WHAT IS SPIRITUAL PERSEVERANCE?

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, 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.

In every life, there will be moments when you have to endure. In every Christian journey, there will also be times you have to endure. God calls His followers to persevere, to walk forward in faith, trusting God even when trials and sufferings come.

The Bible is full of stories of men and women who persevered. The apostle Paul often wrote about perseverance. If anyone demonstrated endurance, it was Paul. He urged believers not to tire of following Christ, even when persecuted. He’d been beaten, stoned, whipped, driven out of town, shipwrecked, reviled, and abandoned. Despite having a thousand reasons to put perseverance on hold, he trusted and obeyed God.

Perseverance is not easy. Just ask any long-distance runner. It hurts to keep running when everything in you longs to stop. The motivation to continue is the reward. The same is true spiritually. Considering it a joy to face trials does not mean we enjoy the hardship. God is not asking us to be in sour circumstances. Jesus did not want to go to the cross…but “because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross.” He is our reward.  And to be mature in Him, we must learn to persevere.

When we “hit the wall” in the marathon of the Christian life, the cause is usually spiritual rather than physical. It can be due to various reasons, one of which is we always seem to fall short. Don’t be discouraged or feel guilty when you fall short. We all are human and will respond imperfectly at one point or another. What’s important is what we do next.

Whenever you’re in a difficult moment, remember the words Paul wrote to the Galatians: “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6:9).  Everybody fails. It may be your fault, but it may not be your fault. You are not a superhero. We all make mistakes, we all have down times, and we all fail sometimes. Persevering people decide to keep moving on.

Perseverance is not a one-time event; it must become a lifestyle. You will need to do it continually if you are determined to succeed. Those who persevere will succeed because they refuse to give up. Our Christian life is a race to the finish line; we are not aimlessly running around as if we have no destination. In any race, the one who persists, who never gives up in the face of difficulties, will always triumph.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what areas of your life do you need more perseverance?
  2. What can you do this week to improve in those areas? 

  

THE POWER OF INTERCESSION

“Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth. “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” – John 17:18-21

Amid His greatest trial, Jesus prayed fervently. What would you have prayed about when facing torture and death? It’s fascinating to see what was on Jesus’ mind as He prayed, not only for Himself (Luke 22:41-42), but for His disciples and us, as evidenced by the John 17 passage above. Jesus did not just focus inward. He prayed for the disciples—and us—out of love and deep concern.

We, too, should pray for others, including those we know who are far from the heart of God. Intercessory prayer is prayer for others. Scripture tells us that when we say intercession prayers, we build bridges between God and those we pray for. In 1 Timothy 2:1–2, Paul writes: “ I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.”

Intercession enhances our spiritual growth. We cannot pray for the Lord to strengthen others without strengthening ourselves, and we cannot ask God to soften someone else’s heart without softening our own. We grow closer and closer to God each time we pray for someone else.

By definition, intercessory prayer means focusing on others rather than ourselves. Jesus focused on others throughout His ministry. Seeing how God intervenes in the lives of those we have prayed for gives us the chance to thank and praise Him for all His goodness.

Millions in the world do not know God. The lost people should be our priority in intercessory prayer. We should pray for those who ask us to pray and for our “enemies” like Jesus instructs us in Matthew 5:44. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “In intercessory prayer, the face that may have been strange and intolerable to me is transformed into the face of one for whom Christ died, the face of a pardoned sinner.”

The Lord urges us to pray because He knows its power. He knows what prayer can do, not only for the ones we have prayed but also for us. We need to pray not to impress God but because it increases our faith. Intercession helps us see the needs of others with spiritual eyes and lift our voices on behalf of others.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does intercessory prayer mean to you? 
  2. Do you pray for other people? Do these prayers work? What do you do when a prayer is unanswered (as you thought it would be)?
  3. What lost friend or relative can you intercede for today? 

HEROES TAKE RISKS FOR GOD

“Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief.” – C.S. Lewis.

