There are many demands in the Bible on Christians. They are called to worship the Lord with all their hearts, souls and minds; they are expected to witness for him in a variety of ways and places; they are called to love their fellow believers, some of whom may not be always lovable; they are to show love to all people, some of whom may refuse to respond in a similar way. What do Christians need as they face those ongoing situations?
Perhaps we might respond and say that we should engage in focussed prayer. Or maybe we should try and find suggestions from others who have gone through similar experiences. No doubt, those responses are necessary. Yet it seems to me that what the Bible calls the followers of Jesus to do is to persevere. Of course, we need to pray about perseverance, and we can be helped by obtaining advice from others.
In a basic sense, perseverance is a very personal response. Often when two believers face a common situation, it is not the same situation for each of them. At that moment, one of them might face it with a sense of peace whereas the other might face it with a sense of fear. Yet they both must persevere. After all, the sense of peace does not guarantee perseverance and the sense of fear need not prevent it.
How do we persevere? The Bible gives several illustrations to help us and one that is mentioned several times is taken from athletics. I am not an athlete, but it seems to me that a successful athlete does two things. First, he keeps his eyes on the finishing line where he will get his reward. Second, he watches every step that he takes so that he will not get tripped up or injured himself, or injure another runner.
Both those details illustrate how a Christian perseveres. He looks ahead to where Jesus is waiting to reward him and he looks around to avoid endangering himself or others by what is in his path. And he chooses not to go in certain directions because they are not essential in the Christian race.
The picture of a race reminds us that the Christian life is not over until it is over. Sometimes, a runner gives up in the first mile, sometimes a runner gives up near the end. But they both give up. Recently I have met or heard about several people who used to profess, but no longer do. Whatever else can be said about them, they did not persevere. We trust that the Lord will bring them back. But sometimes they don’t rejoin the Christian race.
As we begin another year, we should make it our aim to persevere through it following Jesus. He knows that we will not be perfect, but we don’t need perfection to persevere. What we need is devotion and dedication. Devotion, we might say, is the attitude of our hearts for Jesus and dedication is the resolve to follow him through life.