Sermon series: Godly Virtues
On a consumer flight from Portland, Maine, to Boston in the summer of 1987, the pilot heard an unusual noise near the rear of the aircraft. Henry Dempsey turned the controls over to his copilot and went back to check it out. As he reached the tail section, the plane hit an air pocket, and Dempsey was tossed against the rear door. He quickly discovered the source of the mysterious noise. The rear door had not been properly latched prior to takeoff and it fell open. Dempsey was instantly sucked out of the jet.
The copilot, seeing the red light on the control panel that indicated an open door, radioed the nearest airport requesting permission to make an emergency landing. He reported that Dempsey had fallen out of the plane and requested that a helicopter be dispatched to search the area of the ocean.
After the plane had landed, the ground crew found Henry Dempsey holding onto the outdoor ladder of the aircraft. Somehow, he had caught the ladder and managed to hold on for 10 minutes as the plane flew 200mph at an altitude of 4,000 feet. What is more, as the plane made its approach and landed, Dempsey had kept his head from hitting the runway, a mere 12 inches away. According to news reports, it took several airport personnel more than a few minutes to pry the pilot's fingers from the ladder.
That is a picture of endurance - the ability to hang on when it would have been easier to let go. Many people are blessed with certain attributes, but endurance jumps to the forefront for success in any endeavor. Endurance is the key that keeps us from giving up and letting go.
Endurance "the power of going on in spite of difficulties." Popular colloquial phrases describe it as: "Keep on keeping on." "Hang in there." "Put up with it." "Stick-to-itiveness." "Don't quit." Its synonyms are determination, perseverance, tenacity, plodding, stamina, and backbone. When endurance is used in the Bible it means "to abide under," "to bear up courageously," and "to tarry or wait."
Henry Dempsey would just say it is holding on for dear life.
The Bible considers endurance a priority. Paul expressed its importance in character development, "And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope does not disappoint, because God's love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Rom. 5:3-5). The writer of Hebrews also knew that perseverance was mandatory in the pursuit of character. "For you need endurance, so that after you have done God's will, you may receive what was promised" (Heb. 10:36).
The following practical secrets will enable you to develop perseverance.
I. Accept the unchangeable
Accept those things in life that cannot be changed. William Barclay described endurance as "the courageous acceptance of everything life can do to us and the transmitting of even the worst event into another step on the upward way." Let's face it, some events and circumstances are inevitable. Sometimes life is not fair. Injustices creep into every one's arena. Sometimes, in one way or another, we fall out of unlocked airplane doors.
It helps to remember that God is in charge of our lives. His desire is for us to grow in the likeness of his Son. So whatever enters our life - unfavorable circumstances, tragic events, or irritating people - is for the development of character. Be it good, bad, or indifferent our response to life's irritants forms our character.
The oyster and its pearl provide a beautiful picture of a positive response to life's irritants. The pearl is a product of pain. An alien substance - a grain of sand - slips inside the oyster's shell. On the entry of that foreign irritant, all the resources within the tiny, sensitive oyster rush to the spot and begin to release healing fluids that otherwise would have remained dormant. Eventually the irritant is covered and the wound healed by a pearl. No other gem has so fascinating a history. It is the symbol of stress. The precious, tiny jewel is conceived through irritation, born of adversity. Had there been no wounding, no irritating interruption, there could have been no pearl.
J. B. Phillips understood this as he paraphrased James 1:2-4: "When all kinds of trials crowd into your lives, my brothers, don't resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realize that they have come to test your endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men (and women) of mature character."
II. Adjust to the obstacles
A young naval captain was commanding his first battleship. As it pierced through the ocean one night, a light was spotted in the darkened distance coming directly toward the ship.
The commander radioed, "Alter your course ten degrees."
The reply came shortly, "No, you alter your course ten degrees."
The undaunted captain angrily sent a message, "Alter your course, I am a destroyer."
The reply came quickly, "Alter your course, I am a lighthouse."
Sometimes we have to adjust our way to fit the realities of life. Solomon wrote, "A sensible person sees danger and takes cover, but the inexperienced keep going and are punished" (Prov. 22:3). Some circumstances are unavoidable. Disappointments are certain. Obstacles are sure. Losses will occur. The person with perseverance acknowledges the road blocks and makes adjustments. Thomas Carlyle noted, "The block of granite that was an obstacle in the pathway of the weak becomes a stepping stone in the pathway of the strong." When the obstacles of life are stacked before us we can adjust by going around, climbing over, or tunneling under.
Are you allowing intrusions to distort and disfigure your life? Are their circumstances or people in your life that you have been trying to change? Why not transform these obstacles into growth blocks by learning to adjust?
When we adjust to the detours of life God reveals some of his marvelous handiwork off the beaten trail. Don't think of adjustment as failure, think of it as an education. Hang on, see what God has in store for you around the next bend in the road.
III. Abide with patience
Someone once said, "You can do anything if you have patience. You can carry water in a sieve - if you wait until it freezes." Unfortunately, most of us aren't that patient. When we need it, we usually pray, "Lord, give me patience . . . and I want it now." Or, as Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister, said more eloquently, "I am extraordinarily patient provided I get my own way in the end."
