May 24, 2023 & August 24, 2022
If you regularly read these DeacoNotes, your first thought was probably that I made a typo in the numbering, as the next one in the progression should be # 32. This particular note, however, is a repeat of sorts of the very first one, that I ever shared. That was back, before I envisioned these notes as a ministry, and I just shared an interesting link to a few friends. Over the subsequent weeks, the distribution slowly grew and, at the encouragement of our pastor, I began posting them to the church website on The Messenger tab. I then went back and posted my previous notes, but never got around to the very first one, that started it all. That was partly because the first note was simply a link to an article on another online resource, and I had not yet written anything original to accompany it. This week, however, the theme of that first week - that of endurance - finding the strength to persevere for the long haul - seems relevant once again. The original impetus for the article last year was to address COVID fatigue. We were getting tired of the various restrictions, and yet every time we loosened them, we got reminded of why they were there in the first place. And the problem was not that they were particularly onerous, it was that they had lasted such a long time. It was the fact that the battle we had engaged in, expecting it to be a short sprint, turned out to be much more akin to a marathon. This was not a time for "bursts of energy!" We needed to settle into a sustainable pace, that we could maintain for a long haul. We needed to find ways to endure - to persevere. I recall a time in my business career, where I was called upon to speak with young college students, who were interning for the summer with our company. One of the reasons I was selected as a speaker, was because I had been in their shoes a few years earlier. I usually spoke about lessons learned, and the value of getting a taste of what it was really like to work in your chosen career field. But then I would open it up for questions. And one I invariably got had to do with the cost vs reward in earning an advanced degree - in my case a doctorate, before starting the work phase of your career. I remember telling them, that the thing that surprised me the most about getting an advanced degree, was that in order to succeed, above all else, you needed to be stubborn - very very stubborn! An unwavering unwillingness to give up was crucial. In an engineering field, where the requirements of the degree were to advance the state of the art - invent or discover something, that was previously unknown - the problems, that beset you on the way, are rarely "rocket science," as they say. More often, they were secondary - repairing a pump, fixing a leak, or tightening that intermittent loose connection way in the back of the rack. In fact, I used to have a poster hanging on my wall to remind me of this very reality. It read,
"It is not the mountains ahead that wear you out - it is the grain of sand in your shoe!"
One of the most famous illustrative examples of this sort of annoyance is that of Jim Thorpe. He was a Native American from Oklahoma, that represented the United States in the 1912 Olympics for track and field. He was a runner and wound up winning two gold medals. One of his final challenges, however, after all the work to get there, was the fact that his shoes were stolen on the morning of his competitions. He did manage to find some shoes near his size in a garbage can. They were not a set and one was a little too big for him. A photo of him from that day shows him wearing mismatched shoes and multiple socks on his left foot to compensate for the oversized shoe. Wearing these mis-matched cast-off shoes, Jim won two gold medals for his country's team. It serves as a reminder, that the question is not whether life is fair or not. The question is, what are you going to do about it? Will it hold you back and give you a perfect excuse for failure, or will you persevere in spite of what life has thrown your way? Will you be too stubborn to give up? Someone once wrote,
"Whatever you woke up with this morning, stolen shoes, ill health, failed relationships, failed business; do not let it stop you from running your race. You can have reasons, or you can have results .. but you cannot have both!"
While we all know that you will never reach the finish line, if you never take the first step, we also know that just choosing to try for results, is no guarantee that you will achieve them. As Lev Grossman writes,
"wishing doesn't make it so."
This brings us to the key question for today. How do you garner the strength to endure, to persevere, in the face of the obstacles you will encounter in your "race" to the finish line? The 14th chapter of Acts tells us that Paul and Barnabas came to the Lycaonian city of Lystra. While there they preached the gospel and healed a man, who had been lame from birth.
Acts 14: 19 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead.
To most of us, this would seem to be a pretty serious obstacle. Paul, however, does not give up - instead he shows himself to be one of the most stubborn people on the planet. Look what he does.
Acts 14: 20-22 ... he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.
The record in Acts tells us, that Paul simply told the disciples,
Acts 14: 22 "We must go through many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God."
