The utter joy of perseverance

Seen on a sign outside a building in a nearby town…


“Your setback is a set up for a comeback.”


No, the local folks there didn’t come up with this one. Check your favorite online search engine and the saying has been attributed to megachurch leader Joel Osteen or famed TV host Steve Harvey or others. You be the judge.


But it rings true. It’s been said a million times that failure is the greatest teacher. Think about your own experience – when you strive for something and come up short, don’t you want to know why so you don’t go down that same road again?


We’re surrounded by examples. Many of us in the neighborhood are Penn State football fans. Remember last year? The Nittany Lions got off to a terrible 0-5 start and we all wondered WHY? Then the team learned and started playing better – and now they have a nine game winning streak since that woeful stretch last season.


There’s the story of famed inventor Thomas Edison who created the first light bulb. What’s not as well known is that Edison failed a reported 10,000 times before he finally got it right. Another version claims it was 1,000 times.


When a reporter asked Edison why he kept on trying after failing 10,000 times, Edison replied that he didn’t fail - he just found 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb. THAT’S perseverance.


Go back to the Old Testament and the story of Job. As part of a “test” between God and Satan, God takes nearly everything away from Job – his wealth, his family and more, leaving him destitute. Satan’s bet was that Job would end up cursing God despite all of the earlier blessings Job had been given.


And Job thought about it. His wife and friends pushed him to the edge – but in the end he continued to praise God and was ultimately rewarded with even more blessings than he originally had.


Still it’s a question that has been asked from the beginning – why would God even allow trials to take place in your life? You’re a believer, a person of faith who does everything you’re supposed to do. WHY would the Creator do such a thing? Why the test?


Let’s go WAY back, to the beginning of Genesis in the Good Book. To the Garden of Eden.


There we read that Eden was this beautiful place, amazing, perfect. A garden oasis created by God to house all his creatures like the animals – and of course Adam and Eve. Our never ending search for utopia is usually compared to Eden.


We’d all want to live in such a place – right? RIGHT?


You may find this crazy but here’s a vote for NO. What?? How could you turn down PARADISE? No wants, no needs, everything provided. No pain, no strife, just peaceful walks through beautiful fields. Turn all that down?


Yes, because it’s not realistic. Everything handed, nothing earned.


Here’s a message that some political ideologues and the kum-by-yah crowd need to hear – we grow in our faith through adversity.


Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. – James 1:2-4 NIV


Perseverance – what we all need after nearly 19 months of this virus-induced period in history.


When’s the last time you went out for a run? Or think back to your school days and it was the day for the dreaded mile run in gym class. Not sure if today’s teachers still mandate the mile run but they did for boys back in the day.


After two or three laps of the track your legs began to feel like lead. What was easy when the race began was now difficult, just putting one foot in front of the other. Your breathing became much more rapid – maybe breathing was the only thing you could think about.


Hopefully you didn’t pull up and stop at some point – “I just can’t do this.” Because the joy of running that race, if you weren’t some top athlete, was just finishing the race. And when you crossed that finish line it was a feeling of jubilation – I MADE IT. You worked your way through the trial.


Perhaps God works that way. Going by a plan that only He knows, the Lord throws an obstacle in your path. You’re skipping along to utopia and then trip and fall. Splat.


Do you stay down on the ground? Or pick yourself up and continue?


Sadly some people stay down for the count. We hear about people who spiral into depression through drugs, booze or other means. Perhaps no one offers them assistance. The person is beaten – and stays beaten.


That is NEVER God’s intention. As James states above, learning from your failures and working your way through it helps you to become “mature and complete.” You know more, learn what didn’t work, so that later you’re “not lacking anything.”


Kids today need to learn these lessons. The headlines are filled with stories of more kids struggling through the pandemic, depression is increasing, education is slipping. Our children today are facing headwinds like never before – and too many don’t know the value of perseverance.


Trials and tribulations are part of life. Whether it’s health-related, money-related, job-related, food-related, war-related, personal-related or any-related, as James says trials are actually to be sought after because it molds us into what God eventually intends.


Because what’s the ultimate goal here? A great physique? Bankrolls full of money? Perfect health? Is that what God cares about? No but it’s what most people care about, isn’t it?


What God cares about is faith in Him, in helping others with their own trials, in the belief that Earth is only one stop on the journey. Like hardened steel we are sometimes battered and hammered into a shape that bears the weight to do the job – God’s job, not ours.


A LOT of people have been set back these last 19 months. It’s been painful, frustrating, enraging. Too many folks have faced adversity – and lashed out and spewed in response.


Instead let’s point our ship into those headwinds and continue to sail. Let’s be the people who come out on the other side, the ones who finish the race dead dog tired with aching legs and lungs but we FINISHED and now in calmer seas we can reap some rewards. Eternal life, that eventual mansion in the sky, life with Him.


The next time you encounter someone struggling, offer them a helping hand and encouragement. And if that struggling someone is YOU, look that adversity in the eye and let it know, “no matter what you won’t beat me. My faith in God, in HIS ultimate plan, will beat you every time.”


Set yourself up for a comeback through our belief in our savior Jesus who is with us in life every step of the way. Grow through the experience because it probably won’t be your last. And with every step you gain in confidence knowing the prize that awaits you at the end.


Amen to that!


From George Churchgoer