Welcome marathoners in and for Christ. (1 Corinthians 9:24; Hebrews 12:1; 2 Timothy 4:7) Exhausted, depleted from running the Godly, good, and being-a-blessing-to-others race? Welcome. Sit. Relax. Let’s feast.
Feast of the Heart exists to help bring about Christ-centered “reformation, revival, and constructive revolution” (Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City) so that God will be glorified and people blessed.
Reformation… we seek to abide by and serve up the true truth, pure doctrine of the Bible
Revival… we seek to model biblical Christians living in word and deed
Constructive Revolution… we seek to spread the true gospel right where God has planted us with urgency, compassion, and radical self-abandonment
All That Preceded Man In Creation Is Part of Humankind
In the five days that led up to God’s creation of all humankind’s predecessors in Adam and Eve on the sixth day, all that God created had an effect on how all of humanity was designed by God. God by no means wasted or trivialized or was “just getting warmed up” prior to creating His consummate creation: mankind, Image Bearers of Himself. God’s culmination was, in fact, an accumulation.
Let’s take one of my favorite examples called, “The Law of the Farm”: every aspect of God’s creation on Day 3 in the realms of soil creation, management, the production of foods, crops, fruits, and all things from the land that the we sow and reap in all sorts of wonderful and nutritious ways SHOWS UP in the cause and effect interaction so named and numerously warned of in the Bible, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7) Every thought, word, and deed we partake in results in a predictable cause and effect outcome. It follows like summer follows spring or the tides follow the phases of the moon.
Sowing and reaping impacts persevering as well: if we want to run a full marathon a few 10K’s along the way is highly recommended; if we want to aspire to performing Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 we had better “sow and reap on the ivories” 10,000+ times; if we want to achieve excellence in the marketplace as an entrepreneur we’re going to have to put aside all play for a good deal of time; and if we want to be more like Christ we must be more than mindful of both fruitfulness and the mortification of sin—stewarded well, season in and season out, both fruitfulness and sinlessness build over time. It’s organic.
No doubt one would have to read the likes of Lawrence’s book [above] to grasp the wonder and implications of this truth about God’s creation and the astoundingly consistent laws that accrue from it. And, YES, whether we acknowledge it, or embrace it, or like it, or not. It’s simply the Truth and Love of GOD we need to tightly grasp, unpack, live out… or kick against it until we’re worn out, right?
Just as God said, “I AM”, His creative principles, process, and patterns ARE. Rather than conjure up what we want, and shoehorn God into our own imaginations and desires, it’s far better for us to love and envelop all God has done, and then seek following after that: It’s simply a more reasonable and satisfying, life-affirming theology.
Got Perseverance? One Place I Go? Rucky Chucky!
We absolutely must accept the fact that when [NOT IF] God brings us to a challenging place where endurance, perseverance, grit, dedication, stamina is required, He’s doing so to first break us down, in order to build us up… for strength upon strength, fruitfulness upon fruitfulness, humility upon humility, holiness upon holiness, Christlikeness upon Christlikeness.
“No pain; no gain.” is absolutely true. And from the Holy Spirit, the One Who uses the unavoidable suffering of this broken world to help us mature, persevere, in order to proffer, extend Who the Spirit points to, Jesus Christ’s, grace to others.
“Let us understand that God is a physician, and that suffering is a medicine for salvation, sanctification, not a punishment for damnation.” (St. Augustine)
As an inordinately stubborn sinner saved by grace, and an endurance athlete, I have been through many challenging trials that I stayed in, got through, and grown by SO THAT I could aim higher and do it better the next time: I sowed sticking to it, and reaped a sanctified endurance… for lots of crud from my own sinful desires, this broken and dark world, as well as my own desire to “go the distance”—running, at points in time, 100+ miles a week in the mountains of Colorado and elsewhere. I persevered through pain after pain so that pain was no longer a stranger or something to AVOID.
And this is key: Pastor Tim Keller puts it like this, “If we’re put off like the world when pain comes, so surprised that all we do is stand paralyzed and aghast like the world does, we cannot be used of God to save and serve others in any sort of pain. Being surprised by suffering is one thing, but if we’re surprised by our surprise we’ve simply forgotten, or never knew why suffering exists and what the reality of this broken world consists of… and how Christ-followers are used in it.”
“While other worldviews lead us to sit in the midst of life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy.” (Tim Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering)
Now more than ever, this world needs more thoroughly sanctified sufferers—disciples more like Jesus—more effective resources of light and salt.
If we don’t move through any pain to its redemptive end and fruit on the far side of the journey, we will be ill-equipped to face the reality of brokenness and redemption God has in store for His Beloved—in the smallest paper-cut of pain to the worse heartbreak imaginable, God has a good end in mind (Rom 8:28), which is refinement, conformity to the likeness of His Son. NOT simply the relief of the pain! God’s not into self-help; He’s into soul transformation for the holy benefit, blessing of self… to the glory of God and for the sake of others.
As odd as it sounds, and in a sublimely practical way, today when I’m facing a spiritual, emotional, psychological, or physical trial that I must work through, “I go to Rucky Chucky:” a particular place along the Western States 100 mile trail race where the race entrant I was pacing for 60 miles practically died. In the middle of the night the river crossing looked like a scene out of Apocalypse Now: it was a war zone of endurance and anguish that I’ll never forget.
