February / March 2015 - Vol. 78

Zugspitze Mountain in Germany
Zugspitze, the highest mountain of Germany, is nearly 3000 meters (9718 feet) tall
The Call and Fruit of Perseverance

by Bernhard G. Stock 
Note: This article is adapted from a talk given a few years ago for members from Sword of the Spirit communities in Europe and the Middle East who were on holiday together in Exeter, UK. Bernhard's exhortation on the Lord's call for Christian communities, families, and individuals to persevere together is a timely and important message for Christians today. - ed.

Perseverance is essential for everyone who seeks to do God’s will and receive his promises. The author to the Letter to the Hebrews writes:

“You have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what   he has promised.” – Hebrews 10:36
A long-distance race
Individuals, families, and communities must learn to persevere, not just for a season, but for a life-time and for generations to come. Christianity is a long-distance-race, not a sprint. In Germany we have a saying: “God’s mills grind slowly.”

“Quick and easy” versus “real and good”
Really good things don’t come effortlessly or quickly. If you want a quick and easy meal you can go to a “fast food” restaurant like McDonald’s and be served instantly. But is fast food the real thing – like the kind of delicious meal made from fresh ingredients prepared at home? A really good and healthy meal takes time, effort, and preparation. My mother used to regularly enjoy making potato dumplings for Sunday lunch. She began the process of peeling the potatoes on Saturday afternoon, and putting them into a pan of water to sit overnight, and then scraping them on Sunday morning. And then shortly before lunch she would form them into dumplings and cook them in some boiling water. Now you can make quick and easy dumplings within 10 minutes out of an instant package, but they can’t compare with the dumplings made from fresh potatoes. If you ever tasted my mother's, you would know the difference!

hikers on the Zugspitze
                            mountain in Grmany

Several years ago, I climbed up the Zugspitze, the highest mountain of Germany. It is about three thousand meters high (9718 feet). After walking for five hours we reached a hut where we camped overnight. Then we got up very early at 4 a.m. because we knew it would take the whole day to reach the top. We had to climb for another 8 hours to reach the top.

Now, for the person who doesn’t like to climb, there is a quick and easy option of taking a cable car ride to the top. When the car stops near the top, the people enter a huge building which looks like a crowded railway station. The impression is similar to being in a packed McDonalds restaurant at a shopping center. There are lots of people walking around and standing on the same mountain top where you are standing.

Zugspitze lift

The people who took the cable car ride to the top looked fresh and relaxed, and I looked and felt totally exhausted, even to the point of vomiting. But believe me - not one of those cable car riders standing on the Zugspitze had the slightest idea of the "mountain top experience" I had! It was the same mountain, the same beautiful sight, but there was a big difference: the endurance I had to bear to reach the summit, and the reward I got as a result of achieving my goal through physical and mental effort!

Joy and reward in persevering
Things which don't cost us are often experienced as cheap or of little value or worth. There is a joy in going through real effort and hardship, and learning to not quit or give up but to persevere and endure until the goal is achieved. Konrad Lorenz, a German behavioral scientist (not a Christian!), called the lack of perseverance and the “instant-mentality” which results from that (“I want it all – and I want it now”) one of the “eight deadly sins of mankind” (the title of a book he wrote).

Perseverance is something we can train our children in as well. So don’t deprive your children of this joy! Don't always make it too easy for them! How can they learn to become missionaries, saints, and martyrs if they have not even learned to cope with washing the dishes, or eating some strange food, or three days of camping or hiking in the rain?

God is persevering
Let’s consider God's perspective on perseverance. God himself is persevering! He has unending patience with us and an enduring faith in us! We realize this, if we look at his history with humankind. How often did his people fail and break covenant with him through their disobedience and rebellion, and how often did he renew his commitment to them!

Paul the Apostle writes In 2 Timothy 2:11-13:
“If we have died with him, we shall also live with him;
if we endure, we shall also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.
Note the change in the last verse: he remains faithful, even if we are faithless!

Avoid the quick and easy mentality
There is a way of thinking in us that go against God’s character, the way he thinks and acts: we want everything to be easy, and we want to have it quickly. Perseverance, by contrast, has to do with things that do not come easily, such as enduring adversities and difficulties to obtain a goal, and with things that require time and sustained effort or patient waiting.

Facing adversities with a spiritual perspective
Perseverance has to do with adversities. There is a famous character in the Bible who is an example for that: Job. What we can see in his story is: It doesn't always work like we would like it to. It doesn't often even work according to our ideas about justice! Job's friends had their idea of God’s justice: If you behave well, God will bless you in a visible way; if he doesn't bless you, it is because you made mistakes.

