What keeps someone going?
One of the most common temptations that Christian leaders face is the ever-present, but infrequently discussed, temptation to give up. To quit. To thrown in the towel. There is a reason that this temptation holds such sway in our hearts and can be so very tempting to give in to:
Following Jesus is hard. Leading others to follow Jesus, while following Jesus, is harder.
One of the most impressive leaders in the Bible, the Apostle Paul, was open and honest about the extent of the challenges he faced on a daily basis in his life and leadership. He points out that his challenges were multifaceted and affected him physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally. Paul chronicles some of these challenges he encountered in 2 Corinthians.
2 Corinthians 2:24-28 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
So what kept Paul going through such difficulties? What kept his eyes fixed on the mission when everything appeared to be collapsing around him?
1. The Work of the Holy Spirit
Without the ever-active, ever-present work of the Holy Spirit, perseverance is impossible. Ironically, one of the essential elements found in all Christian perseverance is the unshakeable truth that the Holy Spirit will not fail to complete what he began. (Philippians 1:6) Paul’s perseverance was a powerful example of the Holy Spirit’s work in and through His life.
When you see you a leader persevering, you see are seeing the Holy Spirit working.
2. Local Church Affirmation
The Apostle Paul had an incredible relationship with the Church in Antioch. It was the first church, where his prodigious teaching gifting’s were allowed to flourish. In about a year, both Paul and his ministry partner Barnabas, had poured into and developed disciples among the young, congregation in Antioch. When the church sent Paul and Barnabas out for their first missionary journey, the church affirmed their unique giftings and callings. (Acts 13:1-4) The local church should be a place where giftings and callings can be affirmed (or not). It should be a safe place where it is ok to try and to fail and to start again. If we are going to persevere through difficult moments, when our confidence wavers, it will be the affirmation of God’s community, that knows us and loves us, that will keep us encouraged.
“We don’t find out who we are in the woods, on our own. We find out who we are through community.” – John Piper
3. The Pursuit of Joy
Perseverance, not motivated by joy, is impossible sustain. Most calls to perseverance that I have encountered in some way, shape or form, tell me to pick myself up by bootstraps, get up and try harder next time. The problem with this “do better next time” approach to perseverance is this: It never addresses our deepest motivations. Or, to put it differently, it doesn’t tell us why we should keep going. Luckily, the Bible gives us the ultimate motivation for persevering through any difficulty or set-back: Joy. Specifically, our joy in God’s glory through our perseverance. Jesus is of course the ultimate model for perseverance (and everything else). What motivated Jesus to endure the agonies of the cross on behalf of His people? Joy. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that “for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
So for the sake of joy, keep on.