Unbroken Perseverance

Unbroken

Toward the end of the movie Unbroken, Louis Zamperini is again being tortured by a Japanese prison camp officer. This man, known as “The Bird,” took a special interest in Louis.

Even after Louis broke his ankle, The Bird forces him to hold a railroad beam above his shoulders. The Bird ordered Louis shot if he dropped it.

When Louis’ strength waned after a half hour holding the beam, something clicked inside of him. His eyes gained a look of focused persistence, he took a new grip on the beam, and then he pushed it up as high as he could.

The rest of the POWs watched as The Bird falls to his knees with the realization that no matter what he does, he cannot break Louis.

Perseverance

This scene reminds me of the instructions the writer of Hebrews gives after talking about how God disciplines those He loves.

“So take a new grip with your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs. Mark out a straight path for your feet.” (Hebrews 12:12)

Scripture speaks in many places about perseverance. It even tells of the benefit believers gain from it.

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)

Perseverance also plays a significant role in our individual spiritual growth. It serves as critical in our progress toward what God promises.

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Responsibility

Our perseverance isn’t only for our benefit though. After being told to take a new grip, stand firm and mark a straight path, the writer of Hebrews tells us our endurance also sets an example for others.

“Then those who follow you, though they are weak and lame, will not stumble and fall but will become strong.” (Hebrews 12:13)

We simply cannot live with just our own survival in mind. Others — our kids, spouses, friends, family, coworkers — see and follow our example. We have a responsibility to show them how to follow Christ.

This responsibility exists in our daily lives as we faithful serve Him. It exists when we refuse to let distractions consume us. And, it exists in the trials that would pull us into the muck and mire if we fail to take a new grip.

We fulfill that responsibility when we stand, even if on shaky legs, and focus our attention on Christ. We set an example when we follow that straight path regardless of what life sends our way. As we choose to persevere no matter what, others follow our example. In doing so, they discover new strength for their own efforts to persevere.

5 Keys to Lasting Change

Change Managementchange quote

Change happens in everyone’s life. Sometimes our first reaction to change is fear. Sometimes our first reaction is to buckle down and resist. Sometimes we dive completely into change and sometimes run from it.

How we ultimately decide to handle change determines our success or failure in life. Fortunately, we can decide to change how we handle change.

The best way I’ve personally found to handle change — both the change that comes whether I want it to or not and the change I take initiative to make — is to lean on that which does not change.

When Nehemiah was presented with an opportunity to bring about change, he could have simply ignored the internal tug. He could have continued as cup bearer to the king and lived a comfortable, safe life. He chose instead to lead change. Before he took any action, though, he anchored himself on the eternal God who never changes.

Nehemiah’s Example

Nehemiah is often studied for his obvious leadership characteristics such as integrity, humbleness, courage, compassion and focus. Nehemiah also provides a tremendous example of how to institute lasting change that endures through struggles.

Nehemiah traveled over 500 miles to lead change with a group of people who were stuck in brokenness for over a decade. He then motivates the people of Jerusalem to work toward significant and lasting change. Nehemiah’s example during this transformation gives several points to consider regarding how to institute lasting change in our own lives.

5 Keys to Lasting Change

Far more than just a city, Jerusalem represented an identity for the Jewish nation. The city and its wall told of the Jews connection (or lack of it) to God. When Nehemiah heard that the city walls and the people’s connection to God were in shambles, he chose to take action. God then used Nehemiah to transform His people.

Nehemiah’s approach to change, as directed by God through prayer, can teach us a tremendous amount about how to make change in our own lives.

  1. Stay organized. Nehemiah always had a plan in place, but he was also flexible as needed. Staying organized allows progress to continue even when chaos surrounds. In fact, reorganizing even when chaos seems in control can be extremely helpful.
  2. Be resourceful. Nehemiah asked the king for help, he asked the people and leaders of Jerusalem for help, and he found creative ways to continue the work even while opposition threatened. You’ll find resourcefulness present in the lives of all great leaders and heroes because change rarely happens in its absence.
  3. Persevere. Nehemiah had a plan, a specific purpose, and a steady persistence through difficulties, obstacles and discouragement. He kept moving forward regardless of what the opposition said or did. He persevered because he was centered on God’s will.
  4. Be consistent. Nehemiah consistently prayed, stayed organized and remained resourceful. Consistency shows reliable character, a necessary element for lasting change, and that’s the type of person others will follow through change.
  5. Be reliant. Above all, Nehemiah’s example shows the importance of relying on God. Nehemiah prayed regularly, even spending months praying and fasting before taking action. Because he relied on God, his approach to lasting change took hold in a powerful way.

