No one wakes up in the morning and prays, “God, please increase my perseverance.”
It just isn’t in us to want more perseverance – because the only way to grow perseverance is to be tested – over and over again – and continue to rise. We know that we should persevere, that we should stick to the plan and follow it through:
-when it comes to working out and eating right.
-when it comes to taking our best attitude into school or work.
-when it comes to overcoming physical, emotional, financial, or familial hurdles in relationships.
-when it comes to living out the life that God has called us to exhibit.
But perseverance just isn’t any fun!
Think about the most impressively perseverant people you know. They are all people who faced hardship, often for years, and somehow stayed focused, hopeful, and unwavering to accomplish what they set out to do.
It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t fun. But they achieved that perseverant tag in our minds because they overcame.
For me, perseverance is often physical. Whether it’s Peyton Manning overcoming neck surgeries and being kicked to the curb by the Indianapolis Colts to take the Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl twice, or my friend Tim Hightower who was cut by the Redskins after injuring his leg, who fought back to start in the NFL after four years on the sidelines.
I remember breaking my leg playing soccer. I remember the doctor putting me in a cast up to mid thigh, inclined down so that I couldn’t stand on my right leg. He put a boot over the cast and sent me out for six weeks. I asked him what I was supposed to do; he told me to walk until I couldn’t take the pain. So every night after school, I walked to the reference section of the library where I could touch the stacks on either side, and I limped. It was slow going – but getting out of the cast meant I had to push – I had to plod – I had to persevere through.
Many people have been through worse: they’ve persevered through cancer or apartheid or job loss or divorce. But they have proved that going through is better than giving up, that sitting down doesn’t get you anywhere.
Friends, in exploring what it means to be a Christian, for our Character Counts series, we would be remiss to ignore perseverance. Now, some of you are wiggling in your seats – did he just say that perseverance comes from hardship, and that we should be pursuing perseverance? [Like a bad SAT question, that means we’re supposed to find joy in… the bad stuff.]
Two times in the New Testament Epistles, one of the early disciples writes about perseverance – and both times, it’s in response to suffering and testing.
“We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).
“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).
Over the last two thousand years, Christians have faced suffering – and many have persevered. But sometimes, we get caught up in things that don’t matter, or we think that all suffering comes from being Christian when it’s really the result of our bad habits, poor life skills, and terrible driving. We don’t “get” perseverance – and sometimes, we don’t really want to – which leads me to the story of Gideon and the three ways perseverance shows up.
A little back story on Gideon: When Gideon comes along, the whole nation of Israel is in hiding. I’m not talking about when you put a hand over your face or look away when you see your nosy coworker in the store. I mean that the Israelites had fled their lands to hide in caves and mountain locations because the neighborhood bully, the Midianites, would burn their crops and steal all of their property. The Midianites have literally reduced the Israelites to starvation.
But when the people of Israel called out to God, God sent an angel of the Lord to appear to a man named Gideon. In our scripture today, Gideon is hiding out in a winepress, a sort of man-made cave, trying to hide his grain from the Midianites. Ironically, the angel of the Lord addresses Gideon as a “mighty hero,” even though Gideon doesn’t exhibit anything either mighty or heroic… at first.
Gideon doesn’t show surprise, fear, or disbelief when addressed by the angel though – hinting that there is more to this man than hiding out in a winepress. Instead, he cross-examines the angel about why God hasn’t showed up earlier because it’s obvious that Israel needs God.
Of course, when the angel directs Gideon to head up the army and fight off the Midianites, he asks the same question that Moses did – “who am I and what do you expect me to do?”
Ah, yes. While Gideon is happy to point out the problem – that Israel needed God – he wasn’t prepared at all to do anything about it. He didn’t see himself as part of the solution; he didn’t see the plan.
And that’s where we come to perseverance #1 in our story today: the perseverance of God to love and nurture us into the people we are meant to be.
Rebuffed once, the angel of the Lord tells Gideon the same things that he told Moses, Joshua, Joseph, Zechariah, and others.
“I will be with you. I’ve got this.”
Gideon shows us perseverance #2 because he proceeds to ask God for signs of God’s plan and vision for what will happen.
First, he cooks a young goat and bakes some bread, presenting them to the angel as a meal. The angel tells him to put them down, and immediately deep fries (well, he causes them to be consumed by fire) all of the food Gideon brought.
Now, momentarily, Gideon is stunned into obedient submission – he goes and cuts down an idol and makes a sacrifice to God. But the attention he received was almost too much for him – he worried that somehow he was just being tricked. So he asked for another sign from God.
Second, he lay out a fleece on the threshing floor – presumably where the angel first found him hiding out. He challenged God to make the fleece wet from the dew, while keeping the floor dry. It was just as he proposed in the morning. Pretty cool, right? God went along with his “show me a sign moment”?
Gideon still isn’t satisfied. Third, he asks God to reverse it the following night – dry fleece and wet ground – and God makes it so.
Three times, Gideon asked for confirmation. Three times he persevered in asking God for a sign. Three times he pushed back in his relationship with the Almighty God of the universe.
To be fair, Gideon’s perseverant request of God led to Gideon’s perseverance for God. In Judges 7, Gideon is told to go and battle the assembled armies of the Midianites and their allies. They are outnumbered and out-armed.
But God says they have too many soldiers with 32,000 men. He sends two-thirds of them home, before discerning which way the soldiers lapped water up from a stream and sending all but 300 of them home.
I can’t imagine being Gideon, sneaking into the enemy camp as he did, and seeing the size and mass of the opposing army. I wonder what went through his mind, and what his men thought about dismissing the majority of their soldiers.
Do you think he persevered because he’d seen God persevere in pursuit of Gideon?
Do you think he persevered because God had met him at his point of needing a sign over and over again?
I wonder sometimes what I would accomplish if I believed – if I remembered all of the times God had pursued me – and all of the times God had shown me signs.
What difference would that make in your life?
Would it change how you saw suffering? Would it give you hope for the future?
Would it make you choose to take the more challenging path, and know that God would see you through?
Would it help you persevere?
Today, I’ll close with a gentle country reminder about perseverance – and aim us out the door for our fundraising in food and fellowship.
One Sunday morning at a small southern church, the new pastor called on one of his older deacons to lead in the opening prayer. The deacon stood up, bowed his head and said,”Lord, I hate buttermilk.”
The pastor opened one eye and wondered where this was going. The deacon continued, “Lord, I hate lard.” Now the pastor was totally perplexed. The deacon continued, “Lord, I ain’t too crazy about plain flour. But after you mix ’em all together and bake ’em in a hot oven, I just love biscuits.”
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
“Lord help us to realize when life gets hard, when things come up that we don’t like, whenever we don’t understand what You are doing, that we need to wait and see what You are making. After you get through mixing and baking, it’ll probably be something even better than biscuits. Amen.”
May we believe that with all our hearts – and persevere until we see it all come to completion.