The word is the Greek HUPOMONE. In Classical Greece it described the ability of a plant to thrive in a harsh environment – literally in the deserts and rocky slopes. Later Greek and Jewish literature, it was used to refer to the ’spiritual staying power’ which enabled the faithful to die for their God.
In the First Century of the Common Era, it was used for the characteristic of a person who is not swerved from their deliberate purpose and retains their faith and piety through even the greatest trials and sufferings. It means to keep continuing forward with an attitude of hope and a smile on the face even when confronted with unpleasant circumstances and great distresses.
II. The Moth
One of the most fascinating events in nature is the emergence of the Cecropia moth from its cocoon – an event that occurs only with much struggle on the part of the moth to free itself. Some time ago, I had the privilege to see this extraordinary event.
But, the story is frequently told of someone who watched a moth go through this struggle. In an effort to help – and not realizing the necessity of the struggle – the viewer snipped the shell of the cocoon. Soon the moth came out with its wings all crimped and shriveled. But as the person watched, the wings remained weak. The moth, which in a few moments would have stretched those wings to fly, was now doomed to crawling out its brief life in frustration of ever being the beautiful creature God created it to be.
What the person in the story did not realize was that the struggle to emerge from the cocoon was an essential part of developing the muscle system of the moth’s body and pushing the body fluids out into the wings to expand them. By unwisely seeking to cut short the moth’s struggle, the watcher had actually crippled the moth and doomed its existence.
III. Adversities in Life
The adversities of life are much like the cocoon of the Cecropia moth. Like the viewer of the moth, with His omnipotence God can easily snip our cocoon and give us immediate release from our trials and adversities. But that would not be wise nor loving. God uses trials to develop the spiritual “muscle system” of our spiritual lives. If it were not beneficial, God would not allow it or send it. Each adversity that comes across our path, whether large or small, is intended to help us grow in some way.
Difficulties and trials would not normally be considered an occasion for joy, but James and Paul exhorts us to look beyond the immediate pain and discomforts of trials to the lasting effect they have on the character of the Christian. It is the expectation of results, the development of our character, that should cause us to rejoice in adversity.
When we view adversity and trials with this trusting, hope-filled and joyful attitude, God’s grace and strength can and will produce perseverance in us.
IV. Highway People
When it comes to travel, I think many of us are highway people. We want to go the fastest way possible in order to get to our destination as quickly as we can. We aren’t really interested in seeing the sights or stopping at the tourist attractions and taking pictures to prove that we were there. Rest stops and food breaks are things that must be endured—impatiently. Our top priority is reaching our destination.
This determination to reach our destination is not only true not only of our travel, but also of our walk (or if you prefer run) through life. We spend our days scurrying around trying to reach our goals while at the same time hoping that they won’t take much time or effort. Much to our chagrin we learn sooner or later that things don’t happen as quickly as we want.
Life and our Christian walk are more like a marathon than they are a sprint. Every runner knows that if you are ever going to complete a marathon you need to have perseverance. Perseverance is what James writes to his readers about, and thus it is the topic of the sermon and the focus of our thoughts this morning.
V. EVERYDAY TROUBLES
James immediately catches us off guard by telling us that we should be joyful when we encounter trials and tribulations. There are many things in life that give us joy, but we do not usually include difficult times in the list. But James is insistent that joy be our attitude in the midst of our struggles.
The struggles that James is specifically referring to are not the major life or death situations—persecution for our faith, terminal illnesses, or destroyed relationships, though, perseverance is needed in these also. James, rather, is referring to the everyday struggles of life—the irritations, personality conflicts, time crunches and the rest that make up our lives.
VI. Thankful for This? Really!!??
We don’t need to be thankful for the struggles themselves. Our thankfulness comes out of our expectation of the effect that they will have on our lives. Our struggles build perseverance, and perseverance shapes our character.
Many of us have gone through life changing struggles in our lives. These struggles have made us different people. If the truth be told, however the everyday struggles and trials that we endure do more to shape our lives. It is like the difference between volcanoes and raging rivers. Volcanoes start with a crash and a bang. They are soon over and at the most may have created an island. Raging rivers are continuous and over time create the Grand Canyon and other beautiful works of nature.
James writes and tells his readers that our joy in difficult times comes from knowing that that the perseverance that is born out of those difficult times produces character, maturity and wholeness.
If we stop and think about it, the difficult times in our lives are the times when we grow the most. We usually grow a lot more than when we encounter smooth sailing and trouble free times.
Enduring the difficulties in life affect our lives in many ways:
• We grow toward wholeness (not perfection). We nurture all aspects of our lives—emotional, spiritual, and physical.
• Our character is formed. We grow in maturity, and we become people of integrity, strength, compassion, and love.
• The movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives during these times of struggle enables us develop the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.
Perseverance is not only needed to go through the trials and tribulations of life, perseverance is also needed as we respond to God’s grace and answers God’s call upon us for mission and ministry. James challenges his readers to persevere and become doers of the Word and not simply hearers.
Historically the Christian Church has been more interested in what we believe than in how we live out those beliefs. Pastors and priests were more concerned that people believed all the points of the Apostles’ Creed, than whether or not they treated their co-workers with respect, cheated on their taxes, or were abusive towards spouse or children. James never agreed with this emphasis. For James, how you lived was infinitely more important than your knowledge of Biblical trivia or your gasp on the finer points of theology.
Today we talk about being authentic. People want to see that our faith goes beyond our words and influences our actions. They want to know that faith makes a difference in our lives.
The missions and ministries that God calls us on are never easy (or God would have called someone else). They take patience and perseverance. We continue being faithful and obedient until our tasks are completed.
IX. Say What?
Perseverance is not a highly coveted personal attribute in today’s society. We are people of the instant now and we don’t want to wait. We want things to come quickly and to get our perceived destination as soon as possible.
Still we are called to persevere and to allow the Spirit to have his work in our lives. This is true in our personal lives where the watch phrase is: “Please be patient God is not through with me yet.” It is also true in our ministries as we seek to demonstrate God’s grace and spread God Kingdom.
X. The Disciplines of Perseverance are:
DIVEST. We must throw off every kind of sin that will end up entangling us. These sins are unique to us. They may not tempt others, but they destroy us as we allow them to be there and we entertain them. Let’s dive in deeper and say that we need to get rid of everything that hinders us – even the good things. If we don’t, we will never run the race as we should. Are you willing to do some radical divesting?
RUN. Then we must run our own race, the race that God has marked out for us. Your race is not my race, and my race is not yours. You can finish your race. It is God’s will. And He will give you the grit to persevere as you run. So run bu brother, run!
FOCUS. We must focus on Jesus. There must be no distracted glances. Jesus must cover the sky. He must be our center. And we must focus on His focus because it is our joy. His joy set before us will give us the power to endure, even dispising the world’s disdain.
CONSIDER: So we are to consider HIM, our life is to be spent considering how He lived.
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