Life Foundations 3: The Great Rewards of PerseveranceApr26
This lesson will teach you why it is important to learn the importance of persevering through hardships and difficulties even if the rewards seem minimal.
Download a map(s) of Carthage, Hannibal’s home city at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:CarthageMap.png.
Be willing to start off each segment of the interaction with your own stories, as the students are much more likely to speak when it’s begun with a candid personal story, than with the ever-awkward, “So does anyone want to share their own story on this topic?”
”Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;” -Ephesians 6:13-14
”I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich . . .” –Revelation 3:18
II Kings 18:17-37, 19:5-37—the story of Hezekiah under siege.
Jeremiah and Lamentations—the story of Jeremiah and his many travails preaching truth.
If you want a deeper understanding of Hannibal and Fabius Maximus, read their entries on Wikipedia or a good hard copy encyclopedia.
If you want a deeper understanding of William Wilberforce, read his entry on Wikipedia, or try the self-titled biography by William Hague, or an encyclopedia.
In ancient Israel, he was God’s oracle, sharing truths from the Lord of the heavens, yet he was so unpopular the king and his counselors conspired to attack him, toss him in a pit, and nearly kill him. In the second Punic War, around 218-201 BC), he triumphed over Hannibal, a general most historians rank among the best in history, by executing an unusual strategy so that Rome might be saved—yet almost no one remembers his name. In 19th century England, he fought against slavery—the greatest continuing injustice man inflicts upon other men—yet the business and political interests fought him for 20 years because they made so much money from it. He was king of a Jerusalem under siege, surrounded by a merciless army that no one could defeat, and God promised him relief—sometime.
These four men, and many others throughout history, have only one thing in common—they learned the precious lesson of perseverance, of continuing on a course that didn’t promise a quick win, popularity, or even noticeable short-term rewards, but would, in the long run, bring success for many, even if they were hated for it.
Everyone who faces unexpected extended challenges, not the small crises of break ups or tough classes, but the extended challenges of niggling sickness or significant financial setback or depression or family problems a host of pastors and psychiatrists can’t solve easily, where survival and the receding of the challenge is often the best result that can be achieved, understanding the basics of perseverance is essential.
To persevere successfully, you include the following points into your life.
Don’t Surrender to Self-Pity or Envy
Why are others so willing to mouth unthinking platitudes that don’t help you through your situation? Why do they seem to completely ignore your pain when its constancy is your only manner of knowing you’re alive? Why do so few people seem to have something positive to offer you when you’re forced to persevere or perish?
In the roughly 600 years between the birth of the Roman Republic and the movement of the capital to Constantinople by Constantine around A.D. 330, their biggest single threat was Carthage, located on the other side of the Mediterranean on the edge of Africa. The two empires battled over a (roughly) 120 year period, but throughout that period, no one was more feared by Rome than Hannibal. (It was said that for generations, Roman mothers would scare their children into obedience by invoking his name.)
Hannibal executed perhaps the greatest military feat in history—he led an army that included war elephants (a fearsome weapon the superstitious ancients were ill-equipped to fathom), from Africa to Spain and over the mountain ranges of the Pyrenees and the Alps into Italy to defeat the Roman armies and terrorize Rome itself.
However, without siege equipment to conquer the capital, Hannibal was only able to defeat the Romans in battle and terrorize the countryside. The Dictator Fabius Maximus realized his inferior military position, and was ridiculed with the nickname “The Delayer,” as he stopped confronting Hannibal in straight battle, and instead resorted to guerilla tactics. Eventually the Romans saw the wisdom in this strategy, and adapted it to eventually nullify Hannibal until the great general returned to Africa to stop a Roman threat there. However, Rome was forced to have countryside torched and terrorized, battles lost, and population stuck in overcrowded city. They had to wait it out to win. That’s what we have to do as Christians sometimes.
Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet not because of self-pity, but because he was the biblical Cassandra, doomed to share true prophecies that no one would listen to. As a result, he found himself physically attacked, verbally abused, and tossed into a pit where the mud and gunk oozed up to his waist.
Yet, just because there was no prophetic precedent for this abuse didn’t mean he devolved into self-pity or envy at how other prophets or believers had been treated. He continued sharing God’s word to the hostile leadership of Judah, who continued to accuse him of treason. When the country finally fell, his only reward was the pagan Babylonians treated him with kindness and allowed him to stay in his decimated home country because his prophecies were correct.
Have you ever found yourself trapped in a crisis and immediately began feeling sorry for yourself, that God had allowed all these bad events to happen in your life? Or did you envy others for their perfect lives while yours was one of pain and hardship? How did you pull out of this negative thought life? How would you advise others to avoid the pitfalls of self-pity and envy?
It’s ironic that Fabius Maximus is virtually known outside the realm of scholars, and every Christian wants to be used mightily by God, yet few—if any—choose Jeremiah as one of their examples. (He doesn’t even make it into the parade of the Heroes of Faith in Hebrews 11.) Yet both proved that persevering despite the challenges, despite the temptation to feel sorry for their position or envious of others in better circumstances, led to its own kind of success, recognized by history.
