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Perseverance

| by John Willans

There is a tale told about a farmer whose mule fell into a well. After many unsuccessful attempts to haul the mule out of the hole, the farmer decided the situation was hopeless.

With sadness, he instructed his boys to fill truck-loads of soil and bury the old mule right there in the well. The boys began to shovel the soil into the well and bury the old mule, but the mule didn’t take kindly to this action.

The first shovelful hit him square on the head, got him in the eyes and made him sneeze. Every shovelful after that hit him somewhere, making him more and more angry. The mule thought to himself, ‘I am not going to give in to this situation’. So he began to stamp around in the bottom of the well, pressing the soil down with his hooves. Several truckloads of soil later, he could still be seen stamping around, packing the dirt firmly underneath his feet.

That old mule persevered for hours and, little by little, lifted himself out of the well on the compacted soil. Eventually he stepped out of the well to freedom, snorting angrily at the whole business.

Standing firm

Perseverance! There are numerous funny stories like this, aimed at encouraging people to persevere through the difficulties of life rather than give up and give in. The common thread behind these fables is a reminder that there are two ways of dealing with life’s problems: one is to keep on going and rise above the problems, the other to lie down beneath them.

Likewise, Scripture has much to say on this subject. It teaches us that, to remain faithful, Christians must learn to persevere and stand firm, no matter what problems or temptations come their way.

Numerous verses exhort those who follow the Lord to be dedicated, determined and persistent: ‘Hold fast the confession of your hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful’ (Hebrews 10:23); ‘you must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ’ (2 Timothy 2:3); ‘do not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart (Galatians 6:9).

It is the duty of every Christian to persevere in their faith and overcome the difficulties of life rather than be overcome by them. We should be like the mule, refusing to give in when things get tough.

Every time followers of Christ are confronted with new difficulties, such as bereavement, ill health, temptation or whatever, how they respond makes them either better or bitter Christians. If they persevere in their walk with the Lord, then he brings good from the evil and they become better and stronger Christians (Romans 8:28).

If, however, they abandon their faith through lack of perseverance, then they are like the seed sown on the stony soil, in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:20-21). Jesus warned that this kind of person has no deep roots to his faith, so endures only for a while. When tribulation or persecution arises because of the Word, he stumbles and fails to persevere with the Lord.

Not losing heart

Jesus told people that ‘they should keep on praying, rather than lose heart’ (Luke 18:1). He followed this up with the parable of the persistent widow. Scripture reassures us that ‘God is faithful, who will not allow [us] to be tempted beyond what we are able to bear’ (1 Corinthians 10:13).

If we keep on praying and persevering rather than losing heart, God for his part will help and strengthen us, so that no temptation or trouble can break us. Christians do not face problems alone; they have a supernatural Helper!

There are numerous reassuring promises in the Bible for Christians, such as: ‘Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you, because he will never permit the righteous to be moved’ (Psalm 55:22); ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ (Philippians 4:13); and, ‘He has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you, so we may boldly say, the Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’ (Hebrews 13:5-6). These promises are the source of Christians’ power to persevere. Strength to persist comes from God himself, so they remain unbroken in spirit, no matter what.

Jesus urged people to persevere by taking one day at a time. He said, ‘Do not worry about tomorrow, because sufficient for the day is its own trouble’ (Matthew 6:34). Taking one problem at a time, one day at a time — or, in extreme cases, one hour at a time — is how God wants Christians to deal with troubles. Handling troubles this way makes all the difference.

Inspired by an example

When a person faithfully perseveres in the struggle against evil, it can have truly amazing consequences, sometimes even years later. During the Second World War, there was an American fighter pilot called Edward ‘Butch’ O’Hare. This young man was assigned to an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific.

One day, while on a mission, he looked at his fuel gauge and realised someone had forgotten to top up his fuel tank. Unable to complete his mission, he turned round and headed back for the aircraft carrier. As he headed back, he saw a squadron of nine Japanese planes heading straight for the American fleet. The rest of the American fighters were out on patrol, leaving the fleet exposed.

O’Hare was utterly alone. In a desperate attempt to divert them away from the fleet, he drove straight into the formation of Japanese planes. After a frightening air battle, incredibly the Japanese planes did indeed break off their assault and O’Hare’s battered fighter limped back to the carrier.

To mark this amazing act of bravery and the numerous lives he saved, O’Hare International Airport in Chicago was named after Butch. The courage this young man displayed that day didn’t simply come out of ‘nowhere’. His brave and selfless character had been inspired by the example of his father’s personal struggle against evil. That, in turn, is a remarkable story.

His father used to be known as ‘Easy Eddie’ and was Al Capone’s corrupt lawyer. At that time Al Capone’s mob virtually owned the city of Chicago. It was a dark and turbulent era in the history of the city and Easy Eddie’s task was to keep the mobster out of jail.

In return for this, Easy Eddie earned big money and lived like a king. He was provided with an estate so large it filled an entire city block. Eddie saw that his son had the best of everything, clothes, a good education and so on.

Having great courage

But, as Butch grew, Eddie became increasingly uneasy about his links with the mob. Through his conscience, God repeatedly challenged him to reflect on the bad influence his corrupt lifestyle was going to have on Butch. Did he want Butch to grow up like that?

As time passed, his conscience bothered Eddie so much that eventually he decided to break away from Al Capone. This was no light decision. Eddie knew it would be a long struggle to become free and that he might pay with his life. He felt, however, he must have the courage of his convictions. In order to put right the wrongs he had done, Eddie went to the authorities and told them about the mob’s activities.

Sometime later he testified in court against Al Capone. Eddie’s courage and perseverance in resisting evil helped end Capone’s reign of terror over the city. Within a year, Eddie was shot dead in a lonely Chicago street, but the example he set so inspired his son that, years later, he was willing to take on a squadron of Japanese planes, single-handedly, in order to save thousands of lives.

In Ephesians 6:10-18, St Paul urges us, ‘Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might … because we do not wrestle against mere flesh and blood … Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand in the evil day and having done all to remain standing’.

We must faithfully persevere in our walk with the Lord, no matter what troubles or temptations try to hinder us. With God’s help and strength, we can be victorious over evil and our perseverance richly rewarded in eternity.

Jonathan Willans

The author is Vicar of Christ Church, Brockham, in Surrey. See www.internetpulpit.co.uk for others of his articles.