When you hear “risk-taking,” does your adrenaline start to flow? Are you excited or concerned? The thought of facing a tough challenge or taking a risk is not as exciting and adventurous as the big screen portrays. In reality, we find safety in remaining in our comfort zones, protected and secure. But are we truly content with where we are? Do we long for more out of life?

Most followers of Jesus will exercise two levels of faith at one time or another. One level is to be inactive and wait patiently for the Lord to move. This level of faith involves believing that God will bring about a solution apart from any effort on our end. It is predicated on being still and waiting for God to act. The second level of faith is being proactive and assertive. We take the initiative to find the answer to a need. And by moving forward, we force ourselves to a dependence on the Lord that wouldn’t be possible if we merely sat still.

Time and again in the Gospels, we see examples of people taking risks motivated by their faith in Christ. In Matthew 8–9, for instance, we see no fewer than six examples of individuals who took a risk and stepped out in faith: the leper who alone approached Jesus (8:1–4), the centurion with the paralyzed servant (8:5–13), the paralytic and his friends (9:1–8), the ruler whose daughter was ill and the hemorrhaging woman (9:18–26), and the two blind men (9:27–31). In four situations, people took risks and were rewarded for their faith.

The Christian life is taking the radical step of faith to follow Christ and fulfill His purposes for your life.  What makes that step radical is that it always involves significant risk because where there is no risk, there is no faith. The Lord brings us back to Himself when we step out in faith. Our hearts are turned to Him. Our relationship with God is deepened. We encounter God rather than just knowing about Him. He is no longer a God on paper but living within us. Risk helps reignite our relationship with God, bringing us back to Himself.

So when does God want us to operate at level one faith and when at level two? If we are facing a seemingly insurmountable problem–a situation that we believe we are powerless to influence–we should be still and wait on the Lord. But there will also be times when action is required, where we may be asked to take bold steps, and yes, to take some risks. Faith is simply doing what God tells you to do whether you feel like it or not, and in fact, especially when you don’t feel like it, regardless of the circumstances, because He said it and His Word is true.

Discussion Questions

  1. How will you know what God is going to do in your life, unless you take risks?
  2. As you’ve taken risks of faith, did God’s path seem impractical, at first? In what ways?
  3. What are some of the promises of God that you can trust as you take risks?

THE HEROES OF THE FAITH

We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord.” – Romans 15:1-2.

Most of our “heroes” are related to human achievement and glory, but the Bible has a very different concept. The Bible sets forth numerous examples of virtue, resilience, integrity, and courage, showing that heroes come in various forms.

Heroes can be men, like the courageous David, who stood against Goliath, or women, like the loyal Ruth, who showed steadfastness. They can be leaders like Moses, who led the Israelites to freedom, or workers of miracles like Elijah and Elisha. They can also come from unlikely backgrounds, like Esther, a Jewish orphan who became a queen and saved her people.

Each hero of the faith had traits and characteristics that made them stand out. Paul’s boldness and tenacity were evident. Would have had the faith to get out of the boat as Peter did. But we can’t forget they were human and messed up as we are. David committed adultery and killed his lover’s husband to cover it up, yet God still kept him on the throne and used him. Paul spent a lifetime killing Christians before he became one. Jesus once called Peter, “Satan” because of his attitude. We can point to significant flaws as we look at all these great leaders. If they weren’t disqualified, then neither are we.

These heroes are defined not by extraordinary powers or worldly achievements but by their faith in God and willingness to act according to His will.

A hero is someone who does something selfless, something sacrificial. A hero is someone who puts the needs of another above his or her own. One unsung hero from the New Testament is Andrew, Peter’s brother. Andrew didn’t get a lot of ink in the New Testament, but what we do read about him is significant. Andrew did what he was supposed to be doing. As soon as he was convinced Jesus was the Messiah, he first went and told his brother, Simon Peter.

While Peter was much more visible in his role in building the church, Andrew was like that silent partner who might not say much publicly but was essential in building the church and bringing people to Jesus. There are so many heroes of the faith today who might never stand in front of an audience and preach or teach but are incredible witnesses for Jesus in their day-to-day lives. Every time we read about Andrew, he brings someone to the Lord.