But it is not always our fault or even our sin or our shortcomings when things don't look so glorious! In Job's case, there was something more important behind the scenes, which he wasn’t aware of: a dispute going on between God and Satan! Job's story was only the tip of the iceberg! It is the same with Jesus: From a human point of view, his life was a complete failure! And yet he won the greatest victory in history through his death and resurrection! If you are experiencing trouble or affliction, it might well be that there is something going on behind the scenes which is much more important than you can imagine. Job wasn’t aware of the bigger picture behind his ordeal. It was invisible yet spiritually real!

God very often uses ordinary men and woman to change the course of world history. And very often these people don't recognize how God is using them to change the course of events. They only know that they are going through a painful and difficult struggle, or some kind of ridiculous situation in which they have to persevere with faith and patience. This has happened time and again with whole communities, nations, and groups of Christians.

                          landing at Plymouth colony

The pilgrim fathers who settled in Plymouth on the coast of North America in the eighteenth century may have had some inkling that they were laying the foundations of a "new world,” but first and foremost, they wanted a place for themselves and for their families to settle down and live peacefully as Christians.

Do you think the first Christians who left Jerusalem for other cities and nations did that with the intention of spreading the Gospel over all the world? No - they did it because they were fleeing persecution!

We will only know the full picture on the last day of judgment when the Lord Jesus opens his big book and reveals the deeds and hearts of all who lived. Then will we have the definitive answer that explains the times and struggles we had to endure and the obstacles we had to overcome through faith and perseverance. In this present time we move forward with faith "looking through" the curtain to catch a glimpse of the great and wonderful things which God is accomplishing. Then we can say like Job: "[Lord] I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes can see!" (Job 42:5).

God’s timing is perfect
A second factor which has to do with God’s purposes is time.

Time means that we cannot see everything that is going on in a situation, especially what is unfolding for the future. Again, this is a very natural principle. "The farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth" (James 5:7). The fruit takes time to grow. Oftentimes, it isn't even the same person who does the sowing at spring time and the reaping at harvest time. Have you ever noticed that other people will tell you how friendly and well-educated your children behaved when they have been with them, and you think, why can't they behave like that at home? Now that becomes easy to explain: You do the sowing business - others do the reaping! Rejoice! There is fruit!

Many of the Old Testament prophets did not see the fulfillment of their prophecies. And none of them saw the fulfillment of the greatest prophecy: the coming of the Messiah!

Before Jesus began his public ministry, he had to live 30 years in an ordinary household in Nazareth. Thirty years of preparation for only three years of preaching the gospel, and for three days in which he fulfilled the work of salvation through his death and resurrection. But his preaching was the most effective ever heard!
It really takes time for us to be prepared and to bear fruit for the task the Lord gives us, and he has a perfect time table for each one of us!

Forty years and three generations
Years ago I had the opportunity to speak with a famous theologian and Scripture scholar in Germany. He had left his professorship at a German University some 30 years previously to join a Christian renewal group in Munich which is pretty much like our own network of covenant communities in the Sword of the Spirit. While we were sharing about our experiences in building Christian community, he shared the observation that his Christian renewal group had still not finished their most important and basic task. Even though the group had been living and serving together for some 30 years then, it would take a full 40 years to complete a foundation of community life – that is, when three generations are living together: the "founding generation" passing on their faith and way of life to their children, and the first and second generations together passing on their faith and way of life to the third generation.

When three generations live together a truly Christian way of life, helping and supporting one another, then this becomes a sign of the “messianic age” being fulfilled. The words of Malachi in the last book of Old Testament prophets speak for the Lord, saying: "Then I will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers" (Malachi 4:6).

Thanks be to God, we can already see at least half of this prophecy fulfilled here in our communities! It is a fact which astonishes many people in this world, because they have never seen something like that. In this age, children, beginning even in their early years, will go their own way, and parents will go their own way - but it often leaves them with a deep feeling of discontent.

I think it takes some forty years till there are three generations living together in a common way of life. This may be a key reason for the 40 years the people of Israel had to wander through the wilderness. Starting with the covenant and the Ten Commandments, God had to form a people out of this group of Hebrew slaves from Egypt, and he had to give them a common identity and way of life as his own people.

