Blessed Perseverance

A Pocket Paper
from
The Donelson Fellowship

January 28, 2008

______________________

 

Message by Robert J. Morgan, Senior Pastor

The Donelson Fellowship

3210 McGavock Pike

Nashville, TN  37214

615/871-4769

www.donelson.org


 

Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him. -- James 1:12

 

***

 

If you want proof that fame and fortune do not lead to happiness and satisfaction, all you have to do is look at the cover of almost any magazine in America this week and read the sad story of the 28-year-old Australian actor, Heath Ledger.  I confess that I’ve never seen one of his movies, but this week as I’ve read about him my heart has gone out to him and I feel so sorry for him.  Despite being one of the most successful and famous young actors of recent times, he died surrounded by sleeping pills, anxiety medication, and antidepressants, following a failed relationship and a very difficult role in an upcoming movie.  In fact, many of the articles about him have pointed out that he had a history of playing very intense roles; and some have speculated that he was unable to break away from his final role of playing the character of the Joker in the soon-to-be-released Batman movie.  Heath Ledger indicated that getting inside the role of that dark and twisted character played with his mind, and afterward he wasn’t able to sleep and he felt incredible stress and sadness.

 

Well, today I’d like to talk about being happy in life. 

 

There was once a great ruler in Spain by the name of Abd Er-Rashman III, who ruled in the 10th century.  Here’s what he said about it:  I have now reigned about 50 years in victory or peace, beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies.  Riches and honors, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity.  In this situation, I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen my lot.  They amount to fourteen.

 

Everyone wants to be happy; but have you ever thought about those words “happy” and “happiness”?

 

They come from the old Middle English word “hap” which means “luck.”  We get our English word “happening” from it, and “haphazard” and “happenstance” and “mishap.”  If someone is “hapless,” it means that he is unlucky.  And from the world’s perspective, happiness depends on our happenings, on what happens to us, on how lucky or unlucky we are in this world.

 

But the Bible consistently uses a different word and a better word.  The Bible writers didn’t talk very much about happiness.  They used the word “blessed,” which is the English translation of a Greek word that is found exactly 50 times in the New Testament—makarios.   The simplest definition of makarios or blessed is this—it is God’s kind of happiness.  It is divine happiness.  It is the kind of happiness that isn’t based on happenings but on something deeper, something better.  It is a contented, long-lasting, deep-seated, joyful contentment in life.  So when you see the phrase “blessed is…” or “blessed are…,” that is a special phrase in the Bible that describes a truly happy life, and we call those statements beatitudes.

 

So there are 80 beatitudes in the Bible, and I’ve included this on the list of Bible studies and subjects that I’d like to preach about one day.  Now, here’s an interesting thing.  In the New Testament, most of the beatitudes are found in the first and last books—the Gospel of Matthew and the book of Revelation.  Revelation has seven beatitudes that I’d like to show you tonight. 

 

In the letters of the apostle Paul, we only find a very few references to the word “blessed,” and our friend James used it only twice.  Today, in our study through James, we’re coming to the beatitude found here in James 1:12:  Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him. 

 

The Reality:

Blessed Are Those Who Persevere Under Trial

The first part of the sentence gives us the reality of the matter.  In this life we’ll have trials and testings, and we must learn to persevere.  The verse says:  Blessed are those who persevere under trial.  The world says, “Happy are those who find fame and fortune, who avoid illness and disease, and who take trips to Disneyland and Daytona Beach.”  Well, there’s nothing wrong with those things, but James makes a very different point:  Blessed are those who persevere under trial.

 

The word persevere is another of those great New Testament words.  Sometimes I’m afraid that I focus too much in my sermons on the meaning of the original Greek or Hebrew terms, or on the etymology and background of the various words used in the Bible.  But every word in the Scriptures is pure and wonderful—every word is a gem or a jewel—and if we don’t really understand the words, we can’t understand the sentences or the paragraphs or the chapters.  So let me take a moment to show you some of the times this word appears in the New Testament, because it will help you understand the nature of what it means.

 

Look at Luke 2:43:  After the feast was over, while His parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.  The word “stayed” here is the same basic word that is translated “persevere” in James 1:12.  It’s the idea of “staying power.”

 

Now look at Matthew 10:22:  All men will hate you because of Me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.  The words “standing firm” are the same in the Greek as the word “persevere.”

 

Now look at Hebrews 10:32:  Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering.   See the words “stood your ground”?  This is the same Greek word.

