Tag Archives: perseverance

By Your Patience Possess Your Soul

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1: 2-4)

Can we honestly say that we welcome the trails that come our way? Do we say: “What an amazing trial I am going through! I am so looking forward to what the Lord is going to do in me through it! Thank you, Lord! Bring it on!” Because that is the attitude that James is exhorting us to take on, right at the outset of his letter. And just in case we want to file those verses for later reference, the Holy Spirit gives us another reminder in 1 Peter:

 “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,  (1 Pe 1: 6-7)”

Trials are not a popular subject – we prefer healing, grace, faith; in fact anything that focuses on the blessings of our inheritance rather than the hardship of the cross.  Resurrection trumps death every time. But the New Testament is peppered with expressions of the joy felt by the early church as they lived under the hammer of persecution, and the inescapable logic of James’s statement is that, through the development of the fruit of patience in  our lives, we become people who “lack nothing” as a direct result of the trials that we undergo. So do you want to be perfect and complete? Do you want to lack nothing? The good news is that the perfect work of patience that will bring that about. The bad news is that you need to “fall into various trials” for it to happen.

“Isn’t there an easier way?” I hear. “Can’t I just receive this perfection by faith? Can’t I just be imbued with the perfection of Jesus as I spend time in His presence?”

Unfortunately that is not what my Bible says. Yes, we must spend time in His presence, and yes, we receive our inheritance by faith, but it appears from Scripture that the development of a Christ-like character can only come about one way, and that is when patience is forged in the crucible of our trials. Jesus set the pattern himself when, speaking prophetically about the persecution coming on the church He said: “”By your patience possess your souls.” (Luke 21:19) He gave us the extreme example of patience when, “For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame…” (Heb 12:2) The word  (Greek “hypomonē ,”also translated as endurance and perseverence) used as a verb here by the writer to the Hebrews is the same as that is used by James, when talking about the “perfect work” of patience; and by Jesus when he tells us how to  “Possess or souls.” Patience certainly had its perfect work in Him, and because He endured the cross and sat down at the right hand of the Father we too can possess our souls and be seated there with Him.

What have You done?
How can we relate this to our own trials? If you are reading this article you are almost certainly not facing life-threatening persecution, unlike James and Peter. You are not about to be crucified for the sins of the world. But I think that we can find a useful lesson if we look at the actual trial of Jesus before Pilate. The person who sat in the Judgement seat was in the position of the “prince of this world” in terms of worldly authority over the man Jesus. As we know, Jesus referred to Satan as the prince of this world in John 14:30. Here is the exchange between Jesus and Pilate as recorded in John 18:35-36, when Jesus Christ stood before His worldly judge and was challenged to give an account of Himself:

“What have You done?” (asked Pilate)
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here. Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”
(John 18: 35-36)

When we face judgement and we feel that we have done nothing wrong, what are the thoughts that we are likely to give voice to? “It wasn’t me/my fault!” “I didn’t touch it!” “Well, you said…” And so on. We all know the script, and we know the sense of indignation and hurt that goes with the injustice of false accusation and blame. But not so Jesus. For the joy set before Him and through His absolute confidence in His identity and His mission, he endured not only the temptation to justify Himself, but also all the mocking, the slaps and the scourging that he suffered even before walking the final path to Calvary; and He spoke only of His Kingdom and its eternal truth. Patience had its perfect work in Him, and He possessed not only His own soul but yours and mine for eternity.

Peter expressed it like this:

“For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps “Who committed no sin,
Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.”
(1 Pe 2: 21-24)

It is likely that Peter wrote this letter, and the second one, when he was living in Rome under Nero, not long before his death. Just a few verses earlier, he said: “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men…” (1 Pe 2: 13-15) Peter was submitting himself to the ordinances of Nero. This is New Testament patience: the mindset of a man totally sold out to the Kingdom of God.

We do of course face many and varied trials in this life. We are promised persecutions. Illness, poverty, injustice, pain – these are all realities, and in all of them it can be said that when Christians succeed in keeping their hypomonē through them Jesus is glorified, as Peter writes in the second of the opening scriptures. But the trials I am thinking about are not physical hardships, but the emotional trials we can face on a daily basis where our minds are buffeted by negative, defensive reactions to the comments of other people – often loved ones. These may seem insignificant when compared to the trials of cancer or the prospect of martyrdom, but they are part of the very fabric of our relationships; and if part of the preparation of the spotless bride of Christ is for us to be in unity before He comes back for us, we need to deal with it.

