How to Acquire Your Best Answer for 2023: Perseverance
Perhaps at no other time in American history have pastors been stretched so far or encountered more obstacles. | by David Jeremiah
May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. —2 Thessalonians 3:5 niv
At the 1983 Australian Ultramarathon—a footrace of 544 grueling miles from Sydney to Melbourne—an odd competitor showed up. Everyone else was a highly-trained, commercially-sponsored professional. But Cliff Young was a 61-year-old farmer clad in a loose white shirt flopping over baggy overalls.
The officials laughed, thinking they were being set up. But Cliff was serious and ready to run. His name went down on the roster and someone pinned a number on his faded overalls.
When the starting gun fired, the runners took off. The crowd laughed at the contrast between the young contestants’ disciplined strides and Cliff’s odd-gaited shuffle. But five days, fourteen hours, and four minutes later, no one was laughing. Cliff Young crossed the Melbourne finish line almost ten hours ahead of the second-place runner. The astounded press descended on him en masse. How did this aging farmer accomplish such a spectacular run?
Two facts emerged: First, as a shepherd too poor to own a horse, he often herded entire flocks of sheep alone, sometimes running day and night. Second, he didn’t realize that runners in ultramarathons stopped at night to sleep. He ran the entire distance without sleeping.[i]
Cliff Young had the primary attribute required to win any long-distance race: perseverance. He just kept on going. While his competitors eased their ordeal with rest, he relentlessly pushed through his exhaustion. His eyes were on the goal, and nothing else.
The apostle Peter lists perseverance as the next virtue we must cultivate to live the authentic Christian life: “Add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance” (2 Pet. 1:5–6). The word perseverance literally means “to bear up under.” It describes someone who remains steadfast in the face of severe trials, obstacles, and suffering.[ii]
The Formula for Persevering
God knows we need trials to form character, just as athletes need resistance to tone their muscles for the game. In His relentless pursuit of us, He will not leave us in our comfort zones where our spiritual muscles will atrophy from lack of use. He exposes us to obstacles to strengthen our faith, humble our hearts, and refine our character. That’s why Paul urged Timothy to “pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:11 nlt).
So how do you grow in perseverance? How do you find the strength to press on when you feel like giving up? The next time you’re close to giving up, consider these biblical strategies for pressing on.
- Put Your Problem in Perspective
On a rainy night in 1976, six-year-old Omee Thao and her siblings were awakened by their mother. “They are here,” she whispered, “and we need to go now!” Communists had invaded Laos the previous year, and Laotian Christians were no longer safe. Now the soldiers had reached Omee’s village. With no time to pack food or water, Omee’s family and others crept stealthily to the outskirts of the city where guides waited to escort them to Thailand.
They slogged through nights of torrential rain, the flooded and muddy trail making travel difficult and miserable.
After twelve grueling days, they reached the Thailand border. They were trucked to a refugee camp and herded with other refugees into a space the size of a jail cell.
Yet despite the ordeal, Omee later wrote, “We rejoiced daily and, as followers of Jesus, thanked God for His protection over our lives. Despite the hardship, we knew we had to keep persevering and enduring, for we had the hope that others did not have.”
After enduring the camp for two years, Omee’s family received a letter from a relative who had reached the United States, offering to sponsor them for immigration. Omee earned a master’s degree from Denver Seminary in 2015 and now serves in church ministry with her husband. As she wrote, “All the hardships I faced in Laos and Thailand God faithfully turned into blessings.”[iii]
The Bible tells you to look at your problems in light of eternity. The book of 2 Corinthians is Paul’s memoir of a difficult ministry. In this letter, he is more honest and open about his hardships than anywhere else in his writings. Yet, even as he catalogues his deep suffering, his unconquerable spirit shows up on every page. In the fourth chapter, he gives us his great secret: “We do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (4:16–17).
Architects tell us nothing is large or small except by comparison to something else. Comparison is the key to Paul’s attitude. Putting things in perspective, Paul realizes he is trading temporary sufferings for massive, eternally enduring, perpetual joy and delight. In a similar passage in Romans, he repeats his point: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).
I’ve mentioned Joni Eareckson Tada in many of my books because her insights as a long-term quadriplegic have inspired me and millions of others. In one of her books, she wrote, “Looking down on my problems from heaven’s perspective, trials looked extraordinarily different. When viewed from its own level, my paralysis seems like a huge, impassable wall, but when viewed from above, the wall appeared as a thin line, something that could be overcome. It was, I discovered with delight, a bird’s-eye view. It was the view of Isaiah 40:31: ‘Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; the will run and not be faint.”[iv]
If you want to keep moving forward, learn to think of your problems from God’s perspective. The trials that seem so large to us are well within His ability to manage, bless, and redeem for good.