 

Now look at Hebrews 12:2:  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame….  What word here do you think is the same as “persevere”?  It’s the word “endure.”

 

So the idea is to have staying power, to endure, to stand firm, to bear up, to keep at it.  And that’s really one of the great secrets in life, isn’t it?  In Romans 5, the apostle Paul indicates that this quality is at the very core of a person’s character.  The quality of tenacity and perseverance is the foundation for the success of all our other attitudes and actions.

 

For example, I want to read you something.  As I researched for this message, I came across an article in a New York newspaper. It was written by a woman named Dr. Rachel Bryant, and the title was “Children Learn When They Persevere.” The column begins this way: 

 

The power to persevere is one of the most important, and yet hardest, things to teach kids.  If we teach them to persevere, then we give them their goals.  If we don’t teach them how to apply themselves, then all the love and tutoring in the world will never result in their reaching their potential.

Dr. Bryant goes on to say:

Success requires ability, but ability is not enough.  Many bright kids who sail through the early grades find themselves suddenly overwhelmed in fifth or sixth grade when the work requires much more effort. If a 10-year-old student has never learned to apply herself, she may struggle and even feel like a failure, because suddenly the answers don't come so easily. Often, she just needs help learning what most kids have to learn by second grade: I have to work hard and practice to learn the lesson.

Learning how to persevere is more than learning how to study, but studying does provide us with daily opportunities to develop this in our school-age kids…

Imagine two 6-year-olds with the same level of intelligence and the same fine motor skills. Both are trying to learn to tie their shoes. One fumbles with the laces for five to 10 seconds and says, "Oh forget it. It's no use." The other, goes off and spends five full minutes carefully trying to get the laces to go the right way. Even if this second child meets with failure, he has demonstrated that he is developing a life skill that will give his potential every chance to grow.

Whatever the task, building a tower, gluing a model airplane, reading a social studies chapter or doing a page of math problems, first let your child know that you are pleased to see them trying, and with your presence help them to stretch themselves just a few more minutes. (“Children Learn When They Persevere” by Dr. Rachel Bryant, at http://www.stargazettenews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080102/MOMS02/301020002/-1/ARCHIVES%20date=20070417, accessed January 22, 2008.)

 

Well, according to this verse in James 1, the Lord feels that way about His children, too.  He wants us to keep on going, to keep trying, to keep a positive attitude, and to stick to our guns in the matter of Christian living.  There isn’t much that is ever accomplished apart from perseverance. 

 

Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “Saints are sinners who keep on going.”

 

William Barclay wrote in one of his books about the importance of discipline and of perseverance in our lives, and he used the British author, Samuel Coleridge, as a negative example.  Barclay wrote: 

 

Nothing was ever achieved without discipline; and many an athlete and many a man has been ruined because he abandoned discipline and let himself grow slack.  Coleridge is the supreme tragedy of undiscipline.  Never did so great a mind produce so little.  He left Cambridge University to join the army; but he left the army because, in spite of all his erudition, he could not rub down a horse; he returned to Oxford and left without a degree.  He began a paper called The Watchman which lived for ten numbers and then died.  It has been said of him: "He lost himself in visions of work to be done, that always remained to be done.” Coleridge had every poetic gift but one—the gift of sustained and concentrated effort.  In his head and in his mind he had all kinds of books, as he said himself, “completed save for transcription.  I am on the eve," he said, "of sending the press two octavo volumes."  But the books were never composed outside Coleridge's mind, because he would not face the discipline of sitting down to write them out.  No one ever reached any eminence, and no one having reached it ever maintained it, without discipline. (William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1958), vol. 1, 284.)

 

Without perseverance! 

 

What James is saying is that life is hard, but we’ve got to trust the Lord and keep on going.  We can’t give up.  Temptations come, but we’ve got to keep resisting.  Disappointments come, but we’ve got to keep on believing.  Failures appear, but we’ve got to keep on trying.  Hardships come, but we’ve got to keep on moving forward.

 

This is what saved the free world during World War II.  It was Roosevelt’s optimism and Churchill’s dogged tenacity.  You’ve heard recordings of Winston Churchill speaking to the British Empire during those days.  It seemed impossible that England could be saved from the Nazis.  But this is what Churchill said in his famous speech to the House of Commons on June 4, 1940:

 

I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty's Government—every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

 

It was Churchill’s message of “Never Give In” that kept the world afloat.