We would love to be like one of the heroes of faith. What if God was compiling a list of heroes, what would it take to be on it. What do you think it would take to become a hero of faith? Follow the examples of Jesus’ disciples and the heroes of faith, and hear, believe, and obey God daily. We have the power to change the world for Jesus Christ!

Discussion Questions:

  1. Without Jesus, you are not what you were made to be; only He can help you become that. Do you feel like you were made to be a hero? Why or why not? 

DEPENDING ON GOD

“They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” –  Jeremiah 17:8.

The prophet Jeremiah gives us a picture of a tree planted next to an ever-flowing stream of water. Its root system gradually digs deep into the moist soil. It never lacks liquid nourishment for the green leaves high above the ground. Jeremiah is telling us that when we depend on the Lord, we are like one who stays planted beside His living water. Daily doses of Jesus grow us in grace. Reliance on Jesus is the door to faithful and fruitful living. It means we are transformed by what the Lord says and thinks; therefore we can depend on Him for wisdom and insight.

We need to be dependent on God. But here is the catch: you and I don’t always like depending on God. So, instead of learning to rely on God, we spend our whole lives trying to supplement our dependence upon Him.  We try to put enough money in the bank so we don’t have to depend on Him for our daily bread. We try to control our decisions, so we have some control over how much we need to depend on God. Jesus is not an add-on to a full and balanced life—He is our life. We trivialize our Savior when we use Him as a last resort only after we have exhausted ourselves and our resources. In contrast, when our confidence is in Christ, our default is to depend on Him.

Dependence starts by acknowledging Almighty God as the owner of everything and the controller of every circumstance. Nothing is impossible with God, and everything is within His reach. Your part is to trust and obey, and His part is to do the rest. Dependency depends on Him working in and through you.

Hudson Taylor says, “I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where he places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest position He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient. It little matters to my servant whether I send him to buy a few cash worth of things, or the most expensive articles. In either case, he looks to me for the money and brings me his purchases. So, if God should place me in serious perplexity, must He not give me much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength? No fear that His resources will prove unequal to the emergency! And His resources are mine, for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why would you want to depend on God’s unfailing faithfulness rather than your well-intentioned efforts?
  2. What changes could you make so you will be dependent on God in all things?

GOD IS ALWAYS AT WORK

“But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.”  – John 5:17.

God is always working. If we are going to be used by God, we must first acknowledge that He is already at work all around us, and that His work isn’t contingent upon us. This is not something we’re starting up. The weight is not on our shoulders—the pressure is off.

God does not sit idly, watching our life take place. And that is a good thing because there will be times in all of our lives when we simply don’t understand how God is working. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t always align with what we can want or imagine. It doesn’t fit into the way we believe things happen in this world. But remember this. God keeps His promises, God gives you the right instructions according to His perfect will and He won’t mislead you. No matter how much you don’t understand life as it is right now – no matter how uncomfortable it may seem or how hard it gets, we don’t have to worry because God is with us. God was working before Christ walked on this earth. He was working while Christ was in the world and He continues to work through His Spirit today.

Sometimes, it seems like God is not working in our lives. When faced with disappointments in life, believing God works things for your good can be difficult. But what if God has been at work all along, and you’ve failed to recognize it? In John 5:17, Jesus tells us that God has been working and that He is also working on our behalf. So, think about that truth as you go about your daily activities. Even though you might not feel or see God working right now in your situation, it does not mean He is not. John 13:7 says, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” He is working on other areas of your life that may not immediately be obvious. This is why the Holy Spirit reminds you today by saying not to give up hope or feel helpless because “… he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps.” (Psalm 121:4)

Instead, he is always at work because He works all things for our good, no matter how seemingly hopeless or near impossible the situation is or looks. Romans 8:28 (AMP) says, “And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.”

