David Jeremiah - Relentless Determination
Back in 1983, the Australian Ultra Marathon was a foot race of 544 grueling miles from Sydney to Melbourne and, at this particular race, a very odd competitor showed up. Everyone else was highly trained, commercially sponsored, professional, but this particular participant, a guy named Cliff Young, was a 61-year-old farmer. Unlike the others who were clad in professional running shoes and cool athletic wear with sponsored logos, Cliff wore a loose white shirt flopping over baggy overalls. He had rubber galoshes over his boots and a white baseball cap hung over his head with sunscreens.
Well, the officials thought it was a joke. They began to laugh and they were being set up by this guy but Cliff was dead serious and he was ready to run. His name went down on the roster, someone pinned a number on his faded overalls, and uncertainty about Cliff continued as the runners lined up to start the race. Was this old man really gonna compete against young, highly trained athletes with sculpted bodies? Some still thought it was a joke. Others, they weren't too sure what to make of it. They thought maybe he was just a little deranged or starting in the early stages of Alzheimer's, and they shouted insults and some of them made fun.
When the starting gun fired, the runners took off, the crowd laughed at the contrast between the young contestants who had these disciplined strides and Cliff's odd-gaited shuffle. Well, 5 days later, 14 hours, and 4 minutes later, no one was laughing. Cliff Young crossed the Melbourne finish line almost ten hours ahead of the second-place runner. The astounded press descended on him en masse. How did this aging farmer accomplish such a spectacular run?
Two things emerged when they did the research: first, he was a shepherd who was too poor to own a horse so he often herded entire flocks of sheep alone, running day and night; and secondly, he didn't realize that runners in the Ultra Marathons stopped at night to sleep so he ran the entire distance without sleeping. He had perseverance. He just kept on going and when his competitors eased their ordeal with rest, he just pushed through his exhaustion. His eyes were on the goal and nothing mattered. He ran all the way from the beginning to the end.
That quality of perseverance is in short supply these days, have you noticed? Did you know that the average lifespan of a pastor going to an individual church in today's culture's less than two years? You know what happens is they go to a church, they run into their first little issue, and they pack up their stuff and the sermons they prepared for that church, they go and give 'em to the next church. And that's what happens and, of course, it's impossible to build anything like that. It's impossible to make much of an impact if that's what you do.
Well, the apostle Peter has given us this list of qualities that we're supposed to develop in our lives. God has given us everything we need for life in godliness. He's given us his power, he's given his provision, and all of this comes to us through the promises of God's Word, these great and exceedingly precious promises of the Bible. Then Peter tells us, "Once you have these wonderful blessings from God, these gifts that he gives you, it's your responsibility to develop them". You're to take the gifts that God gives you, don't sit on them, don't admire them, take them and develop them in your life. And he gives us the list of the gifts. He says, "Add to your faith, virtue. And to your virtue, knowledge. And to your knowledge, self-control. And to your self-control, add perseverance".
The word "perseverance" is a really interesting word. It means to bear up under something but the word itself is the key to its understanding. The word "per" means through and the word "severe," we know what that is. So to persevere is to go through something severe, to go through something, all the way through it to the end, to per-severe. To go through the severance and everybody knows that there are some things like that in every one of our lives. We all have stuff we have to go through. Isn't that right? Perseverance is what God uses in our lives to turn our ordeals into opportunities. It gives us the opportunity to finish what we begin, to outlast our pain and our sorrow, to strive until we accomplish things that are difficult, and to demonstrate God's grace in the difficult seasons of life. To go through the severe.
Eugene Peterson wrote: "Perseverance is not resignation, just putting up with things the way they are, staying in the same old rut year after year or being a doormat for people to wipe their feet on. Perseverance is not a desperate hanging on but a traveling from strength to strength. Perseverance is triumphant, perseverance is alive. Perseverance isn't something, 'Well, I just guess I'll get through it completely.' Perseverance is getting through it with your hands up high in victory, all the way through to the edge," amen? So let's begin talking about the force of persevering. Back in Luke chapter 8, Jesus told a parable about four different kinds of soil. This soil had seed sown into it by a sower. "Some of the seed," Jesus said, "fell on good ground and it germinated".
Jesus was actually, of course, speaking about our heart. Someone who embraced the gospel, somebody who heard the message. The seed of God's Word fall on the heart. Notice the way he put it. He said: "The good soil stands for those with noble and good hearts, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering they produce a crop". Perseverance has always been a part of God's plan for our lives. He wants to teach us not to be quitters, not to be people who walk away when things get tough. It's in the process of perseverance that we build our spiritual muscles.
