The “P” Word

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I have to admit that I really don’t like the word “persevere” very much. Just hearing the word makes me tired, and reading the definition really drains me.

Persevere – to persist in anything undertaken, maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, continue steadfastly, persist, struggle on, hammer away, be determined, keep at it, press on, stand one’s ground, stand fast, hold on, go the distance, stay the course, plod on, stop at nothing, leave no stone upturned, hang on,  plug away, stick to one’s guns, hang in there.

Isn’t that the most exhausting thing you’ve ever read?

Life has a way of wearing us down like waves eroding the shoreline. Daily battles, conflicts and unresolved situations tend to suck the joy, passion, and strength out of us. Sometimes I find myself feeling like the psalmist who said, “My soul is weary with sorrow” (Ps 119:28a NIV). Have you ever felt utterly exhausted all the way down to your soul? You reach down to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” but your bootstraps are missing! Then you hear, “Stick to your guns!” And of course there’s the always popular yet  never encouraging, “Hang in there!” What guns? Hang in where?

The root word for persevere is severe. Sometimes the trials of life can get quite severe. The Apostle James encourages us with these words, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4 NASB). James reminds us that there is a desirable result after perseverance. He reminds us of Job’s perseverance; “As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11 NIV). 

The Bible doesn’t hesitate to use the “P” word (persevere). The book of Revelation uses it seven times. When it comes to persevering, the question that comes to mind is “How long?” That same question has been asked for thousands of years. In fact, the question “How long?” is asked fifty-eight times throughout the Bible. Even in Heaven in the midst of great worship the martyred saints under the alter cry out, “How long, O Lord?” (See Rev 6:10). We rarely get that question answered. What we get is promises of eternal and sometimes temporal rewards for our patient perseverance. “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, ‘In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay’” (Heb 10:35-37 NIV).

The great theologian Charles Spurgeon summed it up this way, “By perseverance the snail reached the ark.” Charles Swindoll encourages perseverance by taking small daily steps. He said, “If you’re running a 26-mile marathon, remember that every mile is run one step at a time. If you are writing a book, do it one page at a time. If you’re trying to master a new language, try it one word at a time. There are 365 days in the average year. Divide any project by 365 and you’ll find that no job is all that intimidating.” Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, said, “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”

There is just no getting around the fact that God places a great premium on perseverance. What’s the key to not giving up and persevering to obtain the promised reward? Moses discovered it. “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:24-27 NIV). “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2 NKJV). Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus is the key to obtaining the prize available at the end of perseverance.

Fragments

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If your life has been anything like mine, it hasn’t exactly been a smooth, straight interstate on the way to the Promise Land.  My life’s pathway has zigzagged and twisted enough to make even the stalwart traveler dizzy. It has suddenly stopped on dead end streets, and has too often gone in a big circle leading me right back to the same place I started. If I picture my life as a jigsaw puzzle, I not only have many missing pieces called “the future,” but a lot of the pieces of my past are missing as well. It seems like a few pieces for my life’s puzzle have fallen on the floor and now I can’t find them! You know the ones I’m talking about. Take for example those pieces called “opportunities of a lifetime,” which we dropped on the floor and seem to have lost them forever. A few other puzzle pieces called “hopes and dreams” look to be permanently gone as well. From a bird’s eye view our life’s puzzle picture just doesn’t seem to make sense. There are just too many missing pieces to make a complete and perfect picture of what life is supposed to look like.

One of the greatest miracles Jesus did when he walked on the earth was the feeding of the 5,000 with only five loaves of bread and two small fish. After he fed the multitude, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost” (John 6:12 NKJV). Twelve baskets were filled with the bread fragments. A fragment is a broken off piece causing an item to be incomplete.  I believe Jesus is still gathering up fragments―not of bread―but the broken pieces of our lives, and once again he is allowing nothing to be lost. What about all of those missing puzzle pieces of your life? Actually, they’re not missing at all. Jesus is gathering all of the fragments. He has those lost pieces called “opportunity” in his hand, and he’s holding those lost “hopes and dreams” pieces in his hands as well.

Broken and missing pieces of life are really nothing new. Many people mentioned in the Bible experienced it as well. Job said, “My days are past, my purposes are broken off, even the thoughts of my heart” (Job 17:11). Looking at the broken and missing pieces of his life, Job felt all hope was gone. But was it? No. Job’s life eventually turned around and he experienced wonderful and fruitful days once more. While hiding from King Saul and fearing for his life, David cried out, “I am like a broken vessel” (Psalm 31:12). The puzzle pieces of his hopes and dreams were missing from his view, but not from God’s. David eventually became King of Israel and God filled those empty spaces in the puzzle of David’s life.

A major piece missing in many people’s life puzzle is the “perfect relationship” piece. Their heart has been broken and that part of the puzzle seems damaged beyond restoration. It seems as if that piece will remain lost and forever out of their reach. However, God knows exactly where that piece is. God is gently holding that piece and He longs to lovingly heal and restore broken hearts. “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

I don’t know how He does it, but God takes all the broken, and even the missing pieces of our lives, blends them together and makes something better and even more beautiful than the original. Everyone’s favorite scripture is Romans 8:28 because it offers such hope. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (NKJV). I looked up “all things” in the original Greek and guess what? It means “all things!” There are no exceptions. God takes the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the whole and the broken, and He makes it all work together for our good and for His glory. Somehow God is going to take all of those broken fragments, dead end streets, U-turns, crooked roads, pot-holes, and mistakes and mix them together with all the wonderful blessings, joys and victories in our lives, and make one big, beautiful picture that has no missing pieces!

Can you hear Jesus commanding the angels, “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost?” Can he really restore and heal a broken heart, a broken dream and a broken life? “Jesus said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 NKJV).