“This is harder than I thought it would be.” We’ve all thought it at one time or another. Difficult tasks that require long seasons of effort can be exhausting. If we lose sight of the goal, we can face discouragement, depression or burnout. Many will veer off course before reaching the finish line. If we are going to persevere, we need to remember five keys to help us along the way.
Most great rewards demand long diligence before they can be seized. This is true in nearly every area of life. Family, work, sport, or cause: all require great patience and long toil before they yield results. In my current role, I am constantly reminding myself of these things and adjusting both my heart and my routine as needed. I hope you find these helpful as you engage in the battle to persevere.
As the saying goes, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself. 80 hour weeks don’t pay off in the long run. Get plenty of rest. For me, this means avoiding late night diversions that keep me from getting to bed on time. The Bible speaks of a time of sabbath rest, where we set everything aside for a day to recoup and refocus spiritually. When I say “set everything aside,” that likely includes cell phone, tablet and laptop. This is not easy, but God himself set this pattern of rest in order. In Genesis, after six days of creating, God rested from all the work he had done. And just in case you were wondering, God never tires. God did not need a siesta. No, this was an object lesson for our benefit. We need to incorporate this pattern into our weekly schedule. What 24 hour period per week have you marked on your calendar for sabbath rest? When I’m at my best, this rhythm of rest is a part of my routine.
Ever sprinted through a week or two on a project and suddenly realized you’ve barely connected with Jesus or your spouse? Have you started calling your kids by the names of your co-workers? Not good. The busier you become, the more important it is to prioritize your schedule.
In college, I read an article called “The Tyranny of the Urgent” by Charles E. Hummel. I’ve never forgotten the simple distinction it made between the truly important things in life and the urgent tasks that clamor for our minutes, hours and days. Hummel writes:
We live in constant tension between the urgent and the important. The problem is that the important task rarely must be done today or even this week. Extra hours of prayer and Bible study, a visit with that non-Christian friend, careful study of an important book: these projects can wait. But the urgent tasks call for instant action—endless demands pressure every hour and day.
Like the busy, distracted priest in Jesus’ story of good Samaritan, we become so busy with the urgent tasks at hand that we often miss the truly important stuff. If we are to weave perseverance into our lives, we must prioritize the important stuff so that we thrive over the long haul.
Trying to live as a Christian without prayer is like trying to live without air. You aren’t going to make it very far. Martin Luther famously said, “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.” Prayer confesses for us our dependence on God. Prayer sustains us during difficulties. Prayer provides strength to take the next step. Prayer humbles us in success, and prayer comforts us in failure. Prayer emboldens us to take risks. Prayer offers friendship with our most loyal companion. As we travel the road of life, prayer centers us on what, or who, is most important.
Have some fun. Find a hobby. Play some golf. Go to a movie (by yourself). Go fishing. Build something. Shoot something (but not someone). Go to a concert. During a season of life transition, a wise woman said to my wife, “Stop doing so much, and go read some fiction.” Pastor Tommy Nelson used to tell us to”go get some rocky road, and be sure you get two scoops.” Do whatever it is that you do when you are having fun.
A counselor friend once gave me an assignment to carve out an undisturbed three hour block each week to do something I enjoyed. This was harder than I thought it would be. In my college years, three hours of play would have been cutting back, but at this stage of life finding three free hours in a week meant saying a firm “no” to other things. For some, this may feel impossible or even selfish, but I’m learning that self-care is critical to staying power. Play promotes perseverance.
This last key will require a little more explanation, but I am currently finding this to be incredibly helpful. In a letter to a younger leader, the Apostle Paul wrote:
It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
Let me shoot straight with you: I’m a city boy, not a farmer. But I have been thinking lots about what Paul said, so I’m going to offer a few thoughts about it anyway. Farming itself is an act of faith. A farmer works long hours for a long period of time before he reaps any benefits from his labor. He shows up day after day and puts in a good day’s work trusting that it will all eventually produce an abundant crop. This requires a unique combination of diligence and patience.
There are two things I will point out about the farmer. First, stuff grows when it grows, and the farmer must trust his crops to appear when the timing is right. Second, there is nothing he can do to speed up the process. Working harder or faster or longer will not change the rate of growth.
What’s the point for us? When I remind myself to “plow,” it is a reminder to work hard and to trust the growth process, no matter how long and slow it seems. Show up like a farmer and do work, and then put your head on the pillow at night trusting something good will eventually grow. When I start to get overwhelmed with all that I have to get done, I find myself saying out loud “just plow the field today.” I can’t control the outcome, so I try to “do a good days work and leave the results to God.” Perseverance requires that we balance diligence with patience.
It is said that “in comedy, timing is everything.” The same is true of perseverance. Reminding yourself of these things before you are at the end of your rope makes all the difference. Otherwise, you will learn a life lesson the hard way. The athlete who becomes dehydrated during the match will find it impossible to rehydrate until after the game is over.
Personally, I am learning that the more my responsibilities expand, the more I must narrow my focus on these key areas. For me, these are not annual check-ins. They are daily and weekly reminders that help me persevere as I fight to fulfill my calling.
If you practice these five keys — pace, prioritize, pray, play, and plow, you will be more likely to persevere in the days ahead.
Which of the five keys grabs your attention? Which of the five keys do you find most difficult? Would you add anything to this list? What is your favorite quote about perseverance?