God is restoring a vision of inter-generational Christian community among us. And in order for that vision to come to full fruition, we have to stay together in community for at least forty years – and for most of us that means for the rest of our lives! And that is the simple reason why we need a covenant - a commitment to stay. (Of course you could chose another path or a 40 year walk through the desert like Israel!) I'm clear which path the Lord has called me to take, and I’m convinced it is easier and better, despite all the challenges which community life entails! But we can only reap the fruits - and experience the promised land - which God offers us, if we persevere and stay committed for a lifetime!

Overcoming obstacles
Let me now give you some thoughts on obstacles, misunderstandings, or traps that can keep us from persevering and finishing well.

The “instant change” mentality produces impatience
I think there are two obvious attitudes which work against perseverance: the first one is the "instant mentality." We want everything, even success in our Christian life, and we want it now: big signs and wonders, the great renewal, people around us being convicted of sin and converted, healing and great awakening. If it doesn't happen, we get impatient. And we are in danger of imposing our impatience on other people, even on our brothers and sisters. We then think we must change them, convince them. Have you ever noticed that you cannot even change yourself? How can you think of changing someone else? It's only by the grace of God that people change, and often God wants to change us first.

Getting discouraged or cynical leads to giving up
The second danger is getting tired and discouraged, or even cynical. If you don't see the great plans fulfilled, or the great promises we believe God gave us, we can begin to be content with what we have. And every time someone comes up with a new and good plan or even with some success, we are inclined to say: wait till you are older, more experienced, wiser - as I am. This is a really bad attitude! It is a sign of unbelief and of spiritual pride, and we should repent of it whenever we discover it in us.

How do you gain the right attitude of perseverance? Of course, through the practice of persevering! But if we think God can form perseverance in us quickly - "Lord, give me patience - but do it right now!" - that doesn't work. The Lord gives us perseverance through putting us in situations where we have to learn perseverance through patient determination to stay the course and not quit. God works through trials and testing to help us grow in patience and perseverance. It is the Lord doing his work of forming us! You should rejoice in it!

Some practical advice
And if you are in situations like that, there is some simple advice I can give you:

1. Don't get out! If I am in a bedroom with only one light switch at the door, before I go to bed, I try to remember my path I take, then when I put the light out, I go to bed in exactly the same way. If you are in a situation in which you have difficulties or problems knowing the way forward, where things are dark, don't change your direction: stay on the same path as you remembered it when the Lord first directed you. Persevere! Otherwise you will bump your head! You can only rethink your way when there is light!

There is another interesting example in Scripture which tells us we should not give up too soon: in 2 Kings 13, Elisha instructs King Joash to perform a prophetic action: he is to strike the ground with his arrows to achieve a victory over Syria. He does it three times. Then the prophet gets angry and says: “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Syria until you made an end of it, but now you will strike down Syria only three times.” This means we really should bring things to their completion just as God has instructed, even if it is hard work! Otherwise we will not get God’s whole plan accomplished.

2. We need to temper our perseverance with the right kind of humor. True perseverance has nothing to do with grim determination, harshness, or bitterness. There is joy in knowing that you are on the right path, even if it is difficult. You can laugh over the difficulties, since you know that with the Lord you will succeed and share in his victory!

Raising children, for instance, takes perseverance. But many parents can testify to the fact that from time to time one can I really delight in the fact that it is hard work, and it has to do with struggling and keeping at it, and not giving up. They sometimes even like those struggles - and they like their kids too! At least it was our experience as parents, and even though I cannot say how this came about, it was something the Lord did and can do with you if you don't quit or grumble. It is a sign of a true call of the Lord: it may look like an impossible task, but you find that you have faith and perseverance for it! And you can even approach it with the fiery zeal of the athlete who sets his sight on the crown of victory. We can have that kind of godly zeal for the call the Lord has given us! We are walking with him, and that is more like a dance - leaping and joyful!

3. We can only have this attitude of faith and perseverance if we look to the Lord, and if we have a close relationship with him - a relationship which builds our trust in him so that it becomes like Job’s. We may not see what the Lord is doing, we may not even see the fulfillment of the promises he gave us - but "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). The Lord gives us the grace to hold onto things not yet seen, to persevere, to be patient like he is, to endure, and to fulfill the great work he has given us!

Prayer for perseverance
I want to close with a prayer of St. Paul for the grace of perseverance:

And so, from the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
Colossians 1:9-12

Bernhard Stock is a member of the Regional Council for the Sword of the Spirit communities in Europe and the Middle East and a founding coordinator of the Bread of Life community (Brot des Lebens) in Munich and Olching, Germany. Bernhard and his wife Monika are the grateful parents of three children and five grandchildren, who along with their spouses are actively involved in Sword of the Spirit communities.

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