Trial by argument

Jesus’s mission was to bring the victory of Love into the world through the cross. When He was on trial His choice was to defend Himself or hold onto His mission. When we are on trial, and the voices that come from the prince of this world are goading us to defend ourselves, we too can make the choice that Jesus made: we can remember that we belong to a kingdom that is not of this world and choose our mission of unity and love over our protestations of innocence. The Lord is our strong tower: if we can hold onto the author and finisher of our faith instead of fighting our corner, we will eventually see His love prevail – because it always does – and patience will have its perfect work.

Love always builds. Love does not focus on self, but on the other. There can be many times in a trial by argument when we know that what we are saying is true; but unless we speak that truth in love the words will be destructive, because the enemy will twist them into a weapon of attack for his own purposes. What is truth? Truth spoken in defensiveness only serves to puff up self, and self will always fall sooner or later; whereas truth spoken in love is what causes us to “grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.” More than anything, this is what we all want. We know it in our spirits, but it is hidden from our flesh. So if we want to possess our soul we need to listen to the quiet voice speaking into our spirit and ignore the loud ”defend yourself!” clamour of the flesh. We have got used to weddings being postponed because of Covid; we don’t want ours to be put off because of our discord.

Hold on at all times: the handlebars

“Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.” (2 Peter 1: 5-7)

We have all seen cyclists – usually young men or boys – cycle along without holding the handlebars. I remember when I was a boy and first learnt the skill. I also remember that, as a rule, it was only a skill I employed when I knew other people were watching…  But there are two circumstances that every cyclist riding “no hands” has in common: this particular skill can only be accomplished on as smooth terrain, generally a road or another paved surface; and it is not something that can realistically be attempted when cycling uphill. As Christians, we have left the paved surface of the road, and are heading up the mountain on a dirt track. If there is one thing we need to do, it is to keep hold of the handlebars.

There are many exhortations in the New Testament, whether from Jesus, Paul or any of the other writers, to persevere in our faith. Perhaps the most frequently quoted is from Pauls’ letter to the Philippians:

“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3: 13-14)

The word translated as “diligence” in the introductory passage is spoude, which means earnestness, eagerness, being full-on, not just in the desire to accomplish something but in the energy and persistence applied to carrying it out. Elsewhere Peter writes be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless.” (2 Pe 3:14) Paul exhorts Timothy to be diligent in pursuing godliness “so that (his) progress may be seen by all,” (1 Tim 4:15), and to the Galatians he writes “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Gal 6:9). References to being committed and wholehearted are set like precious stones throughout Proverbs. The rewards held out by the Lord to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation are all for those who “endure.” And these references only scratch the surface of what is a very deep-veined theme running through the whole of Scripture. Diligence is the name written on our handlebars: if we don’t hold on, we will fall off.

At this point there might appear to be a tension between the fundamental truth that we are saved by Grace (the Cross of Christ) and not by works (staying on the bike) However there isn’t one. The bike itself is a gift from God. The desire to ride it and to stay on is a gift from God, just as faith itself is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8; 2 Peter 1:1). And Psalm 37:24 tells us: “Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholds him with His hand,” so even our ability to stay on the bike is by the Grace of God. The very words that are given to us by the Holy Spirit encouraging us to be diligent and to endure also give us the desire and the ability to carry them out. I think it can reasonably be said that those who to fall away are the ones who never really got on the bike in the first place – who confessed with their mouths that Jesus Christ is Lord, but never really believed it in their hearts. (Romans 10: 9) So if you, like me, are picking your bike off the ground and getting on again for the fiftieth time this week, don’t beat yourself up over it and call yourself a failure. The good news is, you never were a success in the first place! All of that glory belongs to the Lord. The fact that you are getting on your bike again is proof that you are, by the grace of God, being diligent.

So, holding onto the handlebars, we press on towards the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. We carry on pedalling along the mountain track. Sometimes there are downhill stretches and easier sections, but the call is upward and the overall direction of the track is always to take us ultimately “further up and further in,” as Aslan says in the final book of the Chronicles of Narnia. And this leads us to the other essential function of the handelbars: they are what gives the bike direction. We don’t just hold on “with all diligence” in order to stay on the bike; we hold on to stay on the path. And we always look forward: looking back brings disaster. With our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, we steer along His track to  the top of the mountain.

