Perseverance and persistence, keeping the end goal in sight.

2 Timothy 2:3-6

3 Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.

5 Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.

6 The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.

Perseverance Defined

Webster’s Dictionary defines perseverance in the following words: “To persist in a state, enterprise, or undertaking in spite of counter-influences, opposition, or discouragement.”

Persistence Defined

Webster’s Dictionary defines persistence in the following words: “To take a stand, stand firm, to go on resolutely or stubbornly in spite of opposition, importunity, or warning.

Introduction

Our text calls us to persistence and to perseverance, but it adds a dimension that protects us from falling into the deep chasm of discouragement when our own best human efforts fall short. Paul writes to Timothy, “You then, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus . . .” (2 Timothy 2:1).

This is what makes all the difference. You and I are called to perseverance, but not that lonely perseverance of one trying to “keep on keeping on” when keeping on no longer makes any sense from a human perspective. This is a call to a life bathed in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, in which we are motivated by that which goes beyond ourselves to be all God would have us be as we persist, as we persevere as followers of Jesus, empowered by His Holy Spirit.

3 struggles of life

Here are 3 areas where perseverance and persistence in following Christ make our lives more joyful and less stressful.

  1. Human Nature
    When we admit the impossibility of changing ourselves with resolutions and self-improvement plans, He takes control and performs the continuing miracle of making us like Him.
  2. Human Adequacy
    We know we are insufficient for the demands of life, but we also know of His all-sufficient adequacy. I can’t imagine any problem He can’t help us solve, any person He can’t love through us, or any challenge He can’t give us strength to tackle. In spite of our inadequacy, he is more than sufficient.
  3. The Future
    We can relax. Whatever we face today will be an opportunity for new dimensions of His character to be formed in us. Romans 8-28 says “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose.”

A life lived without perseverance is a life that tries to exist by mobilizing what natural talents one happens to have, forgetting that some of the most gifted people in the world are failures because they give up when the going gets tough. In fact, some of them have so much talent, genius and education that they never find their focus.

What our text is saying is that you and I are privileged to take all the gifts of God’s grace, freely given to us, and, with faithfulness, persistence and perseverance, move forward, empowered by the Holy Spirit of God, to accomplish that which He dreams of accomplishing in us.

Any discourses on perseverance are pep talks geared to make you a successful person, to remind us that persistence pays off.  The reality is that the Christian church is always just one generation from extinction. You and I are called to be links in the chain that winds its way through human history from the first century until the return of Jesus Christ.

Someone told you about Jesus. That person was faithful. You are the beneficiary of their faithfulness. Now, in turn, you and I have the responsibility of sharing that Good News with someone else, who also will be faithful. We, in our faithfulness, are to entrust the Good News of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ to other people who will themselves be faithful in conveying that to others.

Paul illustrates the nature of Christian perseverance during difficult times with three practical images.

  1. A Solider
  2. An Athlete
  3. A Farmer

We are going to dig deeper into each one of these examples and try to understand what Paul was telling Timothy.  Tonight we will begin with a solider.

A Soldier

You know what it means to be a soldier. A soldier is called to focused service. Your life is lived set apart from normal civilian pursuits. You wear a uniform, you live in a barracks, and you are deployed to whatever part of the world your nation chooses to send you. And it is a life that requires obedience. You cannot have twenty soldiers heading out in twenty different directions, each declaring their own strategy in battle. They must take orders, whether those orders prove to be wise or unwise on the part of the person in charge, the commander who has the larger view of what is going on.

We only have to observe what happened in Iraq to see the evidence of both focused service and willingness to obey commands. Whether it was securing Baghdad or rooting out the insurgents in Fallujah, our military men and women were called to persevere under the most difficult of circumstances. It is not only the full-time enlisted persons who must function this way, but also those who, much to their surprise, have been called up from the reserves to serve their nation.

Mark Luttrell

Let’s talk about a retired US Navy Seal named Mark Luttrell.  He received the Navy Cross in Operation Red Wing for his actions in combat.
On June 28, 2005, Luttrell and SEAL Team 10 were assigned to a mission to kill or capture Ahmad Shah (nom de guerre Mohammad Ismail), a high-ranking Taliban leader responsible for killings in eastern Afghanistan and the Hindu-Kush mountains.

The SEAL team was made up of Luttrell, Michael P. Murphy, Danny Dietz and Matthew Axelson. Luttrell and Axelson were the team’s snipers; Dietz was in charge of communications and Murphy the team leader. A group of goat herders stumbled upon the SEALs, the four SEALs immediately took control of the situation and discussed what to do with the herders. After taking a vote and basing their decision on ROE, Michael Murphy made the final decision to let them go. The herders were subsequently released and disappeared over the mountain ridge. Luttrell believed they immediately betrayed the team’s location to local Taliban forces and within an hour, the SEALs were engaged in an intense gun battle. In the ensuing battle, the rest of the SEAL team members were killed. Team leader Michael P. Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the battle. Danny Dietz, Matthew Axelson, and Marcus were awarded the Navy Cross. An MH-47 Chinook helicopter was dispatched with a force consisting of SEALs and 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment “Nightstalkers” to rescue the team, but the helicopter was shot down by an RPG. All 16 men on the Chinook were killed.

Luttrell was the only survivor. He was “Shot, Eleven through-and-through [wounds]. Broken pelvis. Broken back. Shoulder was torn out. My knees were destroyed. Pretty severe facial damage. He bit his tongue in half. His right hand was destroyed from his thumb over to his index finger.”