God doesn’t expect us to understand everything He’s doing. It’s okay to have questions. It’s OK to want to know more. It’s normal to think what’s happening doesn’t make much sense. And we will experience a whole variety of emotions along the way.

The reality is that we will never fully grasp all God is doing this side of heaven. But He does want us to know this with all our hearts: He loves us and is working on our behalf in ways beyond what we can comprehend.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Where have you seen God working in your life in the last 1-5 years? Where do you see God at work around you? How does He want you to join Him?

THE ART OF EVERYDAY WORSHIP

 “I need to worship because without it I can forget that I have a big God beside me and live in fear. I need to worship because without it I can forget his calling and begin to live in a spirit of self-preoccupation. I need to worship because without it I lose a sense of wonder and gratitude and plod through life with blinders on. I need worship because my natural tendency is toward self-reliance and stubborn independence.”—John Ortberg.

How can we worship God in our everyday lives? Worshipping the Lord daily can be as simple as remembering God in daily activities like driving to work, washing the dishes, cleaning the garage, etc. It is a matter of glorifying God and practicing an awareness of Him in everything amidst the busyness of life.  The point is this: God is always present, and all that we do can be used as an act to worship Him. The Apostle Paul writes this in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

Paul writes in Colossians 3:16-17: “Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.”

With the advancement in technology, most of us have fallen into the routine of checking our phones from the moment we open our eyes. If you attempt to break this habit and instead use your time by spending it with God, you will grow your relationship with Him. Read your Bible for a few minutes, listen to worship music, and thank Him for giving you another day to live. Thank God for His daily blessings.  

Whenever you are outside, take the time to notice the beautiful scenery. Notice God’s creation and everything He has made. He made the earth for us to live on. He cares for every living thing that He created. Take the time to appreciate it more and thank Him for His creation.

The lyrics to the song “Heart of Worship” are simple but striking: “I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about you. It’s all about you, Jesus. I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it, when it’s all about you. It’s all about you, Jesus.”

God created us to worship, and the object of our worship is Him. It should be a daily event.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can we do to worship God daily?

CONSUMER OR FOLLOWER?

“Following Christ isn’t something that can be done halfheartedly or on the side. It is not a label we can display when it is useful. It must be central to everything we do and are.”― Francis Chan, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God.

The crowds loved Jesus. And why not? Every day, Jesus would perform a miracle. He healed sick people, cast out demons, stilled storms, and brought people back from the dead, and the people loved it. One day, He even fed thousands of them with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Life was good. You could watch Jesus do His thing and get fed. At one point, however, Jesus calls the crowd out in John 6:26: “…I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs.”

Jesus knew that the crowds could be fickle and were entertained by His miracles. They didn’t understand what it meant to follow Him. They were just consumed with what He could do for them. Later on in John 6, the crowds showed their true colors and walked away from Jesus: “At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him” (vs 66). Apparently, the novelty had worn off, and Jesus wasn’t entertaining them enough anymore.

Have you ever really thought about why you want to be with Jesus? Is it just for the next miracle He might provide, the next blessing, or the presumed freebies you expect to get as a follower of Jesus? Consumers want to be with Jesus for the free perks of the relationship. They want to be with Jesus for what’s in it for them.

Followers of Jesus are different. They want to be with Jesus not primarily for what He does for them but for who He is. They want to follow Him because He is the risen Son of God. His resurrection compels them to trust in Him as God and is worthy of our love, worship, and obedience. The beauty of the Gospel is that in trusting Jesus, they find that He pours into them more than they could have expected or hoped for.

Matthew 14:22-36 tells the story of Peter walking on water with Jesus. Imagine if you were in this situation. We are the disciples, the boat is our comfort zone, and the lake is the tumultuous situation we encounter. Jesus walks above our difficulty and invites us to walk above it all with Him. As human beings, we can often be skeptical about leaving our comfort zone. But that is the only way to grow in a relationship with Christ. When we get out of the boat, we often forget who invited us and get scared. Jesus is ready to pull you out of that place and help you grow. The key to all of this is accepting His hand of help. Recognize that you are not strong enough to fix yourself, and let Christ help you grow. We follow Him because He wants to help us grow in our relationship with Him.