Being born again isn’t about boarding a train in this life and stepping onto Heaven’s platform in the next one: it’s about the slow process of growing to maturity in Christ as we consistently reveal to the watching world that He is the one who is keeping us on track. The higher up and further in we go, the closer to Him we get and the more like Him we become, so that “Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” (Isaiah 2:3)

The Mountain of God is the Mountain of His presence, where Love rules and His Glory dwells. It’s where He met with Moses and gave the Old Covenant to His people, and it’s where He meets with us to lead us forward by His Spirit today. There is one simple test that will tell us if we are on our bikes or completely off track, and it’s the question I referred to in the chapter on the pedals: are we learning to love? Jesus has individualised lessons for each one of us, and they will all be somewhere along the route that Peter maps out in the scripture that opens this section. But learn them we must if we are to progress up the mountain, because

They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:9)

This is where our direction must be set. We can keep moving, with both wheels on the ground, our feet on the pedals and our hands close to the brakes, gripping the handlebars tightly. But whenever we hurt or destroy we’ve lost our way.

Identity Crisis

Bartimaeus (Mark 10 v 46-52)

Bartimaeus knew about Jesus and knew what he would do for him, yet he also was aware that he did not deserve to be healed as he called out “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Herein lies another key, which is knowing our frail spiritual state. As Bartimaeus showed, we really don’t deserve anything: all that we receive is by the Lord’s mercy. But because of what Jesus has done on the cross for us  we can boldly enter the throne room of our Father and ask for what we want. “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4:16)

Bartimaeus recognised Jesus and not stop calling out to Him.  Even when he was told to be silent he was persistent and called out even more, and when Jesus called him he  threw off anything that was hindering him, jumped up  and went to Him.  Then jesus asked him what he wanted.  Bartimaeus simply said: “I want to see,” not “if it’s your will,” or “It would re really nice if I could see…”

So we can see how much he wanted to see and be healed: he threw his cover off and jumped up;  he didn’t just get up on his feet and tentatively wander over in the hope that he might be noticed.  Bartimaeus had one thing on his mind, and his actions expressed it. Although this story is used for healing, I believe we can do the same with whatever we want from the Lord. The writer to the Hebrews says:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. (Hebrews 12 v1))

These weights could be things that we have held onto from the past that we have allowed to  become part of our identity. This could include illness, disability, even sin:  essentially anything that we hold onto that means that we are not fully accepting our identity In Christ. Are we willing throw off everything, even things that have become our identity, like Bartimaeus’s begging bowl?  We don’t need them: we are new creations, as 2 Corinthians 5: 17 makes absolutely clear.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: The old has gone, the new is here!

Our identity is in Christ and not things of the past; whether it’s our wealth, our position in our job, what we have given away, our house, our reputation, even our healing.  It has all gone, and the new has come. We are hidden in Christ.

For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God .(Colossians 3: 3)

So our identity should be focused who Jesus says we are; and since this is hidden in Him, nothing can take it from us.  It will always be true.  How we process this truth is our choice: we can either throw everything off to fully take hold of it in faith; or we can put some of our eggs in different baskets, maybe because we don’t want to let go of something else that has become our identity due to fear, or maybe we are just hedging our bets because our experience hasn’t matched up to the  truth. However, the truth remains, whether we choose to believe it and act on it or not, much like the sun is always shining even if it cloudy. If our experience is not matching the truth we need to take hold of the Word fully, letting go of everything that hinders us. 

Now go back to the sub-title of this article. I left a word out. What was it?

So anything that stops us remembering and living out these truths could be classed as part of the identity of our old self; the one that has gone.   Are we willing to throw them all off and jump up, making ourselves look  foolish, shouting louder than the noise of the distractions around us? Are we prepared to stumble blindly towards Jesus, through the mocking and the catcalls, despite all the adversity, until we hear Him say to us: “What can I do for you?”  Will we speak the truth that is in our hearts and say directly and plainly, “I WANT TO SEE!”

Our Father in Heaven doesn’t mince His words. Jesus tells us to let our “yes be yes, and our no be no.” I believe we need to follow His ways in this, and tell Him what is on our hearts without wrapping it up in formulae.

John Wesley and Billy Graham.
Two more recent examples of calling out earnestly and in desperation are John Wesley and Billy Graham.  In John Wesley’s house there are two knee sized marks in the carpet next to his bed where he cried out to God for revival. When Billy Graham was a student at Wheaton College he was one of a group of students that visited the building. When the lecturer returned to the coach he counted the students and found one missing, so he went back into the building to find Billy Graham kneeling in the same knee marks as Wesley, his face flat the bed, calling out: “Do it again lord!” Do we have this passion? How much do we want to know Jesus and do what He asks of us? Will we long for and cry out for healing and revival? Do we cry out for God to touch us again? And the big question: what are we willing to sacrifice to gain these things?

