Everyone goes through difficulties in this life. It’s a part of our human experience. But if a person is going to give another advice about the importance of persevering in those times of trial and tribulation, they’d better be speaking from experience, or their words will fall on empty ears. So when the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans proclaiming that “tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope,” he was speaking as one who had been “put in prison often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again; who had been publicly beaten with rods and whips multiple times and was once stoned and left for dead. Three times he’d been shipwrecked, once spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. He’d traveled on many long journeys, facing danger from rivers and from robbers in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas, including from men who falsely claimed to be believers. He’d worked hard and endured many sleepless nights, frequently going without food or drink, and without enough clothing to keep him warm from the cold.”
When Reverend Pat spoke at our People for Jesus meeting this past Saturday on the same subject of perseverance, she too was speaking from experience and trust in the One who had taken her through more than her share of trials. She is a cancer survivor and has endured other medical and family stresses and heartaches, including being widowed at too young of an age from a man revered not only by his family, but by every one of the thousands of people who knew him. And the message she delivered deserves to be heard by more than our little group.
What does it mean “to persevere?” The dictionary defines it as “to continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or no prospect of success.” I find it “interesting” the way the world considers situations that have “little or no prospect of success,” whereas God says “all things are possible to him who believes.” The believer has a promise that whenever we persevere in an act intending to put the Kingdom of God first, then we shall have whatsoever we ask of the Father.
After writing a very strong and impassioned letter to his Ephesian converts about the Christian life, addressing everything from faith and grace and love, even to spiritual gifts and marriage, the Apostle Paul concludes with the following: “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil… being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.” There’s that word “perseverance” again. He concludes his first letter to the young pastor Timothy, in like manner encouraging him to “fight the good fight of faith” to the end.
Neither Jesus nor Paul nor any of the Lord’s other apostles were ones to mince words, and they constantly remind us that we have an enemy, the devil, who first brings occasions of adversity, then tries to get us to give up when adversity comes. He is after our faith – to instill fear and doubt. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
But even greater are God’s promises that the believer has everything made available to him and her to overcome that enemy and anything he throws at us. Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” Then he delegated that authority to His followers: “I can assure you that whoever believes in me will do the same things I have done. And they will do even greater things than I have done, because I am going to the Father. And if you ask for anything in my name, I will do it for you. Then the Father’s glory will be shown through the Son. If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.”
The key to persevering in the face of life’s challenges is strengthening yourself in the Lord
So how do you strengthen yourself in the Lord? Let’s look at some examples from the life and words of the man God called “a man after his own heart.” David was far from perfect; but it seemed every time he faced a situation “with little or no prospect of success,” he knew what to do. Now it happened, when David and his men came to Ziklag, on the third day, that the Amalekites had invaded the South and Ziklag, attacked Ziklag and burned it with fire, and had taken captive the women and those who were there, from small to great; they did not kill anyone, but carried them away and went their way….Now David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.
Ten Steps to Strengthen yourself in the Lord
1. In Psalm 119 David reminded God: “Your Word I have hidden in my heart that I might not sin against You.” In the Book of Jeremiah the Lord expands on this by telling us, “Is not My word like a fire?’ says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” In other words, it’s not enough to hide His Word in your heart – you need to use it – speak it and put it into action. Then it becomes like a hammer that, little-by-little whittles away at that problem until it’s barely a pebble that you face.
2. David also constantly communicated with God – talked to Him, relating his problems, his love and adoration – then he waited and listened for God’s answer and direction. So Pray.
3. The Psalms and the two Books of Samuel recite many of David’s songs of praise and worship and describe how he even danced and played musical instruments before the Lord. It’s hard to hear the Spirit’s voice when you’re consumed with worry. Worship music will always lift up the head and heart that is down-trodden. It will ease and often completely remove sadness, grieving and depression, and free the mind to receive and hear God’s solution to your problems.
4. David recalled how God helped him kill wild animals that attacked the sheep he was watching over. Remembering his victories over the lion and the bear prepared him to face and defeat Goliath. So always remember your past victories.
5. David didn’t wait until the difficulty arose in his life before he established a relationship with the One who could help him. We need to lay that strong foundation ahead of time. Regardless of where each of us stands in our relationship with God today, we can do better. If this is brand-new to you today – it’s not too late. God is a God of restoration. Begin covenant living today and see how He’ll move on your behalf.
6. David was neither embarrassed nor too proud to rehearse his victories. He let both his friends and his enemies know where he stood with God. Rehearse your victories when you face those mountains. It’ll “scare the hell” out of the enemy.
7. David ran at Goliath, his slingshot and stones in hand. He even had four additional stones prepared to use against Goliath’s other family members, should they join the fight. Attack the giant! Don’t wait for him to make the first move. God has given us all kinds of offensive and defensive weapons for spiritual warfare – use them. Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit,
8. David called his enemy by his first name, he called him a foreigner and he called him “this uncircumcised Philistine.” But he never called him a giant, because he wasn’t a real threat in his eyes. David saw him through God’s eyes. This is in sharp contrast to what happened when the twelve spies returned from checking out the land that God was giving to the people of Israel after their exodus from Egypt. Ten of the spies saw the Canaanite people in the land as giants and a spirit of fear took them over. Only Joshua and Caleb saw them through God’s eyes. Don’t call the “giants in your life” Giants. They’re just enemies of God that are waiting to be overcome.
9. Speak to your mountains and believe. Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands.”
10. Don’t ever give up. There were many times when, in the natural, it appeared David was going to lose his life and/or his throne. But God had promised that wouldn’t happen – so David didn’t give in to fear and doubt. He never gave up, regardless of the circumstances.
God is faithful – He’s not going to let go of you.
Don’t listen to the voice of circumstances. Always, remember – if it’s not good, it’s not God. Keep holding onto God’s promises. Intimacy and trust in your relationship with God is key. Fortunately, our future is guided by God’s promises and faithfulness, not restricted by our past failures. When the nation of Israel frequently fell from grace, the Lord never forgot them or gave up on them. Listen to what God spoke through His prophet Micah concerning the future of His formerly rebellious people. “Do not rejoice over me, my enemy; when I fall, I will arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.”
Likewise, God is never going to give up on you. Persevere and “guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge – by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith.”