Decide to bring God into all aspects of your life. Don’t just reserve Him for Sunday service or prayer before a meal. You can be with God when you’re walking, reading, Bible journaling, creating art, playing in the sand, driving, etc. Think of God as the best Father you could ever have—one who cares about you and wants to spend time with you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Jesus gives us an implied choice: to follow or not. How do you choose to follow Jesus daily?
  2. How much of your time, attention, energy, etc., does following Jesus get from you?

RECOGNIZING THE COST

 “Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?”   Luke 9:23-24.

Many of us have a difficult time balancing Jesus’ generosity with His intense call to follow. There is a tendency to try to balance grace, blessings, and love with the costs. Because the reality is that there is a cost that all of us must count to follow Christ.

Jesus does not remove the cost of following Him. Jesus makes this point clear in Luke 9. Self-denial and daily cross-bearing are the marks of a follower of Jesus. It is a call to surrender your rights and submit to God’s agenda.

Jesus said anyone following Him would need to take up their cross daily. Remember the way Jesus suffered on His cross. No cross comes without pain and agony. Every day, we must be prepared to suffer for the sake of Jesus. Rather than health and wealth, Jesus promised we would be hated, homeless, and persecuted (John 15:18-21). Following Him will not result in a life of ease, but it will guarantee an eternity of peace in His presence. The cost of following Jesus is great, but the reward is far greater.

Jesus gives two illustrations concerning assessing the cost of following Jesus. The first illustration is of a tower being built. A parallel would be building an addition to one’s house. Not counting the cost means the project will not be completed. Jesus declares that one must assess whether one is ready to take on the personal commitment and sacrifice required to follow Jesus. The second illustration is similar, and it concerns a king going to war. A king must calculate the cost before going into the battle. One must count the cost to avoid an embarrassing and deadly outcome. Being a disciple requires abandoning all projects, plans, and personal goals.

Jesus expects nothing that He has not already accepted for Himself. Everything that matters is challenging and costly. You are going to face pressure to not intensely follow Jesus. But in the end, having Jesus means gain, like Paul says: “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do we go about recognizing the costs?

THE COST OF FOLLOWING JESUS

  “A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’“Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him? And if he can’t, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away. So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.” – Luke 14:25-33

There’s a popular misconception that accepting Christ leads to health, wealth, prosperity, or a comfortable life. Christians know better. Following Jesus is not for the faint of heart. Following Jesus can seem like swimming upstream when the rest of the world is happy to go with the current. It takes courage, faith, humility, selflessness, discipline, commitment, boldness, strength, and endurance to live a life committed to Jesus.

“The Cost of Discipleship” is a book written by  Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor in Nazi Germany who directly opposed Hitler and the Nazis because of his Christian convictions. He was arrested, imprisoned, sent to multiple concentration camps, and the Nazis ultimately hanged him just months before the war ended.

The theme of the book was that while grace is a freely given gift from God, there are real costs involved. Early in the book, Bonhoeffer notes that Jesus’s first three recorded words to Peter were “Come, follow me.” He also notes that Jesus’s last three recorded words to Peter were “Come, follow me.”

The big difference was that the first time Peter heard those words, his response was to set out on an adventure with the young rabbi who did extraordinary things and quickly gained notoriety. The second time he heard these words from Jesus, he had been following Jesus for three years and learned about the demands and costs of that invitation. He had seen the power of Jesus in his miracles, but He also saw what His mission on earth cost Him on the cross. The invitation to “Come, follow me” would also cost Peter his life.

And that is Jesus’ unchanging command to all of His disciples. We are to follow Him. That is what being a disciple means. Being a disciple of Jesus isn’t just attending a worship service every week. It means to follow Him daily, regardless of the costs.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the costs people normally associate with what it means to follow Jesus?
  2. In Luke 14, Jesus delves further into the costs of following Him. In verses 26-27, how does Jesus describe the cost of discipleship? What do those tell you about following Him?