Lots of people came forward for prayer at The 7 last Sunday evening, responding to a call to be workers in God’s harvest field in the North. I was part of the team praying for these great people and as I did so I came across a young woman who I sensed was a frustrated intercessor who had a prayer list of people she’d like to see come to faith, but not much was happening. So I asked her if she was a believer, and if she had a list of people she’d like to see become believers, and she said yes – and so I prayed for perseverance for her, that God would help her to keep going and to keep praying and that, in time, she would see her friends and family come to faith. What she needed was to persevere.
Perseverance. It seems to be a characteristic in short supply in much of the western world. Maybe it’s because so many things these days are instant. So we have instant access to cash from an ATM machine; instant food from the sandwich shop; instant shopping from the 24hour supermarket; instant knowledge on google; instant hot water from your electric shower or combi-boiler; instant makeover from the plastic surgeon and even instant millionaires from the lottery. There is so much in our culture that makes us think that we can have everything now. So why bother persevering when our society tells us that it’s all at our fingertips and all instant?
However most of us know that often the most satisfying things take time. The good things in life should not be rushed. Which is why, to counter our ‘instant’ culture and to challenge the cult of speed, we see the development of the Slow Movement whose advocates value simplicity and taking time over certain things. The Slow Movement is beautifully described in a best-selling book by Carl Honore, called In Praise of Slow. It is not a Christian book and needs reading discerningly, but there is nevertheless much wisdom here, including chapters extolling the benefits of: slow food – savouring a good meal; slow leisure – enjoying resting; slow children – teaching our children to enjoy the moment; and even a chapter on the benefits of slow sex!
You see, some things in life take time. Time to get right. And they involve perseverance.
Think about all those bible characters who had to persevere. Abraham was told by God that he would be the father of many nations and yet he had to wait for years and years before he had an heir. He had to persevere in his faith. Think of Moses, who had to endured forty years in the desert leading a stubborn, complaining people Or there’s the apostle Paul who was whipped, beaten, shipwrecked, stoned and persecuted. Imagine if he hadn’t have persevered.
One of my favourite parables of Jesus is the Parable of the Sower. Jesus says that God is like a farmer who sows seeds, sowing his word into people’s lives. And some people are like the path where birds come and eat the seed. These people hear the word, but it’s snatched away. Some are like the rocky ground where the seed finds its hard to root. When times of testing comes the faith of these people withers because their roots are only shallow. Some are like thorny ground, where the thorns choke the young plants. The faith or these people gets choked by life’s worries. But some seed falls on good soil, which Jesus explains in Luke 8:15
‘The seed on the good soil stands for those who with a noble and good heart, who hear the word and retain it and by persevering produce a crop.’
How do they produce a crop? By persevering. Keeping going produces a crop. It produces a crop of seeds in your life, for God to sow into the lives of others. But for that to happen, you need to persevere. To keep going.
It’s like an athlete training and getting up early to go running, or to go to the track, or the gym, or the pool. If athletes don’t persevere liken that, they will never win the prize. St Paul picks up just this image in 2 Tim 2:5 and then adds to it the picture of a farmer in field who, in order to see a good crop has to work hard and persevere.
You see, there is great benefit in perseverance. But it’s hard too, especially when you’re tired. And discouraged. And when you don’t feel affirmed. Which is why we need to supporting each other and constantly getting alongside each other. We need to be praying for each other. Listening to each other. And at times, challenging each other. Because we are in this together.
Jude v20 is a Scripture about persevering together, telling us together to be ‘building yourselves up in your most holy faith’ and ‘praying in the Holy Spirit’ to ‘keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life’. The message is clear: keep going together. Until God calls you home. And the way we do that is through looking out for each other – building each other up – and through prayer.
So – are you doing that? Are you praying for people around you? Are you building each other up? As I look around at the church I lead, I think we’re not doing a bad job on this, but I suspect we could do more. So please do. Keep looking out for each other. Caring. Being supportive.
If you are a follower of Jesus, I wonder if you’ve ever felt like giving up your faith? If not, there will probably be times when you will feel like that – when you feel like giving in. Don’t do that. Persevere. Keep going.
If you are part of The Belfrey or another church community, you may be tempted when it gets hard to give up on your team, or your church. It might be right to do that, but normally not. What you probably need to do is to keep going. Persevere. And to receive the help of others when it’s tough.
I’ve sat next to my wife Sam on five occasions as she’s given birth to our five sons. I can tell you, there were times in every labour, when she felt like giving up. That is very common. And I remember sitting there and feeling quite inadequate. Asking myself, ‘what am I doing here? I’m no help!’ And yet Sam tells me that I was a great help. Because I did what I’d been told to do at the antenatal classes, which was simply tell her to keep going! So I would say ‘well done, my love. You’re doing brilliantly. Keep going.’ That was my job. That was my role. To be an encourager. An encourager to keep going. And you know, once the baby was born, it was all worth it.
Maybe your job today is simply to encourage someone to keep going.
The devil hates it when you do that. And when we persevere. Because one of his jobs is to discourage you and to stop you from keeping going. But don’t listen to him. Keep going.
Winston Churchill, our Prime Minister during the 2nd World War encouraged the British people in the dark days of 1941 just after the blitz. The nation had survived that period of intensive bombing, but Churchill knew that the end of the war was not in sight. And so, on 29th October 1941 Churchill delivered a crucial message to the people, which sustained them and kept them on track. The message could not have been clearer or simpler, and it was this: ‘Never give in. Never. Never. Never. Never. In nothing – great or small, large or petty – never give in.’