Growing up, I remember hearing an ad on the radio for tyres. The advertisers argued that these tyres had a peculiar quality about them. They could go on for long without wearing out, so it was claimed. These tyres had endurance.
Christians have a duty to endure. But how do we ready ourselves for it?
To keep at something for decades is widely recognised as remarkable. Think of the reverential clapping that erupts when a husband and wife announce that they’ve been together for 30 years. Note also how one generation feels the need to remind the next one of how tough things were when they were growing up. “You’re soft,” they say, “in our day, we had to kill a lion with our bare hands and use its skin to make our shoes!”
Endurance, with its synonyms (perseverance, long-suffering, or patience) appears throughout the Bible as a Christian virtue. It is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Christians have a duty to endure. How, then, do we ready ourselves for it? Below I offer seven suggestions in the fight for perseverance.
1. Expect Hardship in Life
Jesus promised that there would be trials (John 16:33). So we shouldn’t be lulled into thinking that all will go swimmingly. This is the kind of mindset the whole Bible seeks to instill in us. It teaches that our first parents sinned and plunged the world into darkness. Toilsome labour became a part of human existence. Thus we function in a creation that has been “subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20).
Forward spiritual progress requires overcoming the futility weaved into existence.
We also have an enemy. The same one who acted to subvert God’s creation in tempting man to sin continues to resist us. He established a kingdom whose culture rigorously opposes all that is godly. Yes, the gates of hell will not prevail against us, but they do resist us. Therefore, forward spiritual progress of any kind requires overcoming a futility weaved into existence because of sin and a mighty foe who is against us. We must thus not be surprised by hardship.
2. Understand God’s Purposes in Hardship
By this, I don’t mean special insight into every instance of hardship. I mean developing a theology of what God seeks to do through it.
God sovereignly appoints and governs all things.
Consider Paul’s use of the word “knowing” as it relates to hardships. He writes: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces hope” (Romans 5:3). It is valuable to know what hardships are appointed to do for the Christian. God sovereignly appoints and governs all things, including hardship, and the Bible gives us reasons why he does so (Hebrews 12:7-11; James 1:2). To know these reasons is to fortify our faith with the material one needs for perseverance.
3. Consider the Perseverance of Others
There is undoubtedly a motivating power in the example of faithful men and women. This is what Hebrews 12:1 is getting at when the writer says: “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin…and let us run the race with endurance.” There is a great cloud of faithfuls who have gone before us. Read about these giants as they are recorded in both the Bible and the annals of church history. Feel the fires of your endurance stoked by their example. Find fuel for your own perseverance.
4. Consider Jesus
Perseverance is how we respond to the one whose suffering was for us.
If there is grace to be found in the example of faithful saints, there is even more to be found in Jesus Christ. For, unlike any other, he endured all to save us. “Run the race with endurance…looking to Jesus…who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:1-2). In this case we not only endure because we are following Jesus’ example, we endure as a token of worship. This is how we respond to the one whose suffering was for us. Given that Jesus went all out for you, should you not respond by going all out for Jesus?
5. Consider the Honour of Endurance
To be associated with Jesus in his suffering is something New Testament saints desired.
Enduring hardship for the sake of Christ is not cast as a cause for pity. Rather, it is treated as a privilege. To be associated with Jesus in his suffering is something that the New Testament saints desired and considered honourable. So Paul writes: “I rejoice in my sufferings and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the church” (Colossians 1:24). He rejoiced because he was receiving to himself the honour of being afflicted with the afflictions meant for Christ.
Likewise, Peter and John were happy to endure hardship for Jesus’ sake. As Luke writes: “They left the…council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name” (Acts 5:41). We too should desire to have this honour as well when hardship comes.
6. Fix Your Eyes on Eternal Rewards
God has not called us to endure for nothing. There are eternal rewards which accrue to our accounts based on our perseverance. “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). One moment in glory there will make up for the hardship we endure here.
7. Lean on the Local Church
Let others in and it will lighten the burden of endurance.
God calls saints to help other saints to continue clinging to Jesus. The shape that this help takes is that of a local church, ‘not neglecting to meet together…but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24). This means that the more you are meaningfully known by other saints in your church, the more you can meaningfully be encouraged towards perseverance. Let others in and it will lighten the burden of endurance.
As with the tyres from that ad in my childhood, so with us. If we are to be as God requires of us, we must “endure hardship, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ’ (2 Timothy 2:3).