Robert Jeffress - Choosing Perseverance Over Defeat
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". Everyone loves a good underdog story. There are few things more inspiring than seeing rocky reach the top of the stairs at the Philadelphia art museum, or watching Rudy Sack the opposing quarterback and lead his team to victory. But tragically, we rarely get to experience those moments of triumph in our own lives because we quit part way through the journey. Well today, I want to show you how victory can be yours as well. My message is titled, "Choosing perseverance over defeat", on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
In our series, "Choose your attitudes, change your life", we're saying you can't always choose your circumstances, you can't change your circumstances, but you can choose and change your response to life's circumstances. In this series, we're look at 11 biblical attitude choices that are necessary to experience the abundant life Jesus promised in John 10:10. Today we're going to look at the second of those attitude choices, choosing perseverance over defeat.
What do we mean by perseverance? Somebody has said that courage is the desire to begin pursuing your dream, but perseverance is the determination to continue pursuing your God-given dream in spite of unexpected setbacks, undeserved criticism and unrelenting hard work. Let me say that again. Don't look at me, look at your notes and write this down so you remember it. Perseverance is the determination to continue pursuing your God-given dreams in spite of unanticipated, unexpected setbacks, undeserved criticism, and unrelenting hard work. Perseverance is the attitude that says I will not give up.
You know, during the dark days of World War II, Winston Churchill had the job of holding his nation together under relentless attacks by nazi Germany when they were threatened even with invasion and perhaps occupation by the nazis. Some of Churchill's friends and counselors advised him that he needed to negotiate with the nazis, perhaps surrender to the nazis, but instead Winston Churchill said, "Wars are not won by evacuation". Guess what? Life is not won by evacuations. Successful people are those who continue pursuing their God-given dreams.
You see, persistence, and this is so key, doesn't mean necessarily removing obstacles. You can't always remove obstacles. Persistence means continuing to pursue your God-given dream in spite of the obstacles that life erects. Now some people might say, now wait a minute, is persistence always the right response to your goals? Isn't this maybe an excuse for self reliance instead of God reliance? Let's make it clear. We're only talking about persisting in those goals that come from God. We're talking about not pursuing any goal, but pursuing your God-given goals in life. You say, well how do I know if my goal is really from God or not? Let me give you three questions you ought to ask about any goal that you're pursuing in your life.
Question number one, does your goal violate any principle of God's word? Does your goal in life violate any principle in God's word? Does your goal violate any principle of God's word? Secondly, is your goal in keeping with God's purpose for your life? Is your goal in keeping with God's purpose for your life? There may be something you're interested in doing and achieving. It may not be sinful, but it may not be in keeping with God's unique purpose for your life. Thirdly, how will the achievement of your goal bring honor to God? If there's something you're pursuing, you ought to be able to answer clearly how will the achievement of this goal bring honor to the Lord?
In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul said, "Whether then you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God". Now again, when we talk about perseverance, people who read the Bible have in the back of their mind, well, is that really a biblical attitude? Isn't that more of the name it and claim it theology of positive thinking? Where do you find perseverance in the Bible? Well, you find it all throughout the book of Proverbs. Proverbs uses the word diligence to describe perseverance, but there are two great illustrations in the Bible of perseverance and why it's so important.
The first is found in Joshua chapter six, the story of Joshua and the walls of Jericho. You remember the story. God had given Joshua a dream, that is of inhabiting and taking charge of the land of Canaan, the Promised Land. That was God's promise to Joshua and to the Israelites. The only problem was there was a giant obstacle between Joshua and his dream, and it was that nine acre city of Jericho and the large wall that stood around it.
In Joshua 6:2 God said to Joshua, "See, I have given Jericho into your hand with its king ane the valiant warriors". He said, Joshua, I'm going to give you this city, but I'm not going to do it without your effort. He goes on to detail the instructions of what he would have to do. God told Joshua I want to take your men, and I want you to take the men and I want you to March around this nine acre wall once a day for six days. March around it, don't say a word, and go back to your camp. Then on the seventh day, I want you to March around the wall seven times, and on the seventh time, you're to have the priests blow the trumpets and the people are to shout, and the wall will come down.
So Joshua did that. He got the men out. They didn't understand, but they said, Joshua, you're the leader, we'll follow you. They went around one time, back to the camp. The second, the third, the fourth. By this time, the fourth day, you can be sure the people of Jericho were standing on top of the wall. You know, that wall was so large, some commentators said you could drive two chariots side by side on top of the wall of Jericho, so there was room for people to amass, and I'm sure they started hurling the insults at the Israelites for doing what they were doing. They may have thrown rocks at them, but that didn't deter the Israelites.
I'm sure by the fifth day, they started to have some real doubts. Joshua, are you sure you got the instruction right? We don't see any sign of any walls falling down. If they had given up the fifth day, the would have missed the blessing. But they kept going. I imagine by the seventh day, they were tired of lugging that armor around in that hot Palestinian sun. It's awfully dry down in Jericho, but they kept doing it. Just imagine on the third time on the seventh day, they stopped and they said, there's not even a crack in the wall, Joshua. What are you having us do? But they kept doing what God told them to do, and by the end of the seventh time, when they blew the trumpet and shouted, the walls instantaneously came down. They were ordered to do something that seemed to make no sense whatsoever, and yet God blessed them. Why, because they had faith.
Faith is not a hope, it's not a wish. It is the assurance that God is going to do what he has promised to do and acting accordingly. God blessed their faith and their faith resulted in perseverance continuing in spite of the circumstances. Here's another great story of perseverance, the story of Naaman and the unusual command. It's found in 2 kings 5. I love this story. You know, Naaman was the captain of the Syrian army and he contracted leprosy. So he asked the prophet, Elisha, what he should do, and word came back from Elisha exactly what he needed to do to be healed from the leprosy.
