So, last week, I told you about this story—how I joined a buddy in running a race. And I thought I was running a 5k, but, somehow, I got put into a herd of people who were running a half marathon. And, towards the end of this race, I realized, this is the wrong race. And as I reflected on it, I, you know, a week later, years later, I began just to constantly think about: how many of us often find ourselves running the wrong race? And I think it’s really important for us, if we’re going to be steadfast, to be the kind of people who know where we’re headed. Who know the right finish line.
I meet so many people. And I’ll have conversations with them. And they have no idea of their goal. No idea of their finish line. They have no desire whatsoever. And they just find themselves kind of drifting through life. And that’s not a steadfast kind of life.
I want you to know something. When you look to the life of Jesus, He was someone who was so determined, so steadfast. He knew what race He was running. And He invites us to follow His example.
Today, I want to tell you that, if you’re going to run this race towards a goal, to be more Christlike, to be like Jesus, to go after something that God has put on your heart, you are going to have to master perseverance. And many of us, we give up, don’t we? Many of us, we have this chance, this opportunity, this exciting thing that we are pursuing—and then it gets hard. And we give up.
Look at Jesus. Shame. Betrayal. People who were saying things about him. Religious leaders who were trying to shut him down. No, no, no. He didn’t quit. He kept persevering. And today, I want to teach you about the requirements of perseverance.
Before that, let’s jump to Hebrews chapter 12. It says this: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Let’s be like Jesus. We can always look to Him. He is the pioneer. He is leading the way. He is the perfecter of our faith. And what He went through, He invites us to go through. And what He did, He invites us to do. Requires us to have perseverance.
So. I want to unpack this for you. And, for me, I wanna let you know that, in my journal, I’ve kinda written down... I’m referring to this summer as the summer of faithfulness. From now until Labor Day, I want to actually grow in these areas of my life. It comes to my own formation. Spiritual formation. There’s some key areas that I want to take the next step in my development as a Christ follower. With my family. With my wife, with my kids. With my church family—with you. There are some specific goals that I have in this summer. With my friends. I wanna have this tribe of people—this community. People who know the hard things, the good things, the beautiful things, the struggles. Fitness. I need a lot of work there. Food! I wanna learn to stop eating. I mean, you are what you eat! I need some goals and some discipline. Man. And fun. I have some specific goals for how I wanna make this summer just so much fun. And then finances. Do you know, I’ve been telling my son, “Man, I want you to go to college. I want you to go to college.” And then I saw how much Northwestern costs. I was like, “You’re not going to college!” But I gotta work on that!
Right, so here are some goals that I want to actually take some ground in. Let me just ask you: Do you, right now, have some goals for the summer? You can’t have perseverance if you don’t have a finish line. If you don’t have something specific, something detailed, and if you don’t have any, feel free. Cheat off me. Copy. Do whatever you need. But please. Own something. Name something. Write something down. Tell something to someone, say, “You know what? This summer, I wanna grow in this area.”
But you gotta understand. If this is something that you wanna grow in, the first requirement of perseverance is you gotta have passion. You gotta have determination. You gotta have enthusiasm. You gotta have this inner energy, motivation, this desire, to actually get towards your goal. If you don’t have that, you’re not gonna actually accomplish this. So don’t just write something down, like, “I’d like to have a thriving marriage.” No, no, no—get it more specific. And make sure that that is a passion area. You gotta think about this, pray about this.
But here’s the thing: many people can easily have this passion. Jesus had this. And you know what Jesus’ passion was? People. Every person that He met—young and old. Didn’t matter—male or female. Didn’t matter their race. He wanted to sit with them, hear them, and He wanted to give them access to the power and the presence of God. And His life was to restore, redeem, and renew all of creation. In every relationship that He encountered, that was His passion. But every step that He took, every teaching that He gave, every healing and miracle—everything, when you flip through the Gospels, you know what was right around the door? The second requirement of perseverance. It was a problem. It was a trial. It was a test.
And so many of us, whenever we start out with this passion, all of a sudden, we experience this problem, and we just go, “I’m done. I give up.” And, for many of us, it’s easy for us just to quit. Stop. Stop taking ground. To stop working. And for many of us, there’s this thought inside our brains that life should be so easy, so safe, and if there is any sense of obstacle or adversity, it must be wrong. So we walk away.
You know, the brother of Jesus, his name was James—can you imagine being the brother of Jesus? That would just be so humbling. Everything He did, you’d be like, “Okay, my turn. Oh, that was not very good, compared to Jesus.”
But he’s writing to these churches that have been scattered, dispersed. There’s much persecution going on. And he writes these words, and I think they are so applicable today. He says this: “Consider it pure joy, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2–4).
You see, what James is saying is that you are going to face adversity. You are going to face difficulty. You are going to face opposition and obstacles. But please, don’t ever give up. Because, you know what? There is a testing, a refining, something powerful that can happen. Your faith can grow. It will produce this perseverance within you... so that, when you get to the finish line, your goal, you will be mature. You will be complete. You will not lack a thing.
