Monday, May 31, 2010

If You're Down With P(erseverance)...

My pastor used the word "perseverance" in his sermon a few weeks ago and I started singing this song in my head. I missed the following point he made, but in that time I began to think about the topic of this essay.

Since writing on Deuteronomy 8, I have put much thought into God's motives for trials. My initial response says God does everything to glorify Himself. Lately, I considered another motive for testing. God allows trial in our lives to produce endurance demonstrated through perseverance. According to my dictionary in MS Word, endurance is "the ability or power to bear prolonged exertion, pain, or hardship." But we can make endurance a passive action, like waiting out a storm. "Perseverance", on the other hand, describes "steady and continued action or belief, usually over a long period and especially despite difficulties or setbacks." It's not enough to sit there and take the pain. God wants us to seek Him, build His kingdom, and keep moving forward.

Trials come to our lives in many different forms. Some must wait for God to rescue them or fulfill a promise like Jonah and Joseph. Others experience loss of material possessions or loved ones like Moses and David. Then there are those who go through long periods of suffering like Job. I have talked in the past how nothing surprises God. According to John Piper, God is incapable of risk because He knows the outcome of every action.

When God put these men through their particular hardships, He did so with purpose. God put Jonah in danger to change his attitude and turn him in the right direction. Joseph may have been sold into slavery and put in prison on false charges, but scripture says he worked diligently and gained favor everywhere he went. God used all those circumstances to train him for the day he would oversee Egypt and save many lives. Moses lost all the material benefits of a prince but God used him to liberate His people. David had his own wilderness experience when Saul chased him into the desert. Cut off from his family and loved ones, David wrote many psalms rejoicing in God. The king needed to know who truly rules over men. Job's story stands as a sober reminder of God's goodness and supremacy. He suffered all kinds of loss and illness to learn these lessons before God restored everything. God could give these men responsibility because they learned to trust His character and promise. They looked to the truth above the circumstances.

Scripture talks about the benefits of perseverance. Starting with Deuteronomy 8:11-19, Moses tells the people, "Look, God needed to put you through all the hardships of the desert. You needed to learn how to depend on Him while enduring blinding heat, venomous snakes, and scorpions. He sustained you while you lived out there and you were able to see it because of your obvious need. Remember this! No matter where you live or how good your quality of life, God alone sustains you. Follow Him." The actual text tells the Israelites the trials came to do them good, even if they felt like hell sometimes. Moses explains how God used these lessons to keep them from proud and lukewarm hearts.

In Stern's translation, 1 Peter 1:5-7 speaks of another value in perseverance. "Meanwhile, through trusting, you are being protected by God's power for a deliverance ready to be revealed at the Last Time. Rejoice in this, even though for a little while you may have to experience grief in various trials. Even gold is tested for genuineness by fire. The purpose of these trials is so that your trust's genuineness, which is far more valuable than perishable gold, will be judged worthy of praise, glory and honor at the revealing of Jesus the Messiah." Stern uses the word "trust" where many translators use the word "faith". Trials test the genuineness of our faith. I have talked with some people in the church who wonder about the authenticity of their faith. How do they know that they know they are saved? According to Peter, it seems perseverance is a good indicator.

Whether to keep us from sin, prepare us for responsibility, or remind us of our faith's genuineness, we should listen to Peter, James, and Paul when they tell believers to rejoice in trials. Yes, the situations themselves might suck but we can thank God for the Holy Spirit working in our lives. Be encouraged, my friends. Jesus didn't only save us from sin, He gave us the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit to live through hardships in ways that glorify the Father and do us good.

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