapter is a motivational chapter, as he gives example after example of people who persevered in doing the will of God by faith.
The sequence of putting dependence before perseverance in this chapter was deliberately chosen. We cannot grow in perseverance until we have learned the lesson of dependence. You may, for example, drive a dog sled to the North Pole purely by a self-energised indomitable spirit, but you cannot run the Christian race that way. If you are going to run God’s race, doing God’s will, then you must run it with His strength. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing,” and Paul said, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (John 15:5; Philippians 4:13). Jesus and Paul state two sides of the same truth. Without His strength we can do nothing, but with it we can do all we need to. We are called to persevere - to do God’s will despite the obstacles and discouragements - but in His strength and His alone.
Rev. Eric D. Maefonea (SWIM)