Whether we are in need of complete rebuilding like the walls and people of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s time or we recognize the call of God in our hearts to institute change in some way, these key provide a solid approach for managing that change. Most importantly, Nehemiah’s example of anchoring himself in an unchanging God provides the single most important key for change to truly endure.

DISCUSSION: What other keys do you find essential for lasting change, either by way of experience or through another’s example?

What Have You Been Missing?

3-26-13 the end

Wait Until the Lights Come On

Movie watchers typically stop watching a movie as soon as the credits start to roll. Yet, my family and I have learned to wait until the lights come on in the theatre before getting up to leave.

After the credits for The Avengers and each related movie (Captain AmericaThe Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and Thor) there’s an extra clip that shows further connections among the movies. Of course, turning off the movie or leaving the theatre before the credits finish means missing the extra.

(You’ll find “extras” at the end of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and The Amazing Spider-Man too.)

Waiting out the credits, and in some cases just part of them, involves persistence. Even if you fast forward through them, like we do at home, getting to the extra clip still takes time. Yet, persistence pays off in giving a preview of a coming sequel or a connection you might have otherwise missed.

Faithful Persistence

This idea of persistence, waiting through the monotony, translates well into our spiritual lives. Let’s look at a few examples.

Elijah showed persistence when he prayed for rain in 1 Kings 18:41-46.  Rain did not come after his first prayer, or his second one, or even the third. Elijah prayed 7 times before rain came. What if Elijah had stopped praying before the 7th time?

Jesus gives another example, recorded in Luke 18:1-8, of the importance of persistence.  He tells of a persistent widow and her requests to a corrupt judge. The judge eventually gave her what she wanted to get her to stop bugging him. Jesus ends his story by asking a rather disturbing question. “How much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?”

What Have I Been Missing?

These stories stir in me a rather bothersome question. “What am I missing because I lack persistence in my prayers?”

I’m equally bothered by the question, “Will Jesus find persistent faith in me when He returns?”

Don’t lose heart.

As I attempt to answer these questions, I stare a very real truth in the faith. I have often given up too soon. I have gotten discouraged and lost heart. I have often lacked persistence in my prayers as well as in my waiting for God to move.

Jesus’ reason behind telling the persistent widow story is explained before the story even begins.

“Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lost heart.” (Luke 18:1)

In other words, don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged. This was the purpose of Jesus telling the parable of the persistent woman, and I suspect that this is a reason behind the story about Elijah too.

Amplifying Persistence

Unlike with movies, I can’t rewind my life and see what I missed. I can’t go back and play through the credits again. But I can be more persistent now. I can push through in faith in my current circumstances.

I can seek His will and then ask according to His Name. I can believe that He will answer based on that will. Then, I can live in the confidence that only comes from trusting in Him.

And at the same time, I must realize that my ability to know His will and to believe in faith that He will answer comes from Him. Without Him giving me the ability to be persistent, I’ll continue to miss out because I’ll continue to leave before the lights come on.

DISCUSSION: How do you see persistence playing out in the life of a Christ follower?

What Does the Bible Say About Persistence?

In the post How to… Be Persistent, we looked at the role persistence plays in obtaining victory in our lives. In today’s post, we’re discussing the basis for that persistence that is necessary for anyone to Be Victorious in this life. We’re going to look at the instructions Scriptures give us regarding persistence, including reasons to remain persistent as well as motivation for doing so.

  1. You develop persistence as you listen to and put into practice the teachings of those given the responsibility to “equip God’s people.” Ephesians 4:11-16 indicates that maturity and unity in faith develop as you listen to godly teachers. This maturity and unity provide a foundation for persistence that keeps you able to “hold to the truth in love” as you become more like Christ.
  2. Persistence develops as you “remain in” and “stay joined to” Jesus. Apart from Jesus, you will dry up and fail to bear fruit. Keeping connected to Him and His Word develops your confidence in Him to supply all your needs. (See John 15:4-8.)
  3. Praying “at all times and on every occasion” develops your ability to be persistent in all areas. Learning to make prayer a habit develops a consistent dependence on Christ. Consistency in this area provides the basis needed to be consistent in all other areas of life. (See Ephesians 6:18.)
  4. Making a plan and moving forward in that plan increases your ability to remain persistent. Even when you’re tired and weary, you set an example. Having a plan to follow takes away the emotion factor and allows you to move forward even when you feel weak and tired (Hebrews 12:12).
  5. Knowing your convictions before you need something to stand on keeps your ability to be persistent strong. When struggles come, your beliefs and convictions give the hope needed to stay faithful (2 Timothy 1:12). They make decisions ahead of time that would be clouded when emotions run rampant.
  6. Continuing to do good gives your persistence necessary focus. While doing good sometimes seems fruitless and selfishness seems to be the way to prosper, don’t not lose sight of the fact that God does bless those who do good (Galatians 6:9-10).

