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; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. (2 Peter 1:5-7)
By now you are hopefully beginning to see a progression to the virtues Peter lays out for us. Faith is the starting point. Then your faith should make you a better, more virtuous person. As you begin the transformation process, you should strive to learn more and more about God, the Bible, and what Jesus’ ministry was all about. In gaining more knowledge, you will probably find there are areas of your life that don’t line up with the way God calls you to live – so you need to exercise and develop more self-control to withstand the temptations that come your way.
It’s also important to note that this is the same process Peter had to go through. If you track Peter’s progression through the Gospels (especially Mark and Luke) and into the book of Acts, you will see Peter transform slowly over time. He began as a “sinful” fisherman, not knowledgeable or super holy. He had his share of missteps along the way (getting called “Satan” by Jesus, and the whole denial episode). But by the middle of Acts we see Peter taking on a whole new perspective of love and acceptance, finally becoming the man Jesus saw him to be.
If Peter’s life tells us anything it’s that there is hope for any one of us. You may find this journey difficult. Good! That means you’re on the right path.
This brings us to this week’s virtue: PERSEVERANCE or ENDURANCE (it could be translated either way).
Google defines ENDURANCE as: the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.
And PERSEVERANCE is defined as: steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.
What do those two definitions have in common? Difficulties.
We do ourselves a major disservice when we think that life is supposed to be easy. Where did we ever come up with the idea that life is fair? It’s not. We may want it to be (most of the time), but life rarely works out the way we plan or the way we want.
We have been sold the lie of the easy life. We live in a microwave, fast food, fast fashion, instant access society. We’re like little Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: “I want it now!”
Or maybe we want a life free from pain. Got an ache? There’s a pill for that. Is a relationship getting difficult? Just bail. Feeling bored? Here’s an endless stream of movies and tv shows.
It reminds me of the conversation between Buttercup and Westley (though she thinks he’s still the Dread Pirate Roberts) in The Princess Bride. At one point she shouts to him, “You mock my pain!” Westley replies, “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
EMBRACE THE SUCK
Endurance is all about reaching the end no matter what. When the road gets difficult, keep going. When your body is aching, keep going. When life is terrible, keep going.
Don’t tell me you can’t do it. Think about this: You have survived your worst day ever. You have already experienced the worst day of you life up to this point, and you’re still here. You made it through that, whatever that may be, so I know you can make it through whatever is yet to come. Every time you’ve made it through a difficult time you have gotten stronger because of it.
Don’t tell me you can’t do it.
Maybe you’re just needing a little extra guidance to develop more endurance so that you can persevere through the hard times. Check out this video:
They give a lot of great advice for running and training for obstacle courses. But there are some things they talk about that are applicable to so many areas of life.
- “Getting started is the hardest part.” You’ve decided you want to make a change. You come up with a plan and say that tomorrow is the day. Then tomorrow comes and….nope. Sometimes taking that first step is all you really need to get going.
- “Be patient with yourself.” You’re not going to develop endurance overnight. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes failure. Oliver Goldsmith said, “Success consists of getting up just one more time than you fall.” You’re going to make mistakes, that’s just part of it. Be patient with yourself.
- “Embrace the suck.” Training for endurance competitions is terrible. Embrace it. Getting through high school can be terrible. Embrace it. Embrace the suffering, because that means you are growing. Don’t fight it. Don’t avoid it. Embrace it.
- “Build grit.” Become a person of resilience and tenacity. Do we try to be people full of grit? Maybe when it comes to sports. But what about in our faith? our relationships? our academics?
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Jesus wasn’t speaking in metaphor here. He would soon take up a literal cross and walk to his death. He is calling his followers to do the same. Discipleship is about following Jesus even if it means facing death. Discipleship is not for the weak-willed or fainthearted. Discipleship is not for the people who are always looking for the easy way out, the loopholes, the exceptions, the workarounds. You’re either all in or not at all.
Jesus never said it would be easy, but he promises that it will be worth it. Anything in life worth having is worth working for. The best things in life don’t always come easy, but that makes them that much more valuable. A life of faith is no different.
Paul knew this, too. Paul had traveled all around the Roman world planting churches and telling countless numbers about Jesus. It was hardly ever easy for him. In fact he lists out his hardships with painstaking detail in 2 Corinthians 11. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, but he knew it would be worth it. Paul was also a sports guy. Check out what he tells the Corinthian church about living a life of faith:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
Run to win. There are rules to follow. There are difficulties to overcome. It’s going to take self-control and discipline and training. But run to win. We’re not competing for a laurel wreath crown or even a gold medal. We’re “competing” for the ultimate goal of eternal life with Christ. There’s no point in running the race if you’re not in it to win.
Paul would later write these words (some of his last words) to his younger protege Timothy:
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
I hope you can say the same at the end of your life looking back. Paul had grit. Paul knew what it meant to endure. Paul knew it wouldn’t be easy, but it would be worth it.
James, the brother of Jesus, also had some important words to say about suffering.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)
Another way of putting it: Embrace the suck. When life is hard, know that it’s helping you develop perseverance. When your faith is tested that means you’re doing something right. I know I’ve had a good workout when I’m really sore the next day. I know that means I’m getting stronger. So when life throws trials and hardships your way, embrace the suck. Count it a joy. You can know you are becoming better for it.
Back to Paul for a moment. He makes one of the greatest statements about endurance and perseverance in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9:
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
The walls may feel like they’re closing in on us, but we will not be crushed. We may be confused and disoriented, but we don’t have to despair and give up. People may be talking bad about us, insulting us, and making our lives miserable, but we will never be abandoned by God. We may feel like the world has knocked us down time and time again, but the world will not destroy us.
And everyone said, AMEN!
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD
One thing that helps me when I’m feeling anxiety or despair is to look back on my life. I take note of all the times God has gotten us through whatever it was. And we know with confidence that God has not let us down yet, and God will not let us down now. He got us through that, so he will get us through this.
I can’t talk about perseverance without thinking about the book of Hebrews. In chapter 11 we read what is commonly known as the “Hall of Faith.” The last few verses of 11 and the first few verses of chapter 12 are a powerful summary of what it means to endure.
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 11:32 – 12:3)
Fix your eyes on Jesus. He is our ultimate example of endurance. He will guide us through whatever it is we are facing in life.
Keep going. Don’t give up. Embrace the suck. Follow Christ.
I will leave you with this video from Kid President. It’s an oldie but a goodie.