Paul prayed that Christians might be “strengthened with all power according to [God’s] glorious might, so that you may have great endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father” (Col. 1:11–12).
We’re called to a life of endurance empowered by Christ, and accompanied by joyful thanksgiving. Endurance requires patience, because reward for today’s right choices will come, but it may be months or years from now, or not until we leave this world. Those who drum their fingers waiting for the microwave to finish demonstrate that patient endurance doesn’t come naturally.
Paul challenged his disciple, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:3). Soldiers expect hardship and are trained to face it. As comrades locking arms in the service of our Commander, Christ’s humble warriors are to live out, on enemy-occupied territory, what Eugene Peterson called “a long obedience in the same direction.”
Today’s roadblocks and distractions make endurance in the Christian life seem unattainable. Our temptations aren’t worse than those in first-century Corinth. But televisions, computers, and even cell phones bring into our homes what used to be found only in back alleys. In our technological Corinth, temptations are only a keypad or mouse click away.
Failure to endure—in marriage, jobs, church, or any part of life—has become normal. A consistent long-term obedience, without periodic diversions into sin and unfruitfulness, seems an impossible dream. Sin has become so common, so expected, that holy believers are either elevated as heroes or dismissed as legalists.
In our disposable society, we use something up, then toss it (whether a paper plate, a spouse, a church, or a career). The stick-to-it philosophy is a relic of another age—something monks once did, but we can’t. And why should we? Who wants to work hard or become bored by staying a course when endless alternatives call to us?
But the essence of the Christian life cannot change with culture. Paul’s words to the Colossians and Timothy are words to us. We should not shrink from hardship. We should endure it with patience and thanksgiving. We are to follow Christ from start to finish, repenting quickly of our sins and moving forward in deeper devotion. Yes, there will be dry times, but overall, the arc of spiritual growth will steadily rise higher, not trail off so our lives end in a wasted whimper.
Endurance is Christ’s call to follow him, to finish strong for God’s glory. There is no higher calling, no bigger privilege, no greater joy.
Reunion with Those Who Endure
My wife Nanci and I attended a thirty-year reunion of our church college group. Forty came. Five from our original group had died. Most of those present had lost a parent or two; some had lost spouses, siblings, or children. A few marriages had died; two people had suffered mental breakdowns, others financial meltdowns. Some had children on drugs and in jail; several had cancer and other illnesses.
Yet it was a beautiful evening. Person after person kept saying, “God has been faithful.” We lingered late, tears wondrously mixed with laughter.
We sang our old Scripture songs from the early 1970s. Instead of being disillusioned because they hadn’t panned out, we were encouraged because they’d proven truer than we’d realized back then. God had indeed been “our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). We had learned—some from great hardship—that God alone can bear the full weight of our trust. Admitting our imperfections, we experienced together the sweet fragrance of perseverance and spoke of anticipating a better world.
Understandably, some old friends couldn’t come, due to distance, health, and schedule conflicts. But some didn’t come because their love for Christ had grown cold. They had not endured. Why? The question could be answered different ways. My answer for our purposes is this: their hour-to-hour and day-to-day choices set them up for spiritual distraction and failure.
Nanci and I walked away that night with a renewed commitment to finish our lives well. I pray that you will live the years ahead so that when you receive an invitation to your reunion, you’ll want to come and hear—and share—what God has done. Don’t make a series of choices that will make you into the person who wants to stay away.
Endurance Takes More Than Sincere Desire
In the final analysis, endurance will be a measure of the kind of character and integrity we develop.
I asked a gathering of thousands, “How many of you, in five or ten or thirty years from now, want to be sold out to Jesus Christ, a disciple of the King, empowered by the Holy Spirit, saturated in his Word, and yielded to his will?”
Every day we are becoming someone—the question is, who? Author Jerry Bridges, hearing me address this, told me that Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators, used to say, “You are going to be what you are now becoming.”Ninety percent of the hands shot up. They meant it. Then I told them the bad news: many who raised their hands would never become that person. They would not finish well. It’s easier to raise a hand today than to make the kinds of choices day after day after day after day that result in a long obedience in the same direction.
Scripture speaks of this process of character development: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).
You become like what you choose to behold. Behold Christ, you become Christlike. Gaze upon superficiality and immorality, and it’s equally predictable what you’ll become.