- Just Tackle Today
Your job is to keep putting one foot in front of another. Tackle life step by step. When God appointed Joshua as leader of the Israelites and gave him responsibility for leading them across the River Jordan and conquering the Promised Land, He told him, “I will give you every place where you set your foot” (Josh. 1:3 niv). In other words, you can’t make any progress unless you go forward one step at a time, but every single step will be a victory.
Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things” (Matt. 6:33–34).
Listen to that! Your worry doesn’t help, so just tackle today. God alone is in charge of tomorrow. Sir William Osler, who was one of the founders of John Hopkins Hospital, called this “living in day-tight compartments.”
Gerri Willis is a journalist. At the height of her career, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and at first she couldn’t face the diagnosis. She reached out to one of her colleagues, Jennifer Griffin, who beat breast cancer three times, and Jennifer told her, “Prepare yourself for the long haul.”
In other words, get ready to persevere—to go through severe circumstances. Recently Gerri wrote an article about the benefits she’s gained through her experience. “No lesson is more important than this,” she wrote. “I learned to take life day by day and hour by hour.”[v]
I’ve battled cancer, too, and had many other problems in life. The words of Jesus contain great power. “Do not worry about tomorrow.” Just take things day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment, and step by step. Put one foot in front of the next and keep going. The Lord will be with you and He will give you every place where the sole of your foot treads. He will open up the future for you, and He’ll get you there in His good timing.
Just tackle today with Him.
- Surround Yourself with Encouragers
Peter Rosenberger has been caring for his disabled wife for many years, and his ministry to other caregivers has been of great help to thousands. In his book, Hope for the Caregiver, Rosenberger wrote, “There are many reasons for the isolation that caregivers feel, but the results are universally negative. Without positive human connections, everyone suffers.”[vi]
That’s why the phrase one another occurs so often in the New Testament. If you’re going to get through a prolonged struggle, you’ve got to have some positive supporters to cheer you on.
When Julie and Dan McConnel learned they would be parents of Down syndrome twins, they were devastated. Julie was 45 years old, and the couple already had four children. They faced a trial they had not bargained for. They had no idea how to raise Down syndrome children. They considered avoiding the challenge by putting the babies up for adoption.
Seeking encouragement as they prepared for the births, the McConnel’s connected with parents of Down syndrome children through the Internet and a local Down syndrome association. These connections paid off. Other families offered much-needed encouragement and advice, particularly a Scottish family who also had Down syndrome twins. Greatly encouraged, the McConnel’s abandoned thoughts of adoption. If this difficulty was to be placed on them, they would bear it and persevere.
When Charles and Milo were born, their doubts evaporated. They fell in love with the delightful little twins, and there was no looking back, no regrets. Yes, life was more difficult. There were special medications, regular tests, and the twins’ learning processes were slower and required more patience. But as Julie said, “You feel like this thing that’s the biggest blow you’ve ever received in your life has suddenly become a tremendous blessing that you’re so grateful for. . . . I have these children who are so remarkable and so unique and so special. I feel like I have them for a purpose and that I could be for someone else what these twins in Scotland were for me.”[vii]
As the McConnels drew strength and encouragement from others, so do we all. It’s not merely a preference. Having others around us for support and encouragement when the way gets rocky is a real need. It’s the fuel that keeps us going.
Solomon wrote, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:9–12).
- Know When to Take a Break
Persevering does not mean we never rest. Jesus took intervals of rest during His mission on earth. God rested on the seventh day after creating the world and its inhabitants. To rest is one of the Ten Commandments: “Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed” (Ex. 23:12).
Rest is a principle built into creation. As this passage says, rest is refreshment. It restores the depleted body and mind. How often have you faced a dilemma desperately needing a solution that would not come? One idea after another enters your head, but none works. Finally, in frustration you lay it all aside and say, “I can’t deal with this anymore. I’m going to bed.” The next morning, as you awake, the solution comes to your rested mind.
Rest is not a lapse in perseverance. Rest is stopping to take stock, reorganize, and regroup to continue the battle. Rest turns your conscious mind off and enables you to refocus—to see the problem from a new angle.
More importantly, rest indicates trust in God. Overworking yourself to make things happen can mean you trust too much in your own resources. (Remember the mantra of our age—“I stand alone. I don’t need anyone. I have everything I need to succeed?”) Your willingness to stop and rest is an expression of your mature trust in God. You can rest because you know He will take care of you.
