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“Encouragement for Those Who Give It”

 

Part Three: Understanding Perseverance

 

By Ralph McCune

 

For those who serve in Christ’s service, discouragement may come from a host of sources.  Christian leaders are only deceiving themselves when they accept a spiritually naive and non-biblical notion that those who serve in the ranks of Christ’s army are somehow immune to such a thing.  As we have already mentioned in the preceding reflections, God’s servants should not be surprised when discouragement comes; rather, they should expect it to come.

No one understood this more than the apostle Paul.  And he was not afraid to mention numerous experiences that must have caused him enormous anguish as he sought to be faithful to God’s call on his life.  Even though he never complained in  his writings found in the Word of God, one can readily see from his activities that this great man of God needed a word of encouragement from time to time.  This certainly seems to be the case when in 2 Corinthians 12 he wrote how he besought Christ three times to deliver him from a so-called “thorn in the flesh.”

It is important, I strongly believe, that pastors, church leaders, and those who serve in para-church organizations grasp the profound truth that acknowledging a problem is not a breach of faith.  The test of our faith is perseverance in the problem. 

One of the most misapplied verses in the whole Word of God is Philippians 4:13.  In this great verse Paul was not telling the Philippians that he could do “anything” through Christ.  After all, he could not fly, and as far as we know he never attempted to walk on water.  But what he was saying was that he could endure any hardship, any discouragement, even any persecution through Christ who alone gave him the strength.

Satan will do anything and everything to bring discouragement to those of us who serve in Christ’s vineyard.  He knows that discouragement leads to disillusionment; disillusionment breeds doubt; and too much doubting about our ministries may cause us to have serious and dangerous misgivings about our call.  The enemies in the kingdom of darkness must be ecstatic, perhaps they have a celebration, when one of God’s called ones removes himself or herself from Christian service because of discouragement.

I learned a long time ago how we can experience some optimism when discouragement knocks on our door.  That doesn’t mean that we should look forward to discouraging times or even welcome them.  But in my own case, I tried to remember that if my ministry were not in any way an anointed one, then I should not be concerned about interruptions or interference from the “enemy.”  On the other hand if God was truly blessing my efforts in the power of His Holy Spirit, then quite naturally I should expect spiritual opposition on a regular basis.  There is optimism and encouragement in this insofar as the agents of darkness see us as adversarial in their attempts to thwart the will of God.

I also even to this very day keep in focus Paul’s words to the Corinthians about his own perseverance.  He wrote, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in ever way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed . . .” (2 Cor. 4:7-9).  If anyone ever had reason to grumble and complain and be discouraged, Paul certainly had a good case.  But no!  He found encouragement in and through it.

One of the great examples of finding encouragement in perseverance took place in the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.  A young marathon runner from Tanzania, John Stephen Akhwari, had seriously injured his leg just prior to the day of the race.  He had been one of the favorites to win.  But now with the injury no one expected him to show up, much less run.  He not only showed up for the event; he ran and he finished.  He did not win of course, but when asked by reporters after the race concerning his decision to run, he said, “My country didn’t send me to Mexico City to start a race, but to finish it.”

Is it any different for us as we run an even greater race, the race of serving Christ and His Kingdom.  Our race will have hurdles too.  And there will be pain as we move down the track.  Discouragement should not surprise us; it is something we should expect.  But we can find encouragement through perseverance.