And That’s My Main Point:
God offers “points of persevering” of this kind that we must endure and work through to their finish…
…so that we REMEMBER and use the strength gained in faith again!
And again. And again. And again. Until we die or Christ returns.
Over the past 45 years, I’ve been blessed to have experienced hundreds of Rucky Chucky-like endurance-adventures. And this is NOT meant for boasting in ME, but rather in The One Who Endured for my sake so that I could do the same for His, Jesus Christ, and by His Spirit—and for those He has placed in my midst of my life. (2 Cor 1:3-7) If anything, and due to my sin and addictions to my early-life self, I’ve just needed to be reminded and refined more than others…
Respectfully offered, what is [or what are] your “Rucky Chucky story” of a redemptive trial that served to move you from strength to strength? This is vitally important for us to know… down to to a visceral, cathartic level of detail, tears, and rejoicing! Otherwise, either you don’t have anything to “fall back on” or you don’t have any “seeds and stems of perseverance” to grow more of it.
We Are Called to Persevere, Press On in Two Ways
- By God’s Providence: Those who are called, who are born again and in Christ, will persevere because The Trinity has secured, guaranteed their salvation forever. God’s elect will persevere to the end. As Paul wrote, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14; Romans 8, emphasis added). This Christian teaching glorifies God in his kingly power to keep his children spiritually safe in his arms for all time. It is upon this platform of divine security that an adopted child of God joyfully, not fearfully, nourishes his, her relationship with Christ and freely, not full of guilt, serves him.
- By Our Partnership: But, in addition, those who are called and are in Christ will persevere because their refined, sanctified character has been shaped by the organic nature of the faith. It grows like a garden or fruitful farm when we care for it in kind: “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8, emphasis added)
Father God, in Christ, and by the Spirit has providentially secured our, 1. perseverance and salvation to the end; but The Trinity has also provided His chosen ones, 2. a persevering role and a goal within His Plan of Redemption as well: a) to begin and end each trial while, b) garnering all its worth for our growth, maturity, Christlikeness, fruitfulness, and c) to “pay it forward” in service to and for others.
This is the cycle of KNOW, GROW and SOW…
…until we’re dead or Jesus returns.
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12, emphasis added) Will we stand in the muck of life, suffering, trials of any kind LONG ENOUGH for the refinement God has for us in it?! Or will we run for it when either the anticipated or live trial is going on.
In the most pithy and yet powerful way, I recall many years back when I reached out to a handful of my Brothers in Christ for prayers in a time of deep pain. John Berry from Austin Texas was used of God to send the most worthy of pithy yet powerful responses: “Stay put!” That was all his email said… but it said it all.
Consider especially the organic nature of how STAYING PUT in our suffering produces joy “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4) What is the end result of such JOY? Wisdom and Christlikeness. “…that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
“Would that men might come at last to see that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there its consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross.” (St. John of the Cross) No thorny thicket, cross = no wisdom, Christlikeness.
Don’t miss “The Law of the Farm” in James’ wisdom: seeing our suffering to the end, staying put, surrounding ourselves with a community of faith to see us through, embracing mourning and mortification in the way designed by God… all PRODUCES much fruit. Or not: nothing living comes forth when we leave any organic form of life to die. The volume of wasted tears could fill all the oceans of this earth; but the ones offered up to God are kept secured in a bottle near and dear to God! “You have taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?” (Psalm 56:8) THAT’S STUNNING AND ASTONISHING.
We Need to Commit to Finish What God Has Begun: Each Trial, Each Race, Each Relationship, Each Work, Play, Day
What is one sad and damaging hallmark of our day that we all can agree on? Yes, it’s a lack of commitment, sticktuitivenss, grit, gumption, fortitude, spine that extends to virtually every realm of our culture and private lives: far more often than not, when the going gets tough, the tough are few and far between… and quitting is all too common.
And don’t miss this: When [not if] God offers us a maturing, strengthening, refining circumstance in life, and we choose to shortcut the journey in order to alleviate either the spiritual, emotional, psychological, or physical pain ASAP, we not ONLY lose the chance to grow in that moment, but The Law of the Farm teaches us that the NEXT offer God gives us to grow will be avoided… and EXPONENTIALLY so: darkness avoided makes not just every dark place more frightening, but the anticipation of any shadow as well. Until we won’t risk anything… anymore.
Because that’s how sowing and reaping works. “Ask [God] to give you patience that endures affliction, which, when it is tried, will come forth as gold.” (C.H. Spurgeon)
And yet, can we imagine ANY realm of life that actually works this way? There is not one thing in life that benefits from quitting early—every achievement at the highest level takes perseverance, not quitting, but finishing what we started.
When the next trial is allowed by God in your life, stay put; pray; go to God’s word via A.C.T.S. [Adoration. Confession. Thanksgiving. Supplication], get into a community of faith to intentionally and aggressively seek after what God has in store for your KNOWING [more of the Trinity], GROWING [in grace and Christlikeness], and SOWING [Christ in word and in deed].
If we will not stay put under pressure, no diamond will ever be formed, nor its beauty on display for this dark and fast-decaying world, Beloved.