As I thought about persistence and how it exists in my life, I realized that it didn’t pop out of nowhere. Persistence seems to be an integral part of who I am, and I believe that is true for everyone. Unfortunately, we too often learn to ignore that part of our selves. We live in an instant-gratification society that has taught us we don’t need to be persistent to get what we desire.

But fortunately, He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). That means that persistence can rise up again as we realize that God encourages as well as gives motivation for being persistent. The rewards – the victories – are so great and well worth any wait!

DISCUSSION: What does knowing God’s view of persistence do for your desire to never give up?

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How to… Obtain Knowledge

We gain knowledge from a variety of sources. The goal, of course, involves obtaining knowledge from positive sources that helps us grow. Part of that goal includes sorting out knowledge that comes from deceptive sources and/or that won’t contribute to our growth in a positive way.

Knowledge is another important element in our journey to Be Victorious. So how do we obtain knowledge that helps us grow and at the same time avoid accumulating knowledge that is not edifying?

My health journey has involved a tremendous amount of sorting through good and bad information. I collected knowledge that helped and tossed what did not.

My sources of information included the internet, doctors, magazines and books along with friends and acquaintances going through similar situations. No one source provided all the answers. Rather, the solution to my struggle with depression and other nagging health issues involved knowledge gained from a variety of sources.

The idea that small changes made over time add up to make a huge different certainly applies here. As I collected information and through the process of trial and error, I slowly made changes mentally, physically and spiritually that brought me to a place of health and wholeness.

Through this process, I learned several lessons that others can use to obtain knowledge in a way that promotes growth and health as an individual.

  1. Persistence is an absolute necessity. Simply refusing to give up is half the battle toward obtaining knowledge that promotes healing. For more on this topic, read the post How to… Be Persistent.
  2. Know thyself. I wrote in my journal regularly to help sort out what I was feeling physically, mentally and spiritually. I also kept food and exercise logs as well as noted how I felt throughout the day. Knowing myself well helped me identify the information that would help me most.
  3. Look for knowledge to come in unexpected ways. From the waitress at the coffee shop to your pastor, anyone can give a tidbit of information that provides a small step in your journey. Refuse to discount any information until you have had time to pray over it and to corroborate it with additional sources.
  4. Have & focus on goals. My first goal as I searched for the knowledge I needed was to overcome depression. I felt, and still feel, I can deal with any physical ailment as long as I’m stable mentally. I then focused on the physical ailments. Within all of this, I kept a focus on growing spiritually, knowing this was the glue that held all else together.
  5. Be aware of information overload. As I’ve already mentioned, there is a lot of good and bad information available. More than that, there is simply a lot of information coming at us constantly.  Take in information in bits and pieces and avoid taking in so much that you can’t process anything. And be sure to take breaks from building knowledge. On a regular basis, let yourself relax in a good book or movie or time with friends.
  6. Realize your helplessness and dependence on God. The hope of deliverance from the pit of depression kept me moving forward and pursuing knowledge. Most importantly, knowledge of the Source of that hope trumped all else.

In Hosea 4:6 we read that the people were actually being destroyed by a lack of knowledge and that the leaders (priests) had actually rejected necessary knowledge. Regardless of the situation, a lack of knowledge creates a severe handicap that leads to an unproductive and sometimes hopeless life. God gives us the knowledge we need to live victorious lives. Above all, as our knowledge of Him increases, He gives us opportunity to increase in knowledge in all other areas of our lives.

DISCUSSION: How does the difference between knowledge and information fit in with this discussion?

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How to… Be Persistent

So many times I have said, “I give up.” Yet, I never could quite follow through. Something inside of me always refused to ultimately quit. Emotions led me to a place of despair, but I would always start up again when my feelings subsided.