Would you have had the strength to continue on? Or, would this have been where you called it quits and deemed the cost too high? The truth is, while the perceived obstacles on our journey may be different, we have all faced periods in our life, where we entertained the option of quitting - giving up. No one escapes these seasons. The test is not whether we have these thoughts or not. The test, is what we do with them; and when tempted to quit, how we find the strength to endure, to persist one more step, or one more day? With regard to spiritual races, or the pursuit of spiritual objectives, to which we may have felt called, Rick Warren, the former senior pastor of Saddleback Church, offers the following acrostic:
E - Embrace God's purpose N - Nurture your spiritual roots D - Direct your attention of Jesus Christ U - Use your experience to help others R - Rely on God's power E - Expect God to bless you
Let's look at these six steps to strengthening your endurance separately. E - Embrace God's Purpose
This action speaks to the fact that few us will endure a tough struggle without a good reason. And when your actions are part of a larger purpose, you have an additional incentive not to give up. As Christians, that larger purpose relates to God's call on your life.
Philippians 2: 13 it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
The key to strengthening your endurance is to own or embrace God's purpose for your life and make it your own. Your struggles then gain an elevated importance, being viewed, not in isolation, but as part of a grander, broader spiritual objective - fulfilling God's purpose.
N - Nurture Your Spiritual Roots & Gifts
The Bible tells us we develop spiritual roots by sinking them deep into God's word. I think of this action as remembering that we do not have to come to the battle unarmed. We have each been given gifts. The trick is to be able to deploy and use them.
Ephesians 6: 17 Take up the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
But we also need to remember that, a sword is a necessary, but not sufficient condition to becoming a swordsman. You must also train to be able to wield the sword effectively when it is needed. It is not enough to have a Bible sitting up on your bookshelf. You must also know what it says and how to apply it to your life in all of its facets.
II Timothy 2: 15 Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
I Timothy 4: 14 Do not neglect your gift which was given you
D - Direct Your Attention On Jesus Christ
Corrie ten Boom once said, "If you look at the world, you'll be distressed. If you look within you'll be depressed. If you look at God, you'll be at rest." I think this is another way of reinforcing the idea that we are not alone.
Hebrews 12: 1-2 Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.
I Corinthians 10: 13 And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.
U - Use Your Experience To Help Others
We humans love to think we are unique - there is nobody like us and think nobody else has been in our situation. It is a dangerous delusion that can shield us from very valuable help. There is a certain wisdom is Solomon's words when he wrote,
Ecclesiastes 1: 9 What has been will be again. What has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
And similarly, Paul wrote in his letter,
I Corinthians 10: 13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.
No matter what you are facing, someone else has faced something similar before. This can be comforting in two ways.
First, someone else conquered this problem, which means it can be done.
And secondly, someone else conquered this problem, which means knowledgeable help exists.
Lastly, each battle, each struggle, prepares us to be in a position to help others, when they face similar situations. I recall being called to pray for someone once a long time ago. I found him resistant, huddled on his "pity pot," feeling very alone, but shutting out the world. Once I revealed, I had faced a similar situation years before, his resistance melted and we were finally able to help him. My prior struggle was preparation for that opportunity to minister years later.
R - Rely On God's Power
This action is another reminder that God is not a silent partner. He does not just sit on the sidelines and cheer. He is also willing to help. In fact some would argue that He sometimes uses people who cannot do it without Him, so that it is clear God is present and acting in our life.
II Corinthians 12: 9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
Someone once wrote,
"You do not know God is all you need, until God is all you have!"
And Paul wrote to his friends in the church as Colosse,
Colossians 1: 11 We pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power, so you will have all the endurance and patience you need.
E - Expect God To Bless You
Faith is expecting God to do something in and with your life. Matthew records this incident in his gospel that illustrates this point:
Matthew 9: 27-30 As Jesus went from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, "Have mercy on us, Son of David." When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" "Yes Lord," they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, "According to your faith will it be done to you," and their sight was restored.
According to our faith, it will be done for us!
I leave you will one final verse of encouragement,
Hebrews 10: 36 Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God's will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.
Do not give up. God's best is yet to come.
Please feel free to share this DeacoNote with a friend, or post a related thought of your own in the comments section below. Warren J. Ayer, Jr. Chairperson, Board of Deacons United Church of Colchester