If we want to learn from Bartimaeus and Billy Graham we must be willing to shut ourselves away and lock into the Lord, to become more like Jesus and to let his holy fire refine us. In so doing we in turn will be set on fire for him.  If it only takes one man to stand in the gap for the Lord to do what He did through John Wesley and Billy Graham, just imagine what one church can do. Jesus said when two or three are gathered in my name I will be there in the midst.

Bartimaeus’s old identity.
Bartimaeus’s old identity was “blind.” This was the word I missed out earlier.  He knew who Jesus was, and not caring what he sounded or looked like he approached Him boldly and in complete faith that Jesus would meet his need. His identity was Bartimaeus, not Blind Bartimaeus. And yes, Jesus healing him was an awesome miracle, but there is more written about Bartimaeus than the miracle here. I think that the fact that he was blind is secondary to the fact that he was persistent and didn’t hold onto his disability. I think Mark is making the point that it was persistence and desperation for Him which caused  our Lord to stop. He wants to see how much we really want what He has for us.  He wants us to be utterly reliant on him and desperate for Him. In His presence all of us are beggars.

The Crumbs Under the Table

Even the dogs have the crumbs that fall from the masters table…

Then Jesus left Galilee and went North to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Gentile woman who lived there came to him, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely.” But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. “Tell her to go away,” they said. “She is bothering us with all her begging.” Then Jesus said to the woman, “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.” But she came and worshipped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me!” Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.” She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.” “Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed.” (Matthew 15: 21-27)

Like all the stories in the gospels, there are many lessons we can learn from this account. I just want to look at a couple that apply specifically to prophesy.

Firstly, it’s always good to be asking God for what can one take from prophecies that are given to other people. I  apply this in my walk of wanting to hear from God, not turning off or thinking either: “that’s nice for them,” or “why doesn’t God ever have a word for me,” but asking the Lord if there are any crumbs for me under the table.

This can also  be  applied this to messages  brought at meetings: if we ask the lord what He wants to say to us, there may well be something which might not be the speaker’s main point, or even something he is speaking about, but which is prompted by part of the message.

The second is the woman’s persistence. I believe we have to be persistent in our desire to hear from God. He wants to know that we are serious. We look at persistence again in the next article in this series.

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.  (Matthew 11v12)

Again, this scripture is open to a number of interpretations, but one is that the “forceful” the push into the kingdom of Heaven to take hold of it in their lives. I believe is not only about those newly brought to the kingdom of God, but also those fervently and earnestly seeking to take hold of spiritual gifts:

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians   2 v10)

We are saved by grace not by works, so this is not in any way suggesting that salvation is something that we earn; but  I believe it is to do with pressing into our gifts ( both spiritual and natural).  We must remember that we have an enemy who is trying to halt our growth and maturity in the Lord, so we must soberly keep in mind our weaknesses and keep our armour on.

God has great works planned for us to do, with Him and not for Him, where we will need  to use our giftings to complete them and bring glory to God. If we work with Him, He will continually give us the strength and abilities that we need; but if we try and work for Him we will generally be doing it in our own strength and determination, often trying to earn favour with  the Lord, forgetting that we were saved by grace and that these works were already planned for us to accomplish with Him before the beginning of time.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal,  but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me.” (Philippians 3: 12-13)

Again here we see the picture of something that not given to us when we become a Christian but for which we must contend spiritually as we take the Kingdom by force. He has already planned what gifts and assignments He has for us that will bring Him glory, but as the apostle Paul puts it we are to press in to them. So in all this there is a battle, and battles are not won by  being passive  or hesitant, or by just waiting around for the victory to happen. We need to press in or take by force everything that God has for us and that has been prophesied over us, no matter what  the cost. As we battle to grow further into our Kingdom calling God will start to give us a hunger for more.

To conclude this section on “picking up all the crumbs under the table,” on a practical point, I find that speaking in tongues is a key to hearing more from God :

For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries.” (1 Corinthians 14: 2)

I believe these mysteries that we speak in our heavenly language actually impart the mysteries of Heaven to our spirits. Any crumb from Heaven is a whole loaf of bread here on Earth.