 

This is really what evangelized the world.  If you want to know what perseverance is all about, you read the biographies of the pioneer missionaries of the modern era—William Carey, Robert Moffat, Robert Morrison, Adoniram Judson, James Calvert, John Paton of Scotland.  I don’t have time to tell their stories, but it is almost beyond belief, how they kept going and going and going in spite of horrendous privation, hardship, heartache, and discouragement.  But they would not be denied.

 

I don’t know where or how I first came to understand the importance of persevering, but I suppose it was from my parents.  They were hard-working.  They were optimistic.  They kept on going.  They faced difficulties without giving up.  They bore the burden of the work and the heat of the day.  And I learned at an early age by watching them that we just have to keep on going, and that if we keep working in season and out of season, God will send the harvest.

 

So James is telling his readers here—some of whom are facing all kinds of tests and challenges—that we are blessed when we persevere under trial.  And so with the authority of God’s Word, I want to say to you:  If you’re facing some hardships and difficulties and trials—keep on going.  Stay optimistic.  Don’t collapse in defeat or self-pity.  Blessed are those who persevere under trial…

 

The Reward:

They Will Receive the Crown of Life

But the verse doesn’t stop there.  It goes on to say:  Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life….

 

Commentators are divided about what this means.  There are two possibilities.  It’s possible that James is using the symbol of a crown here as a picture of heaven and of eternal life.  He is saying, “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus.  We have heaven ahead of us, we have eternal life, we have New Jerusalem.”

 

Other commentators believe that the “crown of life” is a special reward that God will give those who persevere through adversity in this life.  You know, the New Testament speaks of various crowns that will be awarded in heaven.  There’s the crown of life, the crown of glory, and the crown of righteousness.

 

There’s an old song that swept over the country 100 years ago and everyone was singing it, especially in the churches and evangelistic rallies.  It’s not used much anymore, but the words are still true:

 

When all my labors and trials are o’er,

And I am safe on that beautiful shore,

Just to be near the dear Lord I adore,

Will through the ages be glory for me.

 

The Reason:

To Those Who Love Him

But there’s one part of this verse remaining—the reason we persevere.  What is the driving force behind it all?  It’s our love for the Lord Jesus Christ.   It isn’t just that we’re stubborn people, or that we’re superhuman, or that we’re strong-willed.  It’s that we’re filled with a love for Him that bears us along, sustains our spirits, and triggers our songs.

 

At the beginning of the 17th century, there was a young Englishman named Jonathan Burr who trusted Christ as his Savior in childhood, fell in love with his Bible, and became a pastor of Suffolk.   He was known for his humility, and he would sometimes tell his congregation, “I preach not what I am, but what I ought to be.”  But Jonathan Burr was a Dissenter, that is, he didn’t conform to the Church of England, and as a result he was forbidden to preach.  He said, “My preaching is my life. If I be laid aside from that, I shall quickly die.”  So he and his wife and family decided to immigrate to America where he could preach in freedom.

 

But shortly after arriving in the colonies, Jonathan Burr contracted smallpox, and he almost died.  However, he did not die, and in the aftermath of his recovery, he wrote out a covenant with the Lord.  I’d like to read it to you as we close this message:

 

I, Jonathan Burr, being brought in the arms of Almighty God over the vast ocean, with my family and friends, and graciously provided for in a wilderness; and being sensible of my own unworthiness and self-seeking; yet of infinite mercy, being called to the tremendous work of feeding souls; and being of late with my family, delivered out of a great affliction of the small-pox; and found the fruit of that affliction, God tempering, ordering, and mitigating of evil thereof; so that I have been graciously and speedily delivered; I do promise and vow to Him, who has done these things for me:

 

  1. That I will aim only at His glory and the good of souls, and not my own glory.
  2. That I will walk humble, with lower thoughts of myself, considering that I am a puff of breath sustained by the power of grace alone.
  3. That I will be more watchful over my heart, to keep it in a due frame of holy obedience… for I have seen that He is my only help in time of need.
  4. That I will put more weight in that firm promise, and sure truth, that He is a God hearing prayer.
  5. That I will set up God more in my family, more in myself, wife, children, and servants, conversing with them in a more serious manner.  For this God aimed at by sending this affliction into my family.  I will remember death.  In myself I am nothing, in Christ all things. (E. Michael and Sharon Rusten, The One Year Book of Christian History (Wheaton, Il:  Tyndale House Publishers, 2003), 444-445.)

 

If we love the Lord Jesus above all else, He will give us day by day the persevering grace we need and crown of life we seek; and we can say:

 

O that will be glory for me, glory for me!

When by His grace I shall look on His face,

That will be glory, be glory for me!

 


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