Look at 2 kings 5:10. "Go and wash in the Jordan seven times and your flesh shall be restored to you and you shall be clean". Verse 11, "But Naaman was furious", when he heard that instruction. Now why was he so mad at that instruction? If you've ever been to the Jordan river, you understand why. This idea of washing in the Jordan, verse 10, that's an oxymoron. Nobody washes in the Jordan. It's filthy. That's exactly why Naaman was furious, but I think there's something else at work here. Look at verse 11. "Naaman was furious and he went away and said, 'behold, I thought he will surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God and wave his hand over the place and cure me'".
Naaman said, I thought this was going to be easy. I thought all Elisha would have to do is say, be healed, and I could get on with my business. I didn't realize I would have to do something. You know, when somebody suggests that success in life may not be instantaneous, we get mad at that, especially if we're a Christian. We think that's something God ought to go. He ought to just zap me and make me successful. You mean I'm going to have to work at this? I thought God did that automatically. Naaman was told to do something he didn't want to do, but he heard enough that he was willing, finally, to obey.
Verse 14, "So Naaman went down and he dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child and he was clean". That's what perseverance is, continuing in spite of the obstacles. Now, you say I agree with you, I need to be more persistent in my life, but how do I develop that quality of perseverance?
Let me close the day with four practical insights about developing perseverance that I think will be a great encouragement to you. First of all, understand the value of perseverance. Understand the value of perseverance. You know, you may be one of these people, deep down you think you could never be successful because you're not as gifted as other people you know. Many people feel inferior about their gifts and abilities thinking that successful people are just inherently more gifted than they are. That is just not true.
Some of my favorite words about the value of perseverance come from president Calvin Coolidge. "Press on, nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are overwhelmingly powerful". Understand the value of perseverance.
Secondly, anticipate obstacles in achieving your goals. Some obstacles between you and your goal can be anticipated and they can be removed very simply. But again, some obstacles cannot be overcome. I think about the apostle, Paul. Remember his vision, his dream, his purpose was to be a light to the gentiles, to be a missionary to the gentiles. But Paul had some obstacles in doing that, most of which were unremovable.
2 Corinthians 12:8-9 said he had a thorn in the flesh. We don't know what it was, whether it was a physical thorn, an emotional one, but there was something in his life that hindered his ministry, and three different times he prayed for God to remove that thorn in the flesh from him and each time God said no, no, no. My grace is sufficient for you. What I want you to see is obstacles sometimes can be removed, many times they can't be. But when those unmovable obstacles come into our life, we have one of two choices. We can either just give up or, like Paul, we can view those problems as brilliantly disguised opportunities to trust in God.
Thirdly, realize failure is not final. Failure is not final. We live in a culture that says, if at first you don't succeed, give up. No, failure isn't final and it's not fatal either. You know, one reason most of us don't venture out and start pursuing our God-given dreams in life, we are paralyzed by the fear of failure. We think, what if I apply for this job and I don't get it? What if I ask that person out on a date and they don't say yes? What if I do this and it doesn't work? They're paralyzed by failure. Remember this, nobody stubbed his toe standing still. I mean if you're moving forward, you are going to stub your toe from time to time, but you're also going to move forward.
I think of Thomas J. Watson, the founder of IBM. He said, "The way to succeed is to double your failure rate". What do you mean by that, double your failure rate? He was saying the more times you try something, the more ventures you pursue, yes, the more times you're going to fail, but you're also going to succeed more as well. You have to fail if you're going to succeed. By the way, is that attitude a biblical one? You better believe it. Remember what Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 11:1? Solomon said, "Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days".
Cast your bread upon the waters? What is that talking about? Getting a loaf of mrs. Baird's bread and going down to the Trinity river and picking off portions of it and throwing it? No, that's not what he's talking about. In Solomon's day, casting your bread upon the waters, it was a reference to a kind sending out ships. A kind would many times send out empty ships to foreign lands with the hopes of bringing back treasure. Some of the boats came back empty, no success. Some came back full of gold and silver and precious stones. The point is the more ships you sent out, the more likely you were to have ships that came back with treasure, and that's where we get our expression, sending out your ship, or waiting for your ship to come in. That's where that expression comes from. The more ships you send out, the more that will come back with treasure.
Finally, to develop perseverance in your life, expect to work hard. One writer calls it you have to develop a good case of holy sweat. You know, again, we don't want to hear that. We want to think, we try to disguise our laziness with theology. Oh, well, if it's meant to be, it's up to God. He's got to do it. It won't require any effort from me. Listen to the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9. "Therefore I run in such a way as not without aim. I box in such a way as not beating the air, but I buffet my body and I make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I should be disqualified".
Paul is talking about hard work. Denis Waitley, in his book, "Seeds of Greatness", says, "Winners work at doing things the majority of the population are not willing to do". Do you desire to achieve your God-given purpose in life? Expect to work hard. And don't be discouraged when other people seem to be making progress and you seem to be standing still.
I think of the words of Amy Carmichael, that great Christian writer. Words that have been an encouragement to me at certain times in my life, perhaps you'll find encouraging as well. She says, "Sometimes when we read the words of those who have been more than conquerors, we feel almost despondent. 'I feel that I shall never be like that', we think. But these people won through step by step, by little bits of wills, little denials of self, little inward victories. By faithfulness in very little things, they became what they are. No one sees these little hidden steps. They only see the accomplishment, but even so, those small steps were taken". Now listen to this. "There is no sudden triumph, no sudden spiritual maturity. That is the work of the moment". Perseverance, moving forward in spite of obstacles, is the attitude that will lead to the fulfillment of your God-given dreams in life.