The Christian leaders I admire most are those who serve for decades without much encouragement. High profile leaders are often reinforced by admirers and supporters. But those that elicit my deepest respect are people who serve faithfully in ministries that mostly go unnoticed by the Christian community. These humble servants dig in daily and persevere for a lifetime.
Most of these unsung spiritual heroes are not five-talent people. However, they love the Lord with all their heart and have enormous staying power. They live on meager salaries and yet manage to provide for their families and pay their bills on time. They don’t see much fruit for their labor but they keep planting and cultivating the seed of God’s Word every day. They don’t get much attention but they don’t demand it and would probably be embarrassed if they received it.
I’ve observed two common characteristics in the lives of those who persevere to the finish line. First, they consistently behave the right way even though they may not feel like it at the moment. Our culture places an inordinate amount of attention on feelings. We hear, “If it feels good do it.” “You’ve got to follow your heart.” “If the chemistry is right, go for it.”
While emotions are God-given, emotions are not the basis of our walk with Christ; God’s commandments are. Jesus said, “If you love me keep my commands” (John 14:15). Sometimes the best way to show the Lord we love him is to put our feet on the floor in the morning and do what we know to be right regardless of how we feel at the moment. It’s called duty.
Abraham certainly didn’t feel like sacrificing his beloved son Isaac on Mount Moriah. But since God commanded him to do so, Abraham trudged up the mountain with a heavy heart. He bound his son, placed him on the altar, and raised the knife to kill him believing that God would raise him from the dead. God interrupted Abraham and graciously provided a substitute ram at the last minute. As he descended the mountain with Isaac at his side Abraham certainly felt elated. But faith and obedience trumped feelings.
People who persevere with Christ deny carnal desires and do the right thing regardless of feelings. They tithe. They pray. They worship. They serve. They discipline their tongues. They are faithful to their mate. They show up on time to work and follow through when they’re tired. They are kind to their neighbors, care for their elderly parents, and sacrifice for their kids. It doesn’t much matter how they feel at the moment. They are under orders . . . and they obey.
The second characteristic that defines faithful people is they continue to believe the right way even though they don’t understand what God is doing at the moment. It’s much easier to be faithful when you’re healthy, prosperous, and loved. But the tough test is how you react when your prayers aren’t answered and you experience disease, layoffs, betrayal, or grief.
Eugene DePorter has been a friend of mine and a faithful associate minister of our church for over 30 years. He is low maintenance and demands little attention from his supervisors but whatever he is asked to do he does with excellence. Eugene was blessed with a wonderful, godly wife. Debbie was beautiful, funny, caring and loyal to Eugene and their two daughters. Understandably she was the love of Eugene’s life.
In her late 40s, Debbie contracted cancer and after a prolonged, difficult battle, she passed away. I had a hard time understanding why God didn’t answer our prayers for healing. It just didn’t make sense. So many had been praying and she was such a joy. Why didn’t God spare her life?
When I learned Debbie had just died, I hurried to the hospital to try to comfort Eugene and his family, wondering what I could possibly say to console them. Upon my arrival, the first thing Eugene said was, “God answered our prayers. We prayed Debbie wouldn’t suffer and she didn’t. We prayed her death would come swiftly and it did.” Then he said something that humbled me in my temporary bitterness. He mused, “I guess if anyone deserved to go to Heaven early, it was Debbie.”
That’s faithfulness. Continuing to obey God’s commands and to believe in God’s goodness even when we don’t understand God’s will at the moment. “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).
Bob Russell is the retired senior minister of Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky. Copyright 2017 by Bob Russell. Permission to copy this column may be obtained by writing Debbie Carper, Southeast Christian Church, 920 Blankenship Pkwy, Louisville, KY 40243. Find Bob’s books and writings online (www.livingWord.org).