But one can't learn patience by listing to a sermon unless the sermon is so long they have to practice it while they listen. Nor can they learn patience by reading a book unless the book is so boring that they have to muster up patience to finish it. The only way to learn patience is by facing this hurly-burly world, taking life as it comes. It is holding on, gritting your teeth, clinching your jaw, riding out the storm.
And that is not easy. Joyce Landorf writes, "God's waiting room is the most difficult aspect of the Christian experience."
In the Greek language, the term for patience is often translated "long-suffering." It's a compound word. The first part means "long or far." The second part means "hot, anger, or wrath." Putting it together we literally have "long-anger." We have an English expression "short-tempered." We would not miss the meaning very far if we called patience "long-tempered." Patience is that ability that keeps us from blowing up when events don't go our way or losing our cool when others upset us.
Believers are exhorted to display patience. James wrote, "Therefore, brothers, be patient until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth and is patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, because the Lord's coming is near" (James 5:7-8). James shows how the farmer demonstrates patience. A farmer cannot make it rain or give growth. He must rely on God to act in the most wise and merciful way.
The secret of patience is abiding. We must learn to rest and endure under the load of pain and suffering. We abide under the load of pain and suffering by abiding with a God who is faithful. We must not only learn to abide in Christ but also abide with Christ under the struggles and the pressures in life.
IV. Affirm the presence
As we progress toward a life that resembles Jesus Christ we must always remember that God is with us. Sometimes God is like a teacher instructing us with the construction. Sometimes God is a fellow-worker challenging us to excellence. Sometimes God is a spectator encouraging us to keep on keeping on. Whatever situation we find ourselves, God is always with us.
I recall the long and grueling basketball practices in high school. The gym was not air-conditioned. We would run forever, it seemed. My legs would throb, my side hurt with a splitting pain, and my chest pounded like it was about to pop out. I wanted to quit. But then something wonderful happened. My body would provide a miraculous gracious replenishing of energy, known as a second wind.
As we run toward a distinctive life of character we will experience a similar feeling. Getting started possesses no problem. We get bogged down as the race continues. A time comes when our personal resources are exhausted. Yet as we endure, God seems to give us a spiritual second wind.
Isaiah described this miracle: "Do you not know? Have you not heard? Yahweh is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth. He never grows faint or weary; there is no limit to His understanding. He gives strength to the weary and strengthens the powerless. Youths may faint and grow weary, and young men stumble and fall, but those who trust in the LORD will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:28-31 NIV)
The secret is found in affirming God's presence. The world says give up, drop out, run away. God says to just trust me, lean on me, and fall into my arms. God is with you to support and sustain you. To give you hope, courage, and strength to continue. He has promised, "'My presence will go [with you], and I will give you rest'" (Ex. 33:14).
Ignance Paderewski, Poland's famous concert pianist and prime minister, was giving a series of concerts. A mother, wishing to encourage her young son's progress at the piano, bought tickets for a performance. When the night arrived, they found their seats near the front of the concert hall and eyed the majestic Steinway waiting on stage. The mother spotted a friend in the audience and walked down the aisle to greet her. Seizing the opportunity to explore the wonders of the concert hall, the little boy eventually made his way through a door marked, "No Admittance." When the house lights dimmed and the concert was about to begin, the mother returned to her seat and discovered that the child was missing.
Suddenly, the curtains parted and spotlights focused on the impressive Steinway on stage. In horror, the mother saw her little boy sitting at the keyboard, innocently picking out, "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." His mother gasped, but before she could retrieve her son, the great piano master appeared on the stage and quickly moved to the keyboard. He whispered to the boy, "Don't quit - keep playing." Leaning over, Paderewski reached down with his left hand and began filling in a bass part. Soon, his right arm reached around the other side, encircling the child, to add a running obbligato. Together, the old master and young novice held the crowd mesmerized.
In our quest for contagious character, unpolished and incomplete though we may be, it is the Master who surrounds us and whispers in our ear, time and again, "Don't quit - keep playing." And as we do, he augments and supplements until a work of amazing beauty is created. What we can accomplish on our own is hardly noteworthy. We try our best but the results aren't exactly graceful flowing music. But with the hand of the Master, our character can truly be beautiful. Our responsibility is to not quit, to keeping playing; his part is to fashion a masterpiece.
Remember God doesn't call the equipped. He equips the called. And, he'll always be there to love and to guide you to great things.
Are you close to quitting? Please don't do it.
Are you tired of trying to live for Christ? Hang in there.
Do you feel like giving up on the Christian life? Roll up your sleeves and get back in there.
Can't resist temptation? Accept God's forgiveness and keep on living rightly.
Do you feel that sorrow and disappointment greet your every morning? Hold on. Help is just around the corner.
Endurance prevails. "Blessed is a man who endures trials, because when he passes the test he will receive the crown of life that He has promised to those who love Him" (Jas. 1:12 NIV). Remember you are not a failure until you give up. You are not a flop until you let go.
So don't quit. Never give up. Keep going. Hold on. God's rewards await us in the distant future not near the beginning; and we don't know how many steps it will take to reach the prize. No breaks or time outs exist; we must work every day of our life. It has been said, "Life is like reading a book. It begins to make sense when we near the end." Endurance maintains the stamina needed to see the end and embrace the prize. So fight another round, rise another time, and, above all, like Henry Dempsey, don't let go.