Phase 2 of COVID-19 in Ethiopia, just like phase 1, hugely impacted most of us. Although the second wave was slightly less stressful, the impact is nevertheless far-reaching. People are still dying. Anxiety levels are high. Beyond taking general precautions, what we must do remains uncertain. But another question is even harder to answer: Why is this happening? I am sure most of us have asked that question. As Christians, we have at least one clear answer, which may come as a surprise to some readers. God is training his people to persevere.
When we are hard pressed to persevere we are also trained and matured in our faith.
God uses suffering to make us more like Christ. Put another way, when we are hard pressed to persevere we are also trained and matured in our faith (James 1:2-4). Those who are presently standing firm in Christ will be aware of God’s gracious work in our perseverance (Philippians 1:6). Below I will briefly touch on the reassuring biblical truth that God is powerfully at work when we persevere. Then I will outline how we might persevere, by being convinced of God’s presence and also answering the call to press on (Hebrews 4:11).
How Will We Persevere?
Firstly, it is God who empowers perseverance. But far from merely buttressing our faith, God builds it through suffering and perseverance. Romans 8:28-29 says that God works all things together for the good for those who love him. This good is not necessarily that we will be spared sickness, even death; it is that we will “be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). In other words, his purpose is that we will grow in Christlikeness as we are hard-pressed.
Far from merely buttressing our faith, God builds it through suffering and perseverance.
Thus Paul writes, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4). Remarkably, suffering is one of the ways that God empowers us to persevere. This is why Paul encourages rejoicing, amid our suffering. For we do not only have a hope that does not fail, we can also know that God has a sovereign purpose in suffering. Therefore, despite our circumstances, we must entrust ourselves to God. He is the source of any and all perseverance.
While it is God who enables and empowers perseverance, we also have a responsibility. This is reflected in Paul’s words to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up 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 loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). How might we fight the good fight and finish the race, keeping the faith? Historically, the church has majored in the following means of grace:
Three Means Of God’s Grace to Persevere
One of the means of grace to help us persevere is prayer. As Jesus says in Mark 14:38, we should pray in order to be firm through trials. Jesus tells his disciples to pray when they were going through immense hardship. Therefore we should be diligent in prayer, perhaps especially during this time of much suffering and confusion.
We should pray in order to be firm through trials.
But prayer is not an isolated practice. We should meet to pray as a community (Acts 2:42). This will better enable praying for each other (2 Corinthians 1:11). In my church we regularly pray as a community. For God does not only answer our prayers. Through prayer he helps us share one another’s burdens. This way, we persevere individually and communally.
2. Bible Reading
Another means of grace is God’s word. Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If this was true before the COVID-19 pandemic, and throughout history, then it must remain so for our own time of suffering. Therefore we should meditate on and memorise God’s words, so that we will be both equipped and empowered in our weakness.
3. Christian Community
As I have already noted, we cannot only be concerned for our own perseverance. In my own experience, the encouragement that comes from fellowshipping with the saints has been indispensable. It is a literal lifeline. Therefore we must gather, meeting both regularly and purposefully. As the writer to the Hebrews says, “Take care, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day…that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12-13).
We cannot only be concerned for our own perseverance.
At my church, on the Lord’s Day we have what is called the “Bereans’ Session”. During this session we diligently search the word to see if the preaching is in line with the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). Then, using the word, we spur one another on to good works and love (Hebrews 10:24-25). The church is not a building but a people. And it can only grow when those who make it up meet together to encourage and exhort one another.
Perseverance within God’s Purposes
As we persevere, using the means God has provided while leaning hard into God’s promises and power, we must not stop loving our neighbours. We do this by sharing the gospel. We must speak of Christ, the light in this dark world, the saving truth to those who have lost hope. Surely Acts 13:47 does not only apply to the apostles: “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth”. Likewise, our responsibility today is to witness to the same gospel.
We must not stop loving our neighbours. We do this by sharing the gospel.
In conclusion, we suffer well in this sad and difficult time by persevering. As we have seen above, God enables perseverance. We know this when we stand firm. But we must utilise the means of grace, immersing ourselves in prayer, Scripture, and Christian community. As we grow in our Christian faith during these trying times, let us also love others by sharing the life-transforming hope we have found.