Julietta Jameson tells the story of a man by the name of Cliff Young. Cliff participated in the 1983 Australian Ultramarathon which consisted of 544 miles from Sydney to Melbourne. What was odd is that Cliff had never run a marathon before.
Additionally, he was a 61-year-old farmer who showed up to the race in a loose white shirt, overalls, rubber galoshes over his boots, and a baseball cap. The officials all laughed thinking it was a joke, but it was no joke. When Cliff registered and refused to leave the starting line, someone came along with a laugh and put a number on his overalls. When the gun sounded, Cliff, along with all of the professional runners in attendance, started running.
To everyone present at the start this was all a big joke. However, five days and four minutes later, no one was laughing as Cliff Young crossed the finish line almost 10 hours ahead of the second-place runner.
How did he win? Two facts emerged from the story: First, as a shepherd too poor for a horse, Cliff had often herded entire flocks of sheep along while running all day. Second, no one told Cliff that the runners of ultramarathons stopped at night to rest. So, Cliff ran the entire distance without sleeping. In the end, Cliff Young won the prize because he never stopped running!
Scripture is filled with examples of those who persevered because God honors perseverance. For example, we read this of Job in James 5:11, when James said, “Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord — that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful (NKJV).”
God rewarded Job’s perseverance and restored to him double of everything he had before. Perseverance, then, is a commitment to move forward in faith when everyone and everything else around you attempt to hold you back. Perseverance is a trait that turns ordeals into opportunities, trials into triumphs, and victims into victors.
Why do I write about perseverance? I write to remind you that anyone can give up and quit. Anyone can shrink back in fear. Anyone can make excuses. Anyone can blame others. Sadly, this is the environment in which we live today. We see this in families, in sporting events, and we even see it in churches.
God has a great plan and purpose for your life and your church. However, we will never realize either if we give up, lose focus, succumb to fear, or make excuses for our failures. Yes!
Times are difficult for the church financially. Volunteers are scarce. Attendance appears to be destabilized. Baptisms are not outpacing population growth. What we need is perseverance that is driven by prayer and practical action.
Here is what I know to be true: We lose our perseverance when we lose our focus and priorities. The writer of Hebrews understood this and said in 12:1-2, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance (perseverance) the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. … (NKJV).”
When you feel like giving up, get your focus back on Jesus who empowers you, enables you, and encourages you not to give up. He is our example. He persevered, took our place on the cross, shattered the gates of hell and rose in victory. Don’t give up Tennessee Baptists! There are seeds to sow and a harvest to be reaped if we do not give up! B&R — Hallmark is pastor of First Baptist Church, Lexington.