Perseverance

Perseverance… I’m undecided whether I like that word.

But one thing is for sure - it has become an inescapable component of our ‘survival tool kit’ in these testing days.

The Covid-19 pandemic is teaching us all hard lessons about resilience and adaptability. It is forcing individuals and organizations of all sizes to reckon with what has become a deep and enduring crisis. A crisis that continues to threaten “our lives and our livelihoods” (to quote our Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison).

So, what do we have to do to survive - even thrive - during this crisis? And what will make or break our ability to survive and thrive in these times?

Personally, I want to be able to lead with conviction and strength in my own areas of responsibility. But this crazy year has me discovering that when under pressure, I appear more ‘gifted’ at passivity and ‘checking-out’ than I’d realized! It’s amazing how pressure and crises always bring to the surface what you’re really made of! I sense Father God is wanting me to grow my character more in the area of perseverance, simply because learning to persevere offers growth in other areas like resilience, adaptability and flexibility. These are the key traits we need in this season.

Interestingly, the challenges we’re facing now has made me wonder what it must have been like for our forefathers. They arrived in this sunburnt country as untested white Europeans coming from a far more temperate climate – and we’re not talking a 24-hour flight, but months by sea to get here! They had to face the harshness of the outback without any air-conditioning and by night there was only a candle or kerosene lamp. Under a scorching sun, they built fences that spanned the length of our great land. They drilled bores and dug wells in the relentless search for hidden water. They ring-barked entire forests and felled trees all by axe. The women had to wash clothes by hand, grind wheat to make bread and give birth to children in slab huts - with no medical assistance to help them through.

Today we complain if our tub of ice-cream arrives home melted from the supermarket! Or our electricity is disrupted for a couple of hours in a blackout!

Think back to those who endured the First and Second World Wars… have you ever been privileged (and shocked) to hear an old digger share his first-hand account of those times, or read about the ordeals they faced? Those who suffered in occupied Europe during WWII were besieged by bomb raid after bomb raid, never knowing when the next attack would come, or when an enemy tank might roll through their village. Our grandparents and great-great-grandparents lived through incredibly difficult years with the kind of perseverance each of us could use right now.

All of that has me wondering what God is up to in this hour? Is He trying to build resilience and perseverance in us right now, a strength that will be required in the years that lay ahead?

Have a read of Romans 5:3-5 NIV: -

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us”.

If we’re really honest, no one actually likes the word perseverance, simply because of what we have to go through to earn it! But when you see a Scripture like that above, it becomes clear that when perseverance is allowed to take its course, it produces something in us that wasn’t there before.

Like a muscle that needs work and exercise to build strength, so too a person’s character must be developed over time, whilst being tested under pressure. It’s these circumstances that eventually lead to the establishment of perseverance (assuming we make good Godly decisions during such testing times). The fruit that is produced by that leads to hope, and we sure could use some hope about now! Businesses are struggling, government handouts are reducing, unemployment is growing, domestic violence, anxiety and depression are all on the rise… Yep, I’d say a good dose of hope right about now would not go astray at all!

However, to find that hope requires a process (according to Romans 5:3-5 that process involves suffering to produce perseverance; which produces character; and character produces hope). Sadly, there is just no other way to find it.

Just think about it… in any given area of your life where you have developed resilience and strength – has it not been because of some ‘refining fire’ that’s established something within you that wasn’t present beforehand?

The pre-Covid era we just lived through— which all came to an end in March 2020 here in Australia when terms like ‘lock-down; and ‘social distancing’ entered our vocabulary… I would refer to that period as the ‘Era of Comfort’.

Interestingly, before there was any pandemic, anecdotal evidence and news reports suggested that mental health issues were climbing - primarily issues of anxiety and depression. A friend involved in the Education Department working at a University shared with me: “18 is the new 12. We’re finding students today at 18 years of age who have the emotional resilience of a 12-year-old of yesteryear. Our students are just emotionally under-developed in general. They are much less resilient than any we've ever encountered over past decades”.

There are many reasons, of course. But honestly, when you grow up in a world where everything is done with a few clicks on your smartphone, it doesn't exactly develop the inner strength needed today as we move deeper into uncertain times. Anyone living in the developed world over the past twenty years has become used to a level of ease no previous generation knew. This ‘Era of Comfort’ I might add, has also allowed me to become quite ‘soft’. I too have enjoyed all the conveniences our modern world has offered. But at least I’m beginning to recognise those modern conveniences have caused atrophy in my inner being.

Contrast that to our forefathers who emerged from World Wars and the Great Depression with a sense of determination and resilience that is not readily available today. That fleeting ‘Era of Comfort’ has not prepared us well for the pressures now coming against us.

Maybe we will emerge from this trial with a new resilience, and thereby a newly forged hope!

In the meantime, we are going to need some strength. And the wonderful news is, our kind and compassionate Father God loves to give his people new strength! The scriptures are filled with prayers, blessings and promises that God himself will strengthen us from the inside out. Drink in some of these:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15)

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31)

“The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail” (Isaiah 58:11)

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13)

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16-19)

I need the strength those passages promise! I long to be filled with the measure of the fullness of God… don’t you?

Maybe we could begin by simply praying these verses over ourselves. It’s what I have started to do! I’m asking Father God to strengthen me in my inner being. I’m asking Abba to begin building greater perseverance in me, which leads to hope. Because ‘soft’ just won’t cut it for the days that lay ahead.

Until next time,