Byron Janis, a world-class concert pianist, played with the world's top orchestras and he recorded many albums. It wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that he played in this facility here at one time. From early childhood, he studied with top teachers, he practiced for many hours every day. Whenever he would play, audiences would just marvel at the grace and the nimbleness of his fingers as they flew across the keyboard, bringing to life the classical repertoire's most difficult pieces.
Back in 1975, at the peak of his career, Janis noticed a creeping stiffness in his fingers. After several tests, doctors gave him the devastating diagnosis. He had severe psoriatic arthritis in both his hands and his wrists. The prognosis was bleak. His fingers would become stiff as wood and he would become severely crippled. When the arthritis fused joints in nine of his fingers, it appeared his concert career was over. But Byron Janis was determined to challenge this. Without revealing his disease to the public, he spent long hours adapting his playing technique to his new reality. He relied on regular medication, acupuncture, ultrasound, even tried hypnosis to cope with the pain. His wife, Maria, who is the daughter of actor Gary Cooper, she learned and applied a therapeutic massage technique to restore flexibility to his joints.
Now, watch what happened. Janis continued playing the piano for 12 more years. Despite several more surgeries on his hands, he continued to play the piano and became an active fundraiser for the Arthritis Foundation. He credits faith, hope, and perseverance for his success in overcoming his severe trial. As he put it, "I have arthritis but arthritis doesn't have me". Now, as you know, in this world, we've got a lot of challenges and sufferings and let me see if you agree with me. They don't all go away when we become Christians. The good news is that perseverance can transform our curses into blessings.
Let me tell you some things that happen when you persevere. First of all, perseverance produces trust. It teaches you to believe. Probably the best illustration of this is in the Old Testament. We all know history's best-known sufferer. His name was Job. And for much of his life, Job was an exemplary, godly man with extravagant wealth and a huge family. One day, this has to be the worst day anybody ever had in their life, one day everything changed. Satan targeted Job for an attack and in a series of mind-numbing disasters, all in a single day, Satan destroyed his wealth, took away his servants, and killed all of his children. All in one day. Then the devil struck Job with a painful and disfiguring disease and Job was reduced to groveling in the ashes and the Bible says this. This is gross. "Scraping his sores with a pottery shard".
His friends came to analyze his problems and they did more harm than good. But Job never gave up. He maintained his trust in God. He showed up at the end of the book on a whirlwind and restored Job to a place of unparalleled blessing. And the Bible says that "the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than he blessed the beginning days". Job learned that God, who is big enough to control all the facets of the universe, is able to direct the paths of his people. And Job confessed at the end of his story, he said, "God, I know that you can do everything, and that no purpose of yours can be withheld from you". He learned to trust God even in the midst of a difficult time in his life and the fact that God rewarded him for his perseverance was just a little more icing on the cake. Job learned to trust God.
How do we learn to trust God? Can you learn to trust God in times of prosperity? I guess you can but it's not easy. Because in times of prosperity you usually think it's because of you, right? "I'm doing so good, I'm so great. Look at all that I've done". But when you go through times of difficulty and there's nobody left to blame it on, and all of a sudden you realize that God is still with you and he's helped you, you come out of that and you know that the God you serve is a God who is worthy of your trust, amen? Perseverance produces trust. Got it? Number two: perseverance produces transformation.
Romans 5:3-4 tells us to rejoice in our sufferings. Listen to this. Because we know that suffering produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope". In the book of James we read these words: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything".
The Bible teaches us in these two key passages that the way that you learn perseverance is through suffering and trial and difficulty. So when we maintain our trust in God in spite of difficulty or disaster, when we don't throw in the towel when it gets tough, what we do when we do that produces a strength of conviction and Paul sums it up in Romans 5 as character and maturity. So when you're going through stuff, maybe you shouldn't always use the "why" question. Maybe you should ask the "what" question. "Lord, what are you trying to teach me during this time? What do I need to learn that I can't learn in any other time"?
