Steadfast Love

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 

Revelation 1:9

John was on the island of Patmos, exiled for his faith in Jesus. He was an old man. He witnessed most of the other early disciples be executed for their faith. Surely he saw many abandon their faith under the pressure of persecution. But not John. As he wrote to other believers about the vision that he saw, he called himself a “companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.

What does it take to have that kind of patient endurance? What does it take to stick to your commitments? Surely there is a bit of struggle along the way whether one is committing to their spouse, their church, or to Jesus. Surely John had opportunities to give up, yet he remained true to the end.

As I get older, I am less and less impressed with the flash of starting something new. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve started new things a few different times and starting new things is hard work. But I am just more and more impressed with perseverance these days. Eugene Peterson called it “a long obedience in the same direction.” This is what it takes to finish a marathon and finish well in life. It’s the ability to stay with something through thick and thin. There is a richness there that can’t be acquired in any other way.

Today is our 15th wedding anniversary. My wife and I are going to celebrate as 15 years married is no small thing! My parents and my in-laws have been married for nearly 50 years. As I get older I am more and more impressed with that kind of commitment. The commitment it takes to stick through hard things and not quit, not bail out. It seems more and more rare in our culture these days.

John’s reward for his patient endurance, his faithfulness to the end, was that the glorified presence of Jesus stood in his midst and spoke to him directly. John said:

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feetand with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

Revelation 1:12-16

This was such a gift. The glorified presence of Jesus standing right next to John. This was just the beginning of his reward for his steadfast faithfulness and patient endurance. Jesus himself was the one who said:

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Matthew 24:9-14

The one who stands firm to the end is the one who didn’t let their love grow cold. This applies to marriage. This applies to being an active part of the church. This applies most of all to our relationship with Jesus. Keeping the fire of our love burning bright, tending the fire, keeping fuel on the fire, these are key to longstanding commitments. It is love that is our most powerful weapon, and it will be love that keeps us faithful to the end.

Fruit of Faithfulness

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Romans 5:3-4

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

Both James and Paul experienced the same process in the Christian life–they saw the same pattern emerge–and then wrote about it. Life brings us trials and suffering. If we let them, they produce in us a kind of perseverance, a relentlessness, an endurance. And, over time, this establishes maturity in our character. Those who are mature in their character never seem to run out of hope.

What is happening when we have been long-suffering in our faithfulness and still aren’t seeing fruit from it?

When ongoing faithfulness doesn’t produce outward fruit, it is producing inner formation

If you aren’t seeing the fruit of your faithfulness outwardly, it might be because it is growing on the inside. Babies develop on the inside first before they are introduced to the world. Maybe what God is birthing in you has to start on the inside first.

Trials and Temptations

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

God often allows us to face trials and temptations. He allows these to test our faith. Not unlike how we must complete tests in school before moving on to the next semester or the next grade level, so too must we face testing before stepping into the next thing God has for us. Testing, when handled well, matures our faith and fills in areas where there may be holes. But it will take some perseverance.

When trials and temptations come our way, they don’t have to discourage us or make us feel weak and sinful. Remember that Jesus was tempted but didn’t sin (Hebrews 4:15). Just because you face trials and temptations doesn’t mean you have sinned. The enemy likes to try to guilt trip us just for being tempted, as if we’ve already sinned. But don’t believe those lies. That’s the oldest trick in the book.

Instead, we can view our trials and temptations as useful tools that may reveal vulnerable areas or immature areas of our spiritual life. If we let them, they can function as a spiritual “check engine” light that comes on in the dashboard of our life. We can find joy in them because God is using them to show us where He wants to grow us and mature us. We can laugh at our weakness and vulnerability as it reminds us just how dependent we still are on the grace of God.

We can also rejoice in knowing that tests don’t last forever. When the day of testing comes to an end, and we’ve withstood the test, graduation is imminent. God always allows testing in our life before graduating us to the next level of responsibility and/or anointing in the Kingdom. He wants to find out ahead of time if we will be able to handle the weightiness that comes with the next assignment. He doesn’t want the weightiness of it to break us, so we get tested before it comes.

Testing also acts as a refining process. Like gold in the fire, we get refined as the impurities are burned away. God removes things that don’t need to be there, and He brings life in areas that have been dry. “Not lacking anything” is His goal for us.

So what trial are you facing? What temptation is knocking at your door? Don’t be discouraged. It doesn’t mean you are a miserable sinner forever prone to sin. No! You are a new creation in Christ, the old is gone, the new is here (2 Corinthians 5:17). This trial and temptation, brought by the enemy to entangle you, can be used by God as a test to strengthen you. This test is revealing areas God want to solidify in you. And this test might be showing up in your life right now because it is right before a graduation/promotion that God wants to give you.

Voluntary & Involuntary Suffering

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings…

Philippians 3:10

If we want to know the power of the resurrection of Christ then we must chose to participate in His sufferings. This means that to the extent that we are willing to voluntarily suffer, is the extent to which we’ll operate in power and authority in that area of our life. This is a Kingdom principle.

When we empathize with and serve people, we will often find ourselves suffering with them in different ways. This is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we fast and contend in prayer for a breakthrough, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we sacrifice for others, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we stand for truth in the face of people mocking and slandering us, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we participate in the sufferings of Christ in this way, we will find that our ministry and our prayers will carry more resurrection power with them.

It’s not that we are “paying the price” for greater power. It’s that Jesus already paid the price on the cross so that sons and daughters of the Kingdom would be able to operate in greater resurrection power. Romans 8:11 says, “…the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you…” Jesus already paid the price, so our job is to identify with Him in His sufferings. The result is resurrection power.

