We discussed the topic of “perseverance” in a weekly Zoom Bible study yesterday, and it’s a topic I keep thinking about. Specifically, I’m pondering the extent to which perseverance is a human effort or a spiritual gift. What do you think?
While I do not find the word listed in any of the typical spiritual gift passages (I Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4), Paul does write about perseverance in Romans 5. There perseverance seems to have a quality of a spiritual fruit, if not gift. Paul writes, “we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope.” v.4
In this case perseverance doesn’t appear to be something you produce by your own effort alone, but is a quality (fruit) that grows or accumulates in one who endures suffering. In my thinking, we who are in Christ may make our own effort to endure or persevere, but it is often by God’s grace that we are able to do so. Our faith (not just our effort) in this sense, helps produce the fruit of perseverance in us, thereby also developing character and hope – a virtual fruit basket of blessings.
It is, of course, the current COVID-19 pandemic that drove me to think about perseverance in the first place this week. This week, more than before, the need for perseverance hit me – and I’m guessing others also. As we continue to faithfully abide by the social distancing, hand washing, work from home, mask wearing directives given to flatten the curve; it does require something of a sticking-with-it-ness (otherwise known as perseverance).
One of my favorite authors, the late Eugene Peterson, was often known to use the phrase “a long obedience in the same direction” while describing the Christ following life. In employing this phrase Peterson was telling the reader that faith is much more like a marathon than a sprint. That’s certainly been true in my experience. I’ve come to think of the cumulative effect of faithful ministry and service as having a more lasting impact than that one-off sermon or short-term mission effort.
We debated a bit, during the Bible study, if our experience of the pandemic in anyway qualifies as suffering – going back to Romans 5. For many of us, it has not. Inconvenient – yes. Troubling – yes. Annoying – perhaps. Tiresome – without a doubt. But I, like most in that Bible study, have not suffered. However, I sense that some may be suffering. I know that many are across the state, nation and globe. This virus has induced suffering into families, households, work places. The health care community is suffering as they try to mitigate the spread. Those who’ve lost a loved-one are suffering tremendous grief, often exacerbated by not being able to be present for a final good-bye. The unemployed, and newly under-employed, may suffer some real hardships economically. The isolated and alone. The single parent trying to multi-task work, childcare, Elearning – there’s plenty of suffering.
Is there plenty of perseverance to meet that suffering? Can we who’ve not yet suffered offer something to those who have, who are, as a gesture of our standing with? Perseverance will be asked of each of us if we are to emerge safely from this crisis. I have a hunch our emerging will be under a “new normal” kind of prescription. Even once the stay at home restrictions are lifted, we may emerge with some other form of restriction asked of us for not only our good, but the good of our neighbor. There will be opportunity for the production of this spiritual fruit of perseverance, like it or not. Let us pray that it does reveal character and lead to hope.