Think about the last time you did some exercise, and struggled to finish. Did you: a) keep going; b) slow down; c) stop completely?
When the going gets tough, it’s tempting to just slow down a bit, back off, or even quit – rather than keeping on going. This is sometimes sensible (especially if we are pushing ourselves too hard in the wrong direction) but what about when it’s not sensible? What should we do when perseverance would be the best response to challenges and setbacks, but we feel too weak and ill-equipped to carry on? Can we learn how to persevere? Can we develop endurance?
The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us to “run with endurance the race God has set before us?” [by…] “keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus… who, because of the joy awaiting him endured the cross, disregarding its shame [so that now…] He is seated in the place of honour beside God’s throne [and thus if we would just think about…] all the hostility he endured from sinful people; [then we…] won’t become weary and give up” [Hebrews 12.1-3, Amplified Version].
This, then, is how we learn to persevere: we meditate on Jesus’ life, we remember how He endured suffering, and we copy His ‘coping strategy’ – delayed gratification. Jesus focussed more on the joy He would experience in the future, than on the shame He was enduring in the present. He knew that it would all be worth it in the end. It was this kind of thinking which enabled Him to do what he did, and it is this kind of thinking which can enable us to do likewise.
However, any ‘mantra’ (however catchy!) needs to be understood more deeply, if it is to be genuinely useful to us. There are two important dimensions in which we can ‘keep the end in mind’: the first is the earthly, temporal dimension, and the second is the heavenly, eternal dimension. We shall think through the ‘ends’ (or goals) of each of these dimensions, in turn.
1. Earthly, temporal ‘ends’
The more clearly we know what we want to accomplish, the more motivated we will be to stick at it. We need to have audacious goals ,which we really want to achieve, which we are likely to experience if we stick at things, and which we fail to experience if we don’t. For me, this was studying for a Masters Degree.
I undertook my MA on a part-time basis, over 3 years, with 2 small children and 1 full-time job. It was hard. I often wanted to pack It in. But what I wanted more was some new possibilities in my working life, as I was a bit stuck. So I took it step-by-step and persevered. Sometimes I motivated myself by thinking about what would never happen if I failed to stick at it! My earthly ‘end’ (or goal) of having more opportunities open up enabled me to keep on going.
On a very practical level, we can also help ourselves by having visual images, word pictures, and sensory experiences which help us to imagine what it will feel like to realise our goals. These things can make abstract goals seem more real, and so they propel us forward towards achieving them.
What would ‘success’ look like, for your Congregation? Think of ways to describe it and remember it. Why not celebrate reaching key milestones along the way?
2. Heavenly, eternal ‘ends’
The culture we live in has little time for anything beyond the immediate, ‘right here right now’. This has been influencing the Western church (in a largely unnoticed way) for decades. If you are not convinced, think about how most people avoid talking about death – Christians included. This is not sensible. We are all going to die, but most of us live in a state of semi-permanent denial about it.
This way of thinking affects our morality, because if all we have is the here and now, then we can’t possibly allow ourselves to miss out on anything, can we? As a culture, we rarely make sacrifices, because we find the thought of delaying gratification is too hard to stomach. Consider our culture’s most widely accepted moral positions (for example, about things like divorce and abortion), and you may be able to discern the influence of this kind of thinking.
We basically find it difficult to be future-minded because, beyond our few short years on earth, most of us don’t really believe in an eternal future. However, the Bible is unequivocal that our lives on earth are just like our months in the womb – important and formative, but brief and quickly forgotten – whereas we will all continue living well beyond this present Age, and into eternity.
Jesus knew this. He could go to the cross without flinching (almost) because He kept His ultimate end (or goal) in mind. He knew that there was immeasurable joy awaiting Him on the other side of His unspeakable suffering. He knew what He was doing – He knew of the generous rewards which are given, in the Age to come, for faithful obedience in this Age. His way of thinking served Him well, and it can serve us well, too.
Keep the end in mind.
When you meet the LORD in the Age to come, what would you love to hear Him to say to you? How could this influence how you live, in this Age?
This blog contains the sixteenth principle taught to congregation leaders in the Joshua Centre’s Leadership Development Program (within the theme: ‘Lead A Movement’).