How many of you have experienced a test? A trial? A problem? Unexpected, this week. And, all of a sudden, when that happens, the voices internally start to come, that just says, “Ah, you weren’t meant for this. You can’t do this. Nobody believes you can get through this. Just throw in the towel. Wave the white flag. Just give up.” And James is telling a church, and he would tell us today, “No, no, no, don’t. Because there’s something in this problem, there’s something in this test, there’s something in this trial, that can actually allow you to grow in resilience. To gain grit. And to become mature, complete, and not lacking a thing.”
You know what’s amazing? Dr. Gary Burge and I were talking, and he was telling me, you know, what happens with problems in the book of James is that you really have two choices. And James is like wisdom literature. And he says, you know, “You have the choice to either be wise or a fool.” And the wise people go deeper with God in the midst of their testing and trials. But the fools choose to go through it all alone. And the wise, the people who go deep with God, they find themselves growing in faith. But the people who act like a fool, and do it all on their own, find themselves in sin.
The word test and the word trial, in the book of James, is the same word that’s used for temptation. For many people, when they experience a problem, they, all of a sudden, start to think, oh my goodness? Whose fault is this? They get all blamey. They create villains around them. Or they internalize, and they make themselves the victim. And, in that, they find themselves susceptible to the enemies’ temptation. And it leads to sin. And when you find yourself kind of taking that detour, you find yourself getting farther away from the finish line, which is being made complete. Mature. Not lacking a thing. But, somehow, the problems, when they come, we just wanna give up.
Last night, I was playing wiffle ball with my daughter. She’s four years old. She has the little bat. My son’s in the outfield. I pitched to her the first pitch. She hits. And she’s just smiling like, I’m awesome. The next four pitches, I strike her out. It’s just amazing. Swing and a miss. Swing and a miss. She’s four years old. I’m feeling good about myself. She drops the bat, shoulders go down, “I quit.” And walks in.
And there was something inside where, at such a young age, if I don’t succeed, I should quit. But you know what? Perseverance is, “No, no, no. Grab the bat. Come on. There’s something more for you to learn. There’s something more in this for you.”
The third requirement of perseverance. And it’s gonna seem quite bizarre, quite odd. But it’s the word patience. And many of us, if we’re honest, struggle with this word. You get to the end of James, and James begins to write. And when you actually see the word perseverance, all throughout the New Testament, words like endurance and steadfast are used in the New Testament. But also this word, patience. It’s used as a synonym throughout the New Testament when talking about perseverance. But why is that?
James writes about it, and he says this in chapter 5, verse 8: “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering”—in the face of adversity, problems, and testing, and trials—“take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance”—all the problems he had—“and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
See, something happens whenever we experience a problem. The invitation, if we were actually going to have perseverance, is not to grumble, not to gossip, not to slander, not to sin, but it’s to lean into God. And in that, just like the prophets have taught us throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, blessed is those who persevere. People who look to the life of Job, people who were steadfast, who could continue to take a step. And even though they experience this problem, and it slows them down, something happens within them that allows them to have this deeper trust in the Father.
What’s amazing to me is this word, patience. The word “patience,” in the original language, is this word: Makrothumeo. And it’s really two words. Thumeo means anger, rage. And the idea of makro means to distance yourself from that anger. It almost means to like restrain it, to push it away. That’s what patience is. And when you look at the Old Testament, there is a book called the Septuagint because they actually took the Old Testament, which was originally written in Hebrew, and they put it in Greek. And when you read through these verses that I’m about to read over you, I want you to see this phrase and how makrothumeo is used.
Look what it says in the Psalms: “But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” That slow to anger, it’s makrothumeo. Or another one from Psalms: “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.” It’s makrothumeo.
Let me just ask you: When problems come, are you slow to anger? Or do you find yourself getting very worked up, heaping shame and contempt on yourself, or heaping blame on other people? And one of the most profound and beautiful characteristics of our good God is that He’s patient. He’s slow to anger with you. He’s slow to anger with you. And the invitation of anyone who is going to persevere is that they are slow to anger with themselves and those around them. Because they have a goal. That’s something that’s driving them. And they don’t wanna mess that up.
Passion. Problem. Patience.
The fourth requirement? It’s prayer. Every person that I know who has mastered perseverance gets on their knees and prays. They’re someone who has a profoundly deep relationship with God. They’re someone who, throughout the day, just lifts up prayers to God. They’re someone who actually creates space in their day where they actually receive from God.
Let me just ask you real quick, honestly, how’s your prayer life? When’s the last time you’ve heard from God? When’s the last time you’ve just sat in your chair, maybe with the Scriptures, and really poured out your heart? Maybe we’re really honest about the problems and the struggles and the adversity... and the temptation to do it on your own. When’s the last time for that?
