PERSEVERING THROUGH THE NIGHT
For some time now, I have been learning to persevere in life in the midst of circumstances that simply will not go away, or so it looks. When this difficulty first arrived in my life, the first thought was that this was something to be somehow endured till the night passed and the sun rose again. As time passed and it became very clear that this was going to be a very long night indeed, I gave up trying to endure and began learning how to persevere, so that I could remain productive in difficult times. And to do that, I had to hold ever more strongly to my convictions and values. In all this time, the ministry of the prophet Jeremiah has been a great help.
Throughout Jeremiah's ordeal, (remember, he wrote the Book of Lamentations!) he stood by his convictions, speaking the truth of God's will. He was "an iron pillar, and bronze walls" (Jer.1:18). He was a man of unfaltering conviction. A person with convictions knows what he believes, where he is going, and why. Convictions are not forced on an individual. They are beliefs and actions of choice. They are the truth, the mission, and the calling given by God that is not altered by time, people, opinions, or circumstances.
Each day will challenge our convictions. The person who perseveres in obedience lives by those convictions each day. People who persevere choose not to stay down. They get up. The choices we made yesterday affect our today. The decisions we make today will determine our tomorrow. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, "We are our choices." Obedience to God and His ways is always a choice. No one forces us to obey God, His word, or His will. It boils down to a choice we make each day - a choice to be faithful or not, to be loving or not, to be available or not, to be willing or not.
The choices that determine our obedience are the ones regarding honesty, integrity, and sincerity: the husband who remains faithful and loyal to his wife; the athlete who refuses to take stimulants or drugs to improve performance; the student who ‘cracks the books’ rather than opting for the easy road of ‘crib sheets’ or paying someone to write a term paper; the salesman who does not pad his expense account to defray an unexpected cost.
Jeremiah maintained his character, standing on the truth of God's word in the midst of people preaching a different message. His character remained intact. The most pressing need in our world today is Christ-like character. Unfortunately, this trait is in short supply and diminishing every day. The root of the word character is the Greek word for engraving. When applied to human beings, it refers to the enduring marks left by life that set one apart as an individual. In other words, character is that encompassing ingredient in life that makes us different.
Granted, there are circumstances that call for compromise to maintain peace and harmony. But one should not compromise the truth. Jeremiah did not compromise with Irijah, the sentry who arrested him, charging him with desertion. Nor with the officials who wanted Jeremiah to soften his message to one of peace and prosperity. Nor with King Zedekiah, who longed for Jeremiah to agree with his hired prophets who said that Judah would prevail.
Christian history is filled with inspiring stories featuring people of principle – those who are immortalised for refusing to compromise their beliefs. In 1660, England's experiment as a republic came to an abrupt end with the return to monarchist rule under Charles II. With this change, religious freedom also ended and Anglicanism was once again designated as the official State religion. It became illegal to conduct church services outside of the Church of England. Unlicensed individuals were forbidden from addressing a religious gathering.
Under these new laws, John Bunyan was arrested for preaching without a licence. His growing popularity, though, prompted the judge to seek some sort of a compromise. Promising Bunyan immediate release if he only promised not to preach again, the judge's leniency was met with the reply, “If you release me today, I shall preach tomorrow!” Three times in his life Bunyan was arrested, convicted, and jailed for preaching the Gospel without a licence. In the end, he spent over twelve years in prison. At any time during those years he could have secured his freedom by simply promising not to preach. But Bunyan knew God's calling on his life, and so he adamantly refused to compromise his convictions. Those prison years were certainly not wasted. It was during this time that Bunyan wrote the book Pilgrim's Progress. Its immediate success and ongoing popularity has made it a Christian classic, the second most read book in English literature next to the Bible.
We are not called to run our life in just any way we choose. There is a specific race that has been marked out for each of us to run. Your course is different from mine. In fact, your race is uniquely yours to run. God has a plan and purpose for my life and your life that only we individually can fulfil. That plan gives our lives meaning. If we decide to follow some other course, we will never find that meaning and purpose that God has planned. We need to stay in the race, no matter how difficult it sometimes is, and not give up. Staying on course sounds simple, but no one said it has to be complicated. It’s simple, but it’s not easy. We’re in a marathon. If we keep running and stay on course, we will win the prize.