Make Sure You’re Completely in God’s Will
Around 700 B.C., King Hezekiah and Jerusalem found themselves surrounded by the Assyrian army, insisting that a quick surrender was their only, best hope. The Assyrians were infamous for their cruelty and barbarism, even for that day. Knowing this made being resettled into other countries, the offer made by the arrogant Assyrian general Rabshakeh, a genuine possibility.
Rabshakeh’s offer, made loudly, in Hebrew so that everyone on the walls could hear him denounce the Hebrew’s God and Hezekiah. Rabshakeh also said it was fruitless to believe in Hezekiah or the God he trusted in, as every other nation (and their gods) had fallen to the Assyrians.
With the city in a panic, Hezekiah—who earlier had paid off the Assyrians to avert a previous invasion—found his position to be tenuous, so he sent messengers to the prophet Isaiah for help. Isaiah insisted that God would not leave Hezekiah, that King Sennacherib of Assyria would withdraw his forces and be killed at home—all Hezekiah had to do was wait. Wait while the Assyrians besiege the city. Wait while Jerusalem slowly starves. Wait while the people question his leadership. Yep, all he had to do was wait an trust God.
Despite the pressures, the king held on to that promise from God and an emergency eventually occurred, the siege was lifted, and the king was indeed killed by two sons.
When we find ourselves under siege—be it medically, academically, financially, in our relationships, or otherwise—it’s essential we get a word from God. It might be a message preached from our pastor, or a praise song, but praying to receive a scripture from our daily devotional reading is an anointed promise that God Himself gives you, to hold on to, no matter how long it takes to see it through to the end.
Have you ever felt like God gave you a promise—or peace—in a crisis, but then did nothing to relieve that crisis? Would you like to share that situation? Did you panic at times? Did you allow the promise or peace? How did it end? How did it help you become stronger in your faith?
Be Willing to Stand Alone for Truth to Reach Your End Goal
Why are people so willing to defend—or turn a blind eye toward—undefendable practices?
In 1787, the evangelical Christian William Wilberforce decided that it was time for the British Empire to stop profiting from the selling of human beings. The Atlantic slave trade had existed for roughly 150 years, and no one had done more than preach or speak against it. Too many people profited from the misery of unknown Africans, as the many industries had their goods sold to the traders in Africa (some African, some not) for slaves, who were then shipped and sold in the Caribbean and North America for sugar cane and other West Indian goods, that were then sold back in the British Isles.
Wilberforce was an MP (Member of Parliament, a political position roughly analogous to being a member of the House of Representatives), yet found himself with precious few allies as he introduced legislation to stop the British participation in the slave trade. Like Jeremiah, he soon found himself tested publicly and privately and spiritually and socially and mentally and emotionally—just to stop a horrendous activity no one could defend morally.
Yet too many people fight hard to defend the status quo, no matter its correctness. Maintaining an inner courage to take the attacks (the whisper campaigns, the outright lies, the pressure from friends or society to maintain the status quo—“Why are you rocking the boat?”) without changing your personal standards, those essential Christian morals, is difficult. Sacrificing for the cause is hard, especially when no one else seems to be making comparable sacrifices. Jeremiah understood that. Hezekiah understood that. Jesus understood that.
After all, it’s not like you’re any more popular with your peers after you’re proven right and/or successful. But the next generation—the people who would’ve been slaves or those businesses who would’ve been morally compromised—will rise up and call you blessed. After all, doesn’t Scripture itself promise that “He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13)?
It took Wilberforce 20 years, his health breaking, and his friendships cracking, before he achieved his goals. He never was promoted to a higher post in politics, yet he as a legacy that literally changed the course of history.
Who are your personal heroes? Is perseverance despite challenges and crisis one of the reasons they’re your hero? If so, why is that important? If not, what is your criteria for a personal hero?
Hezekiah, Jeremiah, Fabius Maximus, and William Wilberforce all found themselves with different positions and responsibilities, yet all found it necessary to persevere—that least-appreciated of virtues—to fulfill their callings and make their separate marks on history. Learning from them, their similarities under duress, might be the key for you to make a significant mark on your world and the lives of others.
Is there something special about people who persevere through crisis and difficulties? How so?
Why does it seem like perseverance offers so few benefits?
Can you think of other people—whether historic or contemporary—who exhibit the importance of perseverance?
Which one of the important persevering virtues—refuse self pity and envy, ensure you’re in God’s will, be willing to stand alone for truth—hit home the most for you?
How can you apply one of those virtues to your life this week? How will you monitor its progress in your life?
Father, what can we pray for when we must persevere but strength and focus? When the crisis threatens to grind us into powder/dust, when the stress seems unbearably high, when no one seems to understand who we are and what we’re struggling against, please give us your peace and your love to continue, to proclaim your power and peace and love, “and having done all, to stand.” Because, when we go through this refiner’s fire, we will be as pure gold for you to use. Thank you father that your grace is sufficient for me, and it is made perfect in crisis. Amen.´