And if you need an example of somebody who did this, just look to Jesus. I mean, He had a passion. He experienced problems. He was so patient with religious leaders, His own disciples. He was patient with people. And when you flip through the Gospels, He was creating space to be with His Father. Even on the eve of His arrest, He goes to the Garden of Gethsemane. And He sits there, and He prays. He pours Himself out: “Lord, if there’s any way You can just take this cup from me, please. I’ll do what You want. I’ll do what You want. But please, God.”
I mean, Jesus modeled an honest and human connection. And when you flip through the Scriptures, even like the book of Psalms, it’s like prayer training. You see David. You see these writers, these poets, these lyricists, just crying out to God. And I think something in our culture just says, “Don’t do it.” But, you know what? If you’re not praying, there’s a good chance you’re going on your own. If you don’t have that dependency, that expectancy, that desire to meet with God. I’m telling you, friends. It’s easy for you to experience the temptation when you face those tests and those trials. I don’t want that for you.
Passion. Problems. Patience. Prayer. The fifth requirement... it’s people.
Even Jesus. I mean, look at His life—He surrounded Himself with disciples. Even when He goes on that eve to the Garden of Gethsemane, before He gets arrested. He takes three of his disciples. He was traveling in community. He was with people. Do you have your people?
And I love that we are trying to raise this value of small groups. And I’m amazed—I am literally amazed at how many people who are attempting to do this journey of Christ all on their own. That is a new phenomenon. Something new over the last fifty years, where people began to say, “You know what? I don’t need the community. It’s not worth my time. I don’t need it. I can just do it on my own.”
And let me tell you friends, you can’t. You flip through the New Testament, and you see over, and over, and over again, this phrase: “One another. One another. One another. Grieve with one another. Share with one another. Love one another. Listen to one another. Honor one another. Bless one another.” It was all about community. Even to take it even farther, most of the time, in the New Testament, when you see the word “you,” it’s plural. It’s referring to like you all. Us. We’re in this together.
And my wife and I, we have a phrase that we have held on to for about ten years. Because we knew someone who went to AA. He had been sober for twenty years, but he still showed up almost every day. And he walked in. And finally, one day, I said, “Man, you have not had a drink for seventeen years, and yet you still go. Why?”
He goes, “I don’t go for me. I go because, every day, there’s someone new who’s showing up for the first time. And I know that if we make it, I make it.”
If we make it, I make it.
And that revolutionized how my wife and I understood community. I think, sometimes, we live our life going, “I’m gonna make it. And I hope you all make it.”
But the way of the Kingdom, the way of the Church, the way of Christ followers, is this: If we make it, then I make it. Do you have your people?
When these problems come, do you have the people that you can call? Do you have the people who will come and just sit with you? And they don’t even have to say a word. They’re just there. It’s like they are modeling Emmanuel—God with us. They are just in your living room, and they won’t leave because they’re for you. Do you have the people in your life who are just encouraging you, affirming you, calling out the Divine within you, asking you the difficult questions, where they know your goals, and they are there for you?
I have three friends. And just, we have this goal: Every time that we work out, we text each other these bizarre emojis. And we just kinda challenge each other.
“I went. How about you?”
“Oh, you went. Now I gotta go.” You know? And it’s just there. But they’re my people. If I had to do it that all on my own, I would not go. But having friends there who hold you accountable, who challenge you—man, it changes everything.
Do you have those people?
The truth is, you’re not just gonna have one problem. You’re gonna have problems all along the way. And you’re gonna need to be patient with yourself—kind to yourself. Kind to others. You’re gonna have to be the kind of people who are deeply committed to say, “I want to be intimate and known by my Father, and I want to know His wisdom and His direction for my life and my story. And, you know what? I’m gonna show up, and I’m gonna be honest and human with people. And I’m gonna ask them difficult questions. And I’m gonna challenge them. And I’m gonna remind them. I’m gonna see them and allow myself to be seen. I’m gonna love them and I’m gonna allow myself to be loved. And I’m gonna care for them and allow myself to be cared for. I am going to do that.”
And if you do that, you will have the best possible chance to cross that finish line. That’s what I want for you.
Do you know your goal? For this summer. Maybe just, right now, think about that. What would be a good finish line? Labor Day is coming. Hundred days away. What would be a good goal for you? Maybe think about your faith. Your family. Fun. Your own formation, your finances. Food or fitness. Think about some of those goals. Really get practical. Man, what are some things that I could commit to? Maybe it’s something else around your field, your craft, your work.
But, man, name that. And ask yourself, “Am I passionate about this?” Cause it’s gonna take work to grow. And when adversity comes, don’t be surprised.
I used to get... in a basketball game, people would, you know, refs would call a foul, and I’d get so worked up, and my dad would call me to the sideline, and he would look at me and say, “Steve, change adversity into opportunity.” When those problems come, still be steadfast. Be immovable. Have the perseverance. Be patient with yourself.
Are you patient? Or is anger and rage just something that rises up within you?
How’s your prayer life?
And get your people.