Badly wounded, he managed to walk and crawl to evade capture.  When he couldn’t walk he had to find motivation to keep moving forward.  Most normal people would have given up and died.  Something deep within Luttrell kept him moving forward.  One of the things that he did was use a stone to draw a line in the sand/dirt as far forward as he could reach.  He would then drag himself until his toes had crossed over the line.  He repeated this until he had managed to drag himself over 7 miles to an Afghan tribe, who alerted the Americans of his presence, and American forces finally rescued him six days after the gun battle.

Following his physical recovery from Operation Redwing, Marcus went back and completed one more tour before being medically retired. He then wrote the book, Lone Survivor, to share the amazing story of his brothers who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Conclusion

The Christian is called to focused service and obedience to Jesus Christ. All of this involves the potential of sacrifice. All of this involves loyalty.

The soldier keeps in mind the thought of final victory.  We may lose many battles in our life, but as long as we are persistent in following Christ, we will win the War.

Let me ask you bluntly, is your life as a follower of Jesus one of focused service, obedience, willingness to sacrifice and loyalty to your Savior?  When you are beat up, kicked in the gut, and slammed by the enemy, are you going to be able to drag yourself to the finish line?

An Athlete

Why would Paul choose an Athlete to encourage timothy to persevere in his faith?

What are some things that make and Athlete successful?

  • Preparation … Training and hard work
  • Knowledge … of their sport
  • Practice … practice makes perfect
  • Diet … what sustains you is important

Name some athletes that have persevered through difficult times to finally achieve their goal.

Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph was the twentieth of 22 children. Born prematurely, doctors did not expect Wilma to survive. She did. But, at the age of four, she contracted double pneumonia and scarlet fever, leaving her left leg paralyzed. She learned to walk with the aid of a metal brace.

When Wilma was nine years old, she removed the leg brace and began walking without it. By age thirteen, she developed a rhythmic walk. That same year, she decided to begin running. She entered her first race and came in last. For the next three years, Wilma Rudolph came in dead last in every race she entered. But she kept on running, and one day she won. Eventually, the little girl who was not supposed to live, and then who was not supposed to be able to walk, would win three gold medals in Rome’s 1960 Olympic Games. That’s what I call perseverance.

How does this apply to your life?

  • Your words
  • Your environment
  • Your friends
  • The desires of your heart

What does this look like in your daily walk?

  • How are you getting prepared? Prayer and Fasting
  • How are you receiving knowledge? Discipleship
  • How are you practicing? Evangelism
  • How are you being fed? Prayer and Fasting

Conclusion

There is an athletic nature to the Christian life. This involves discipline.  This involves self-denial. You and I are called to stay in spiritual shape, shedding attitudes and actions that would get in the way of successfully completing life’s difficult race.

How are you doing? Are you living with such discipline? Is there in your life that dimension of self-denial that marks the life of the athlete?

A Farmer

Paul says the Christian needs the diligence of a farmer: “It is the hardworking farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.”

The emphasis there is upon the word, hard-working. Being a Christian is not just floating through life with God working for you. Rather, it is you working for God, enjoying the privilege of being his faithful servant through whom he does his work today. There is no greater calling than that. Yet, the attitude of many Christians today is, “I’ve become a Christian in order to get God to bless me, and work for me. If he doesn’t do it the way I want, I’m ready to quit. I don’t want anything to do with Christianity when it gets difficult.” That’s the very thing the apostle is warning against in this passage.

Most of us here in the Houston area are at least a generation or two removed from the farm. But imagine with me all of the responsibilities of owning a farm. Someone has to milk the cows. Someone has to plow the fields. Someone has to do the planting, cultivating, weeding and spraying of insecticides and application of fertilizer. Then there is the harvesting. Farmers are tied to the difficult duties of being farmers when it is profitable and also when they farm at a financial loss.

Being a Christian takes long hours of labor. A Christian is called upon to reprogram the computer of his mind to think differently than other people think. That is not accomplished easily. It takes hours of reading the Bible and reading books about the Bible, until you see life the way the Bible sees it. It takes, perhaps, hours of listening to tapes, attending services, sharing and relating with other Christians how they are struggling and letting them see how you are. It takes diligent labor. It is not something that comes automatically because you happen to be a Christian.

Like a farmer, we might have to rise up early and work hard; we do so in expectation of a harvest. Paul always sets before us that life is not the end of the story, that what we may have to give up here is made up for abundantly when we step out of time into eternity. That is the day for which we labor.

Farmers cannot neglect their chores. They are at the mercy of the elements. They can’t just say, “I don’t feel like harvesting today.” They have to focus all their attention on doing those difficult jobs regardless of weather, even late into the evening hours.  Look at a farm where the farmers are delinquent and you see an overgrown mess, which quickly leads to agricultural and financial bankruptcy. The same thing is true in the Christian life.

How about you? Do you have the diligence of the farmer in your Christian life? “But God’s schedule is not always my schedule.”

Thinking Points

The soldier keeps in mind the thought of final victory.  We may lose many battles in our life, but as long as we are persistent in following Christ, we will win the War.

The athlete is upheld by the vision of the winner’s trophy. Though our bodies and minds may ache, we know that by persevering through the pains of this world, one day we will have new bodies, free of pain and suffering.

And the farmer looks forward to the hope for harvest. Day in and day we must be persistent in studying, praying, and witnessing to those around us, because one day the harvest will come and we want to influence as many people as possible for the Lord Jesus Christ.

For the Christian, there is the crown. We look forward to the joy that comes from faithfulness and the anticipation of meeting our Savior in heaven. We must persevere in the face of adversity , and persist in our daily efforts to be more like Him, so that one day we hear, “Well done thou good and faithful servant. Enter into your eternal rest.”

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