“I quit!” Words that readily flow from our lips when things get tough and demanding, because we are easily drawn to the path of least resistance. To stay the course and finish what we started requires that we push back against our natural instincts. Success comes, however, when we find within ourselves the strength and determination to press forward. Instead of quitting, we persevere.
Perseverance is a virtue in the Bible, and a key element to living the Christian life as God intended. It is an inner strength of will that can be applied to any goal or task, with satisfying results. But like so many of the challenges of Scripture, it is easier said than done. Even so, God’s Word offers us practical ways we can develop perseverance.
Tough it Out
We sometimes wonder why bad things happen to good people. As God declared to Job, he has his reasons, and is under no obligation to explain those reasons to us. And yet there is one reason God seems pleased to share with us. Suffering produces perseverance (Romans 5:3). Or at least it can do so, if we respond to it appropriately. Trials and tribulations present two possible outcomes. They can beat us down and break our spirit or strengthen us as we faithfully endure them. As the saying goes, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
Here is a principle of life: strength is developed in confrontation, not relaxation. One who desires to play well in a sport will not do so by reclining in an easy chair and watching athletes on television. Physical fitness comes from exercise and practice, sweat and strain. The same principle applies to spiritual strength. God uses the trials of life to test our faith and develop perseverance (James 1:2-4). Our best opportunity for growth is not in a carefree life, but in the discipline our heavenly Father allows to confront us each day (Hebrews 12:7-11).
Follow the Leader
The Christian life is a lot like running a race. With that analogy in mind, the writer of Hebrews encourages us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). He speaks of “a great cloud of witnesses.” In keeping with his racing imagery, imagine the runners who have already completed the course, gathered around the finish line awaiting your successful finish. Their hopes for you should be an encouragement, their good lives an inspiration. Each of us can think of particular Christian saints who have completed their course, leaving behind a spiritual legacy. We would do well to remember them, consider the outcome of their lives, and imitate their faithfulness (13:7).
And, of course, we would be negligent not to reflect upon the example of our Lord and Savior. We are exhorted to fix our eyes on Jesus (12:2) and follow his lead. He too ran the race of life, endured the hardships of the cross, and remained faithful to God to the very end. The more we consider him, the less we will grow weary and lose heart (v. 3).
Cut the Distractions
Ordinary runners like me just run for fun. Serious competitors take on extra challenges to accelerate their strength-building, like training with weights attached to their legs. Of course, it goes without saying, a smart athlete will remove the weights when it comes time to run the race. With that in mind, the Hebrews writer encourages us to remove the weight that could hinder our run and the sin that so easily entangles (v. 1). That phrasing lends itself to numerous possibilities of things that can interfere with our forward progress. Sinful habits and bad influences are unnecessary distractions from our spiritual goals and should be eliminated if we are serious about staying the course and doing our best.
Visualize Your Goal
How did Jesus persevere during the horrors of the crucifixion? “For the joy set before him, he endured the cross” (v. 2). Jesus kept his eye on the finish line. He visualized his success, and our salvation. He motivated himself to persevere. We likewise would do well to stay focused on our goals, the immediate outcomes we seek in this life, and the ultimate prize that is awaiting us at the heavenly finish line. For as the Scriptures say, if we persevere and do the will of God, we will receive what he has promised (10:36). Let us persevere in all things.
For over three decades Johnny Pressley taught theology and New Testament at Mid-Atlantic Christian University and Cincinnati Christian University. He now serves First Church of Christ, Washington, North Carolina, as senior minister.