Who you become will be the cumulative result of the daily choices you make. “The path of the righteous is like the first light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until day” (Prov. 4:18). This is why Scripture continually warns us against wrong choices: “Do not enter the path of the wicked and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on your way” (Prov. 4:14–15).
Our choices flow out of our hearts, and therefore we must take care to guard them from contamination: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Prov. 4:23). What’s the most effective way to contaminate a water supply? Poison it at its source. If you don’t guard your heart from the world’s values, you will be conformed to the world (Rom. 12:1–2). It takes no more effort to be conformed to the world than it does to float downstream. To be transformed by the renewing of our minds is to swim upstream against the current. Renewing our minds requires conscious, deliberate effort.
You will become the product of what you choose to delight in and meditate upon. Psalm 1 is a powerful formula for endurance: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
We all meditate, and we’re all shaped by the object of our meditation. We take our attitudinal and behavioral cues from it. This week, will I be shaped by situation comedies, soap operas, and newspapers, or will I be shaped by Isaiah, Luke, A. W. Tozer, and Charles Haddon Spurgeon? It depends on how I choose to spend my time.
Psalm 1 says the one who continually meditates on God’s Word “is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither.” Trees don’t choose where to place themselves, but we do. We determine what our sources of nourishment will be, which in turn determine whether we bear fruit or wither.
Endurance Is Never Automatic
Following Christ isn’t magic. It requires repeated actions on our part, which develop into habits and life disciplines.
Christ-centered endurance doesn’t just happen, any more than running a marathon or climbing a mountain just happens or having a good marriage just happens.
Endurance requires a good plan, with clear and tangible steps that are taken one after the other. The farmer tills the soil. The weeds have to be removed. He doesn’t say, “Lord, please remove the weeds.” He prays, “Lord, give me your strength as I pull these weeds today.”
The athlete doesn’t say, “Lord, go out there and win that race.” He says, “God, empower me to run hard and do my best, and if you so desire it, to win.”
The key to spirituality is the development of little habits, such as Bible reading and memorization and prayer. In putting one foot in front of the other day after day, we become the kind of person who grows and endures rather than withers and dies.
Ten years from now, would you like to look back at your life, after you’ve made consistently good decisions about eating right and exercising regularly? Sure. But there’s a huge gap between wishes and reality. The bridge over the gap is self-control, a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). The key to self-control is discipline, which produces a long-term track record of small choices in which we yield to God’s Spirit, resulting in new habits and lifestyles. Spirit-control and self-control are interrelated in Scripture, because godly self-control is a yielding of self to God’s Spirit.
Most of us know the difference between eating cottage cheese and Krispy Kremes. Or the difference between a daily workout and spending life on a couch. Likewise, there’s a difference between whether you read the Bible or you don’t, whether you spend the evening watching American Idol or Survivor or reading the Bible or a great Christian book. While the difference today may seem small, the cumulative difference will be great.
Many people say they want to write a book. What they really want is to have written a book. Talking about writing a book is very easy. Writing a book is very difficult. That’s why there are more talkers than writers. And that’s why more people talk about the Christian life than live it.
We want the fruit of the spiritual disciplines, but often we’re unwilling to do the work they actually require. We want the rewards without the sacrifices.
One of my favorite websites for young people is www.TheRebelution.com, directed by Alex and Brett Harris. They challenge young people to “Do Hard Things” (the title of their first book). They’re saying, “Let’s not be a generation of self-centered materialists; let’s discipline ourselves to follow Jesus and do hard things to his glory.”
The life of endurance requires us doing many hard things. But these hard things are the very ones that bring purpose, joy, and satisfaction to our lives.
Excerpted from Stand: A Call for the Endurance of the Saints, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books), 2008.
This thoughtful series, taken from the Desiring God 2007 National Conference, not only elevates the virtue of godly endurance but bears witness to its power in the Christian life through the exhortations of John Piper, John MacArthur, Jerry Bridges, Randy Alcorn and Helen Roseveare.
Stand will awaken and solidify rugged, Christ-exalting endurance in people who are weary in their faith journey or who simply long to remain firm to the end. (You can download the free ebook from Desiring God, or purchase the paperback on Amazon.)
To listen to Randy’s message from the 2007 Desiring God National Conference, or the messages from John Piper, John MacArthur, Jerry Bridges and Helen Roseveare, visit the Desiring God website.
Photo by Jeremy Lapak on Unsplash
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.