Persevering in Christ
A friend’s wife, a seasoned teacher, was reassigned to kindergarten for the first time.
Months in, she wondered whether she was getting through to her students. She was weary. One day a boy came up to her and said, "Mrs. Davidson, I like you," and gave her a hug. She was surprised, especially since this boy was such a handful. After this all the kids lined up to give their teacher a hug too.
Mrs. Davidson, I imagine, went home and worked twice as hard to prepare for the next day.
But what about when the hug doesn’t come? It leaves us wondering if we will have the strength to keep going.
Historic 2020 is now behind us. We’ve heard many stories of people, churches, pastors, ministry organizations, Christian schools and others seeking to carry on, but also heart-rending stories of those reaching their breaking point.
Paul encourages the fledgling Galatian Christians, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (Galatians 6:9–10).
How do we do keep going when we’ve already passed weary and are now utterly exhausted? How do we restart if we’ve already given up?
Let me remind us what biblical perseverance is not – gritting our teeth or digging into already empty energy reserves. True, we may sometimes be called upon to do just that. But when that happens, we should do so advisedly alongside a plan to monitor our health, as Mark Vander Vennen’s article in this issue rightly reminds us.
Unlike a view of perseverance that simply demands digging deeper, biblical perseverance is about recognizing Jesus’ work in us, that he is the One who carries a good work to completion, not ourselves (Philippians 1:6). That doesn’t mean our efforts count for nothing – we are to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling." But Paul reminds us, "It is God who works in you" (Philippians 2:12–13).
What then does it mean to keep on keeping on from a biblical perspective?
Back in Galatians 6 notice that "do not become weary in doing good" is followed by the promise "at the proper time we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up." Alone, this might sound like mere positive thinking, ultimately we can rest in God’s promise that a harvest is coming, not merely having a good attitude. The harvest may not be today, or even in our lifetime, but we know Christ is tending the crop.
Notice also Paul’s warning, "Do not be deceived – God cannot be mocked. People reap what they sow" (Galatians 6:7). How is this related? Paul is contrasting two harvests. We either reap a harvest born of deception or a harvest rooted in perseverance.
Fatigue can make us targets for spiritual deception. When we are physically, mentally and emotionally spent, spiritual lies are more easily believed – another reason to attend to our physical and mental health.
Still, such lies can come. "You are not called." "You’re failing." "You’re not pleasing to God." "Your work makes no difference." "Your church is going to close anyways." "You can’t save everyone." "Your failures prove you’re unworthy of this position." "No one cares about you."
That’s when we ask God to give us faith to believe His view of us, rather than the flaming accusations hurled by the evil one (Ephesians 6:16). Jesus cherishes and works in us. Who will we believe?
"It takes discernment to know the difference between "I’m giving up" and "I’ve done what God’s called me to do."
If you’re contemplating quitting, consider if the voices you’re listening to are accusing you of failure. If you have failed, take moral responsibility by confessing, repenting and moving on (1 John 1:9).
But if the voices accuse you of inadequacy, weakness or lack of gifting, they are deceiving voices and not of the Lord. Such accusations focus on your ability, your gifting, your energy, your wisdom, your holiness. Biblical perseverance keeps its eyes focused on Jesus, who alone is the author and finisher of our faith, life and work (Hebrews 12:2).
It takes discernment to know the difference between "I’m giving up" and "I’ve done what God’s called me to do." The former is the desired outcome of the Hateful Deceiver, the latter of our Loving Comforter.
Don’t be deceived. Your work and effort matter, if you do it all for Jesus (Colossians 3:17). And yes, the hug received or given can make a big difference, so let’s keep encouraging one another (Hebrews 10:25). Don’t become weary in doing good. Jesus is cheering you on!
Even when you don’t get a hug.