“Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” It has become a rallying cry for people in all kinds of situations. North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano spoke these now famous words in 1993 shortly before he died of cancer.
Many others have uttered similar motivational axioms. “Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th,” said Julie Andrews. And then there’s the inspiring Rocky Balboa, who muttered, “Going in one more round when you don’t think you can. That’s what makes all the difference in your life.”
We all want to persevere through life’s trials and tribulations, but where do we find the diligence to achieve it . . . or even the boldness to step into the ring?
A disciple of Jesus counts the cost of suffering, persecution, and even death for the sake of the gospel. It’s a life of going instead of staying, speaking up instead of remaining silent, obeying Christ rather than doing our own thing, sacrificing rather than staying safe, risking abandonment and persecution instead of protecting ourselves from those things, boldly loving all people instead of loving only those like us.
Discipleship has been described by author Eugene Peterson as a “long obedience in the same direction.” That long obedience takes diligence and perseverance.
God’s Word tells us how we can persevere through life’s struggles.
Spiritual Maturity Is Inseparably Connected to Perseverance
Perseverance is discussed in the opening of several letters to New Testament churches. Why? These people were being persecuted for their faith and desperately needed encouragement to keep trusting God, keep serving him, and keep sharing the gospel. Perseverance is often tied to faith, maturity, and living a godly life (see, for instance, 2 Thessalonians 1:3, 4; James 1:4; 2 Peter 1:3-6).
In Revelation 2 and 3, we find prophetic messages from Jesus to the seven churches. He still had some things against them, yet he said to the church of Ephesus, “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people. . . . You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.” To Thyatira, he said, “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first” (Revelation 2:2, 3, 19, emphasis added). Jesus mentioned the afflictions and persecutions of all these seven churches except one: Laodicea. They had no need to persevere, because apparently they weren’t suffering as the others were; they were rich, not needing a thing. Yet they were lukewarm, never taking any risks for Jesus, who stands outside knocking at the door, begging to be let in.
When we are obedient to Jesus—as individuals and churches—persecution is sure to come. When we live by faith, diligently and fearlessly carrying out his commission, telling people about Jesus’ good news, we will be scorned, shamed, and slandered. There will be consequences for our obedience, and so we must grow in perseverance.
The Characteristics of a Mature Disciple that Lead to Perseverance
The survival of the early church depended upon the perseverance of those persecuted believers. We are worshipping God today in Christian churches because they persevered!
How can we continue to persevere today so that those behind us will follow Christ? We look to Jesus as our model and find in him the power we need to persevere. Paul wrote, “The Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. . . . May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance” (2 Thessalonians 3:3-5). The Hebrews writer expounded on Christ’s perseverance: “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame. . . . Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2, 3).
In 2 Peter 1:3-6, the apostle listed eight characteristics that lead to perseverance. I italicized them below:
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance.
It begins, again, with his power. Without an abiding connection to Christ and his power, we can do nothing. Knowing him and counting on his promises help us endure tribulations. When our faith in him leads us to goodness, or holiness—escaping the corruption of this world, which involves self-control (a fruit of the Holy Spirit)—we can persevere even as Satan tempts us with evil desires.
Of course, perseverance is produced in our suffering—often because of the persecutions and trials we endure, which test our faith (Romans 5:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:4; James 1:2, 3).
“Let me tell you something you already know,” said that great philosopher Rocky Balboa. “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward.”
How can we keep moving forward in our faith? It begins simply by doing what the Hebrews writer said. We remember those who have come before us who took the hits of life and persevered, and many who continue to do so today. We fix our eyes on Jesus and run the race marked out for us, not getting tangled up in the things of the world that hinder us from the ways of Christ (12:1-3).
This is vital! Jesus gave us a mission—to go into the world and make disciples of all nations. When we keep our eyes on Jesus and the mission he marked out for us, and when we stay absolutely committed and faithful to that, we can persevere through all kinds of troubles that come along.
What Does Perseverance Produce in Our Lives?
Our perseverance produces much good fruit in our lives and the lives of those around us. Paul said it produces character and hope (Romans 5:4). James said it makes us “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (1:4). James also said we are blessed when we persevere (5:11), and his older half-brother Jesus said we’re blessed when we are “persecuted because of righteousness,” when people insult us, persecute us, and falsely say all kinds of evil against us because of him (Matthew 5:10-12).
We can “rejoice and be glad,” Jesus said, because “great is your reward in heaven” (5:12). That’s why the Hebrews writer said, “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:36).
Perseverance isn’t just about us, however. God will use our suffering and perseverance for his purposes and glory. As we persevere, God matures us, equips us, and uses us to reach a world that so desperately needs him. That’s why Paul could say, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
And it’s why James could say so confidently, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (1:2).
Michael C. Mack is editor of Christian Standard and contributing editor for The Lookout. He lives in Pewee Valley, Kentucky, just outside Louisville, with his wife, Heidi, who is taking boxing lessons and perseveres in watching Rocky movies with her husband.