In Psalm 3, David speaks of how his enemies have increased. But he’s not worried. God is his shield, the One who lifts up his head. In the midst of his turmoil he writes, “I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around” (Psa. 3:5–6). Despite enemies assailing him, David rested unafraid, knowing God was his strength and protection.
- Cultivate Positivity Along the Way
I know there are times when your spirit struggles. But when the opportunity comes for you to laugh or be happy, embrace that moment. Remember, you are here to be defined by the reality of Christ in you.
Christians are not stoics who grimly endure life with plodding patience. We are Christ-followers who persevere by faith in God’s great and precious promises. Remember this—you have everything you need through Him who called you by His glory and has given you His great and precious promises.
More than two years ago, three firefighters in Wilmington, Delaware lost their lives in a terrible fire in the Canby Park neighborhood. One of the heroes who perished was a mother, Ardy Hope. She left behind Ardavia, a precious daughter. Ardavia was awarded a $25,000 Bridging the Dream scholarship given to academically successful students who have overcome adversity. Her school counselor, who nominated her, said this about Ardavia: “For everything she’s had to deal with, she’s one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. If you didn’t know her situation, you would never know it by meeting her. She doesn’t carry that, she doesn’t dwell on it, she just looks to her future…and every day brings a smile and positive attitude to everything she does.”
Ardavia has a message. “When it happened to me,” she said, “it was a major setback, but I had to persevere. And I just want everyone to know it gets better. . . . I just want everyone to know they’re not alone.”[viii]
You are never alone. “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
- Refuse to Quit
The writer of Hebrews was addressing a group of discouraged believers. The key text is: “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised” (Hebrews 10:35–36 niv).
When the time came for Jesus leave Galilee and travel toward Jerusalem where He knew He faced arrest, torture, flogging, and death by crucifixion, he said: “Now it came to pass when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.”
What a remarkable phrase. Luke seems to indicate that a look of unconquerable resolution came over our Lord’s countenance, an expression that says, “There’s no turning back. Let’s go and do this.”
Hiking the Appalachian Trail has become the lifetime dream for many people. Most through hikers who set out from Georgia to Maine never finish, often because of injuries. Jennifer Pharr Davis did it three times. After her first hike, she started a hiking company and met and married Brew. Jennifer began wondering if she could establish the woman’s record for the hike. But things started badly, with shin splints, hypothermia, and a major illness. She told her husband she wanted to quit.
“If you really want to quit, that’s fine,” he said. “But you can’t quit now.” He told her to eat, rest, take her medicine, and complete at least one more day. By the end of the next day, Jennifer had regained her strength and was ready to press on until she made it all the way.[ix]
That’s wise advice, isn’t it? If you want to quit, that’s fine. Just don’t do it today.
When you feel like quitting, look at the cross. Look at the empty tomb. Look at Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Look at Him there on the throne. Look at His victory. Look at His love for you. Look at His grace. Consider Him. Meditate on Him. Talk to Him. Draw from His Word.
And never give up.
[i] Adapted from David L. Allen, “My All-Time Favorite Sports Sermon Illustration,” March 13, 2019, https://drdavidlallen.com/sermons/my-all-time-favorite-sports-sermon-illustration/.
[ii] See Douglas J. Moo, The NIV Application Commentary: 2 Peter, Jude (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 46.
[iii] Adapted from Omee Thao, “Difficult Journey Leads to Blessed Life,” The Alliance, accessed March 30, 2019, https://www.cmalliance.org/news/2015/04/09/difficult-journey-leads-to-blessed-life/.
[iv] Joni Eareckson Tada, Heaven: Your Real Home (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018), 171.
[v] Gerri Willis, “Breast Cancer Taught Me to Live Day by Day, Hour by Hour,” Good Housekeeping, October 27, 2017, https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/a46636/gerri-willis-breast-cancer/.
[vi] Peter Rosenberger, Hope for the Caregiver (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing Group, 2014), 99–100.
[vii] Adapted from Eun Kyung Kim, “Inspiring 3-Year-Old Twins with Down Syndrome Have Become Social Media Atars,” Today, March 27, 2019, https://www.today.com/parents/inspiring-3-year-old-twins-down-syndrome-have-become-social-t151064?cid=public-rss_20190328.
[viii] Zoë Read, “Daughter of Fallen Wilmington Firefighter Receives National Scholarship,” February 5, 2019, https://whyy.org/articles/daughter-of-fallen-wilmington-firefighter-receives-national-scholarship/.
[ix] Helen Wilbers, “Record-Setting Hiker Shares Lesson,” News Tribune, May 27, 2018, https://www.newstribune.com/news/local/story/2018/may/27/learning-on-her-feet/728085/.