Persistence is just one of the essential elements that allow us to Be Victorious. Persistence is, simply, the refusal to give up, and sometimes that’s all I had.

In my health journey, which really began in early childhood, many unknowns led to constant frustration. Chronic depression plagued me and gradually worsened with age. When I became a parent, persistence finally awoke in me as I realized that depression was not a legacy I wanted to leave my children.

So I began researching, seeing different doctors and exercising more. I played around with different eating plans and different medications and vitamins. Very gradually, answers came.

The way to a victorious life over depression and general ill health came largely through the role persistence played, lessons that anyone can learn to apply to any situation.

  1. Root out the root cause. Our culture likes to treat symptoms, and true wellness continues to evade us because we fail to dig out the root cause. Through a lot of research and digging, I finally discovered that the root cause of most of my health problems – including depression – was an undiagnosed food allergy and several intolerances. Once I started addressing this root cause, health like never before became the norm for my life.
  2. Realize that no one can be persistent for you. Not my husband. Not my pastor. Not any doctor. Only I could push through in my life to discover what I needed to in order to be healthy. Once I quit relying on others to find answers for me, the answers began to come. This does not mean others don’t help, but the persistence must be your own.
  3. Review your motivation regularly. For the first twenty years, I was just miserably depressed half the time. Eventually, I wanted health because of what it would do for me and the happiness it would bring. God changed my motivation to wanting to be healthy in order to be a good wife and mother and even more so to glorify Him. Motivation provided fuel for my persistence.
  4. Remain in Christ. For as long as I can remember, I have felt a pull toward studying the Word of God. And gradually, I learned to not just read the Bible but to apply it to my life. I learned that my physical and mental health was intimately intertwined with my spiritual health. True health and wellness comes through Christ and relying on Him. As I learned to focus on His will for my life, I discovered that a healthier life existed within the path He directed me down. In other words, my focus determined my reality.
  5. Remove emotions from decisions. For over 20 years, depression ran my life. How I felt mentally determined my every action. In other words, I was miserable most of the time. Gradually, I learned that even when I was tired and weary, I could put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward. When I learned to make plans and then let the Lord direct my steps, I learned that I could make right choices outside of my emotions.

Throughout this journey, I remained driven to discovering the root cause for my ill health. Turns out that the concept of a root cause exists for most areas of life in which we struggle, and my struggle to victory in the area of physical health really created a template for discovering victory in other areas as well.

While so many people supported my journey, no one could be persistent for me. Persistence led me not only to victory with my physical and mental health but also with my spiritual health too because I learned to rely more and more on Him – the True Vine – to bring my health and wellness.

DISCUSSION: What role has persistence played in your life?

Related Post: What Does the Bible Say About Persistence?

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How to… Be Victorious

Let’s first be clear that victory ultimately belongs to the Lord. Throughout the Old Testament, we see numerous examples of victories brought by God to those who honor Him. And for every Christian, ultimate victory – the victory over sin, death and the devil – came through Christ alone. We already have that victory.

Victory within our individual lives comes from inside and shows outwardly in how we live our lives. Once we have ultimate victory through Christ and the freedom that comes with it, how do we then live victorious lives? How can we live lives that make being a Christian attractive? (Titus 2:10)

Victory isn’t necessarily about winning the race or game, but it does involve running “in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24). In other words, it involves running your best race. (See the story of Oscar Pistorius for a wonderful modern-day example of this.)

Victory is actually defined as winning the mastery in battle over odds or difficulties. With this perspective, let’s look at some of the elements that better enable us to be victorious from the inside in

a way that is lived on the outside.

Persistence: Simply refuse to give up. (Romans 2:7)

Knowledge: Don’t be handicapped by ignorance when you can help it. (Proverbs 2:10-11)

Wisdom: There’s a big difference between knowledge alone and knowledge with understanding.  (Proverbs 4:7)

Growth: Never underestimate the power of incremental growth over time. (2 Peter 3:18)

Action: Pray, make a decision, and move forward. (Proverbs 16:9)

In the coming weeks, we will look at each of these elements using the context of a health journey I took over the past 2 ½ years. My hope is that the elements involved in my journey to victory in this area will become tools others use to find their own path to victory.

One caveat. Please know that I fully believe that real, lasting victory in any area is only possible through God’s Holy Spirit working in and through an individual. True victory cannot be obtained by human power alone. Yet, God does ask us to step out in faith and follow the path to victory.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts on the elements listed above? What other elements do you feel are essential to victory? 

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