Learn to persevere. Learn to keep going. Don't quit. When it's tough, don't give up. Because if you do, you will live to regret it and it will make it much more difficult the next time you face trouble to stay the course. That's the force of persevering. So now let me talk to you for a moment about the formula of it. God knows we need trials to form character, just like athletes need resistance to tone their muscles. In God's pursuit of us, he will not leave us in our comfort zone when our spiritual muscles will atrophy from the lack of use. He exposes us to things that strengthen our faith. He exposes us to things that humble our hearts. He exposes us to things that refine our character. That's why Paul urged Timothy to "pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness".
So how do you pursue perseverance? First of all, put your problems in perspective. Learn to put your problems in perspective. The Bible tells us we're to look at our problems today in light of eternity. Listen to what he said in 2 Corinthians 4. He said, "We do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, the inward man is being renewed every day. For our light affliction," he calls our problems light affliction, "which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory". When you weigh the outcome against the cost of your perseverance, not only does perseverance become your first response, it comes to you more easily. You realize, "Yes, I'm going through some stuff right now but in light of what God has planned for me for eternity, this ain't nothing. This ain't nothing".
Put your problems in perspective and just tackle today. In light of that, your job is to keep putting one foot in front of another. Tackle one step at a time. In other words, you can't make any progress unless you go forward one step at a time, but every single step is a step toward ultimate victory. You don't have to conquer your whole problem at once. You don't need to accomplish your life's work in one day. God's plan is step by step and we have to take life day by day. Ask God to give you the grace for today. In the morning, tell him you don't know if you can make it all the way but you're gonna trust him for today. And try not to think about what happened yesterday and don't get down the road too far tomorrow. Learn to live in day-tight compartments. That's how perseverance functions best: if you just take it one day at a time. Just tackle today. Surround yourself with encouragers.
As Christians, we need each other, and God has so wonderfully provided for us, first of all, in the family and then in the larger family, which is the body of Christ. Let me warn you that when you're going through times when you need to persevere, you may have to sort out some of your friends. Some people just really don't know how to deliver a positive message. Have you noticed that? They they've never learned how to do that. Even in trying to deliver a positive message, they end up messing it all up at the end.
Have you noticed that? When you're going through something and you need to persevere, get people to help you. And you know what? The people that really love you are just looking for a way to encourage you and strengthen you when you're going through a tough thing. Here's number four: know when to take a break. Know when to take a break. Jesus is a good example. He took periods of rest during his mission on earth. You study his life. He rested on the seventh day after creating the world. To rest is one of his commandments, did you know that? "Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest". Rest is not a lapse in perseverance. Rest is stopping to take stock, reorganize, regroup, turns your conscious mind off and enables you to refocus and see the problem from a new angle.
I love what David said in Psalm 3. He said: "I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around". Despite enemies assailing him, David rested, unafraid, knowing that God was his strength and his protection. Here's the fifth thing: cultivate positivity along the way. Jesus said, "In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world".
And as believers, we ought to be people who are positive. I mean, sometimes, you gotta be negative because negativity's a part of life. But listen to me, you don't have to try to be negative. That comes naturally. You have to really work hard to be positive sometimes. Isn't that true? Our minds are so wired that when something happens we're more apt to take the negative attitude about it but we need to cycle back and say, "If we believe God is good," and we do, "God has something in store for us if we'll just take stock of it".
Then let me just add this last thought: refuse to quit. That's what perseverance is. Don't quit. What if the theme of your life is, "I don't care what happens, I'm not quitting"? Over and over in the book of Hebrews, there's this little phrase: "Let us go on". Let us go on. Let's keep going. Let's keep doing what God has called us to do. And if we do that, we will persevere. One of the most inspiring things we can do, men and women, is to learn how to be perseverers. Learn how to stay the course and to say, "I'm never gonna quit, no matter what".
If we'd just get a few more people to persevere in our culture for the things that are good and godly and right, we could turn this world upside down. It seems like, to me, just when some people are getting their knowledge, just when they know what to do, just when they're ready to make a difference, they quit. I don't find any place in the Bible says: "When you get to be 62 you gotta quit". It isn't in the Bible. And here's the problem. By the time you get 62, you've learned most of the stuff you need to learn to be successful so why would you quit then?
And I know this is sometimes hard for my wife to hear, but I'll tell you what, she's so supportive and such a blessing to me, we're so blessed as a couple to do what we love to do. You know, the Bible says there's only two things eternal. One is the soul of a man or a woman and the other is the Word of God. And every day of my life, I get to get up in the morning and concentrate on the only two things that are gonna be here forever: God's Word and God's people. And what a blessing that is, amen? Amen.