Thursday, February 23, 2012

Perplexities of Perseverance

When did we decide to give up on perseverance?

Throughout U.S. history, a common thread of perseverance has been sewn into our nation’s fabric. Think of colonists bravely weathering months on the seas, then confronting nature’s worst to build homes and raise families in the New World. Pioneers traversing wilderness territories to explore the Western expanse. Scientists searching relentlessly for cures to horrific diseases.

Consider industrialists and inventors laboring long hours and risking everything they had in pursuit of dreams and innovation. A nation united in sacrifice to ensure the war effort’s success. Families scraping for years to amass enough money for the down payment on a house.

None of this was easy, but perseverance – bulldoggish determination that refused to accept failure as a final answer – carried Americans through, individually and collectively.

Today, we’ve devolved into a no-waiting, quick fix, microwave society. “I want it, and I want it now!” has become our mantra. We bow at the altar of instant gratification. We fume while standing to place fast-food orders; grumble in checkout lines; grit our teeth at red lights. And lose interest and give up when anything requires too much time or energy.

Mountain climbing requires
Recently my old “friend,” Oswald Chambers, made an important distinction. In his classic devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest,” Chambers observed, “Perseverance is more than endurance. It is endurance combined with absolute assurance and certainty that what we are looking for is going to happen. Perseverance means more than just hanging on, which may be only exposing our fear of letting go and falling.”

This evoked images of mountain climbing. I thought first of a climber that has slipped and clings desperately to a rock or tree branch, fearful of harm to life and limb. This illustrates endurance, trying to survive. The other climber encounters obstacles, but with skill and determination overcomes them and advances slowly toward the summit. This demonstrates perseverance.

Perhaps marching toward post-modernity, our hell-bent insistence on evicting God from public consciousness, has precipitated the death of perseverance. Because what Chambers called “absolute assurance and certainty that what we are looking for is going to happen” lies at the heart of biblical faith. As followers of Christ, because we embrace hope and not “hope so,” we persevere.  

James 1:2-4 declares, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

If that’s true, refusal to persevere in the face of adversity leaves us immature and incomplete, lacking what we need – as individuals and as a nation – to live this life as intended.

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