Voluntary suffering is different than involuntary suffering. In this world full of sin and brokenness, we will automatically face involuntary suffering (accidents, illnesses, financial issues, relational issues, hardship, etc). Involuntary suffering is useful too but just in a different way. While voluntary suffering produces power, involuntary suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope. Romans 5:3-4 says, “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

James put the same idea this way:

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

So one way to look at it is that while voluntary suffering empowers the gifts of the Spirit, involuntary suffering (handled well) empowers the fruit of the Spirit. Voluntary suffering God uses to make us more effective. Involuntary suffering God uses to make us more solid.

Pregnant

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

Matthew 1:18-19

We know that Mary and Joseph would have received ridicule for being pregnant out of wedlock. This would have been a total scandal. And it is easy enough to read this passage and think that it has little to do with us. Yet, God continues to impregnate His people through the Holy Spirit with unbelievable promises. And He often does this in ways that cause a scandal.

When God gives us a promise, there is often a “conception-gestation-birthing” process that we have to walk through in order to get to the fulfillment of the promise. This process can be awkward and embarrassing. It causes a disruption in our life and in the lives of those closest to us. This disruption often causes conflict and misunderstanding.

During these trying times, we are often faced with the decision that Joseph faced. Will we divorce ourselves from this promise, uncertain as we are of its origin and its fulfillment? Or will we see it through regardless of the disruption that occurs? Our answer to this question is everything! It is the difference between a promise aborted and a promise fulfilled.

In order to stick it out and give God our unconditional “Yes,” we will most likely need an encounter with Him–some sort of confirming revelation or experience–that gives us enough confidence and boldness to move forward. For Joseph, an angel appears to him in a dream and told him to marry Mary and name the baby Jesus. The angel confirmed that, “what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).

Often the level of encounter we have with the Lord confirming His promise to us is equal to the level of opposition we’ll face to see it through to its fulfillment. I want to encourage you today that if the Lord has given you a promise or a word over your life, see it through to completion. Handle opposition with grace and humility, but don’t let it abort the promise.

You may face skepticism, ridicule, condemning words, rejection, and all sorts of opposition. The reason for this is multifaceted. Opposition comes because: 1) people naturally don’t like change, 2) the enemy doesn’t want that promise to come to fruition and 3) the testing will purify you and get you ready to steward the promise when it comes.

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

Faith Testing

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

There is something that happens to us when we face trials. If we don’t give up, we get stronger. It is a testing of our faith to pray for something or someone over and over and not see the answer we want. Our faith is being tested. We know that this testing will build in us a perseverance–an endurance–that will make us mature and complete. When we feel like nothing is happening visibly, we can be sure something is happening in us. God is giving us gifts that we can’t see yet, but they are there.

It’s like training for a marathon. Someone could come back from run after run and be discouraged because they feel so badly. Their legs are sore and their body feels weak. If they didn’t realize that this is the natural process of a body getting stronger, if they didn’t realize this is how runners build endurance, then it could be discouraging.

But if they don’t give up, they will find that they’re able to run longer and longer distances. The thing that feels painful and discouraging actually becomes the source of strength. It is the training runs, day after day, that are the foundation of running a complete race on race day. The painful training runs are what ensures that a person lacks nothing on race day.

The testing of our faith does the same thing. But the testing can’t do its work–it can’t accomplish its intended goal–if we give up. If after a few runs a person stops running, the pain never accomplishes the goal of giving them endurance. If we quit after a little testing of our faith, we don’t allow the testing to give us the gift of persevering faith. We don’t allow it to increase our maturity.

Scripture says of Jesus, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross…”(Hebrews 12:2). And so when we find joy in our trials, we are imitating Jesus. We are identifying with His suffering. And the apostle Paul talks about our participation in the sufferings of Christ. He said:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:10-11

When we face trials of many kinds it is a way we participate in the sufferings of Jesus. And when we participate in His sufferings, we make available to us the opportunity to know Christ and the power of His resurrection.

Everything That Hinders

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. 

Hebrews 12:1-2

Most Christians understand that sin can easily entangle us as we run our race of faith. Sin wraps like cords around our ankles tripping us up and keeping us from running. These cords of sin must be severed from our life or our faith will limp along unfruitful. Most of us have experienced this reality and know this all too well.

But what is sometimes missed is that there are things in life that are not sinful but can still be a hindrance. The passage of scripture above calls us to throw off everything that hinders. Because these things are not overt sin, they can fly under the radar of our lives. They are not like the cords of sin, tripping us up, but they do have a dampening effect on our faith.

We see the same reality represented in how the priests worshiped in the Temple. They would offer sacrifices on the altar in order to address sin. The sacrifices were about atonement for sin with blood. But then the priests would walk over to the wash basin–made of bronze mirrors–and wash with water. This washing wasn’t about being cleansed from sin but about getting the “uncleanness” off of them.

There are things that we read, things we listen to, and things we watch that aren’t necessarily sinful but do end up dulling our sensitivity to the Spirit. Likewise, there are habits of distraction and escape that aren’t sinful but lull us into a passive faith and trap us into keeping our minds on the things of the world rather than on things above (Colossians 3:2). These things gradually contaminate our mind and our heart if we continue to expose ourselves to them. These are the hindrances that need to be thrown off. These are the “unclean” things that need to be washed off.

Paul says it this way to the Corinthians:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.

1 Corinthians 10:23

If we are going to run with perseverance and “not grow weary and lose heart”(Hebrews 12:3), we need to run light. In other words, we can’t run with unnecessary things weighing us down. It could be our interaction on social media or our relationship with food or alcohol. It could be our favorite way to escape that becomes a bad habit. Whatever it is, if it is a hindrance to our sensitivity and intimacy with the Jesus and the Holy Spirit, it needs to be thrown off.