Persistence and Determination

If you’ve ever been in my office, then you may know that right behind where I sit at my desk there are bookshelves, and on them, I’ve taped little quotations that I appreciate. Over time, as I’ve pulled books from the shelves, some of the quotations have torn away and ended up in the garbage. The ones that remain are tattered, and eventually, they’ll come off, too. But whatever. I’ll replace them with other tidbits from various folks from across a wide spectrum of thought.

And no matter what I put there or what happens to the paper after I do, I’ll remember the words. I’ll have looked at them so many times, they’ll be written into me.

If you were to look at all of them as a singular item, you’d notice a similarity to the words I choose to put there. In one way or another, they all speak to courage and resolve. For example, there’s one from Father Gabriel Amorth, the Vatican’s chief exorcist. When Amorth was asked if he was afraid of the devil, he answered, “Afraid of that beast? He’s the one who should be afraid of me because I work in the name of the Lord of the world. He is only an ape of God.”

Those who know me best wouldn’t be surprised that a few of the quotations are from Shakespeare. I like Shakespeare a lot. In Act II of Julius Caesar, he wrote, “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.”

Apart from the likes of Shakespeare, one of my favorites is from Calvin Coolidge. I’m not necessarily a fan of Coolidge, but he did offer rather memorably: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Okay, so maybe he’s a little off when he says that persistence and determination are omnipotent. Only God is all-powerful. But I think we get his point. He’s trying to say that within the field of any particular endeavor, not even the brightest and most talented have a chance against the one who persists undeterred. The persistent and determined are most likely to win the prize.

As God’s people, how does this measure against us?

Well, first we begin with God. We can actually say that when we consider who God is, persistence and determination are divine qualities. When we think on our Sin, we truly learn this. He has His heart set on us, and so He continues to chase after us with His Gospel. His holy will is laser-focused on what is needed to save us, and He accomplishes it. No one can argue the loving persistence and determination of God to save us as it is revealed in Jesus Christ. Look to Calvary and see for yourself. The passersby cursing and taunting Him as He hung there, and still He cried, “Father, forgive them.”

He loves us when we are most unlovable. He cares for us when in our darkened hearts we want nothing to do with Him. He provides for us even when we reject what we need from Him the most—His grace. In all of this, our God is the preeminent image of persistence and determination.

But now, how about us?

I already noted the relationship of our Sin-nature to God’s fortitude. They don’t even compare. And yet, God still calls for us to persist. He says in 1 Peter 5:9 that we are to stand firm against the devil. He says in Ephesians 6:13 that we are to hold the line against evil. In 1 Corinthians 15:58 He says that we are to be steadfast and immovable in and against this world. In James 1:12, God says that as we remain strong during trial, we are certain to receive the crown of eternal life. In Matthew 5:12, Jesus calls for His Christians to endure, knowing that the reward for such stamina is great in heaven. Revelation 2:10 so eloquently chimes that we are to be faithful to the point of death and thereby receive the crown of life.

How can God mandate all of this knowing who we are in our ill-footed weaknesses?

The answer is simple. He must do it through us. Of course with that, I could visit with an equal number of texts that teach this, but instead think on just one.

“For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

Christians already know by God’s Word (at least they should) that the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel and sanctifies us with His gifts in order to make us His own. This happens in the ways He says it happens. It happens through baptism. It happens through the Lord’s Supper. It happens through the preaching. It happens by way of His holy Word. In all of these Word and Sacrament means, the Holy Spirit is calling us by the Gospel. These are means of certainty by which God reaches to and takes up residence in us.

In the text I mentioned from Philippians 2, Saint Paul is making the point that as God is at work in us, He is sure to flex the muscle of His divine determination to accomplish His will and work, or as the text describes, “His good pleasure.”

By the way, Paul describes the heart of God’s good pleasure in 1 Timothy 2:4 where he writes, “God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Jesus gives it even more contour when He says pretty straightforwardly in John 6:40, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

In the end, do you know what all of this means, how it all fits together in relation to the topic at hand? It means that for believers, by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel for faith in Jesus, the divine attributes of persistence and determination become available to us.

As believers, we can withstand because God withstands. We can persist because God persists. We can endure because the One who loves us and is at work in us endures. We can trust Him as He both mandates and promises, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

I probably don’t need to describe for you just how important this is in today’s society. We’re teetering rather closely to the persecutions experienced by the early church. Christians are being put in jail. Christian business owners are being fined and taken to court for following the doctrines of their faith.

It’s a mess out there. Yes, even here in America.

So what do we do? Maybe the better question is what do we have to lose? What’s the worst that could happen for taking a stand with Christ? Death, I suppose. Death is pretty scary. I suppose to avoid it we could settle into quietly subdued positions of fear. We could remain silent and hope that the storms that threaten the Christian Church will just pass us by. Yeah, we could do that.

Or we could be determined to persist.

“Cowards die many times before their death, but the valiant never taste of death but once.”

“Afraid of that beast? He’s the one who should be afraid of me.”

“Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Even better—“And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’” (Revelation 14:13).

Did you like how the Holy Spirit interrupted and sealed the conversation regarding those who remained faithful until the end? He capped the discussion by inserting, “Indeed!” You need to know that when the Holy Spirit speaks, it’s pretty significant. In fact, it’s something absolutely worthy of resonation throughout the very corridors of heaven itself.

There is no fear in Jesus. I pray you will know and believe this. I pray that when the time comes—no matter what any particular moment may set before you—you will remain faithful. You should know that I pray this for you daily. I know God hears my prayers—that He is hearing your prayers, too—and in that knowledge, I have peace. Even better, I am persistently determined to continue asking alongside Saint Paul the rhetorical question “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

A Child in Prayer

I don’t know if I’ve shared this with you or not, but throughout the school year, I’ve called up the eighth grade boys to something new. I’ve scheduled them to help serve as lectors during the Monday chapel services. This means that sometime between arriving at school and the beginning of the Matins service at 8:10 a.m., the one on duty for that day makes his way down to the nave, gets vested, and then looks over the Epistle reading appointed for the upcoming Sunday. And then during the service, he reads it to the children.

I can say that over the course of the year, the young men have gotten much more comfortable in the effort and are doing a splendid job. But simply to report this is not why I am sharing the account. I want to share something a little more inspiring—something that serves as a reassurance to all of us that our Christian Day School is worth every bit of toil and tears we’ve put into it over the years.

When I walked into the nave to set the lectern and lectionary in place for the service (which I usually try to do long before anyone else is in there), the student for the day was already there, vested, and kneeling at the altar rail praying. I, of course, did not do what I’d gone into the nave to do until he was done. I didn’t want to disturb him.

But there he knelt in the vastness of an empty nave—the candles aglow beyond him, the windows darkened by the early morning snow—and he prayed silently. One of God’s little ones was acting on God’s promise that he had complete access to His Savior, offering petitions from his heart that he had, in that moment, been moved to speak.

If I could’ve taken a photo, I would’ve. It was an instant reminder that we aren’t just trying to educate children according to the typical philosophies; that is, we aren’t just trying to create workers who have skills and personal styles to fill and perform jobs, or to develop active citizens who recognize their own capacity for personal achievement and contribute to the society. Of course we try at these things, but in the end, we have a much more important goal behind our efforts. Everything we attempt to do here at Our Savior arises from the objective truth of the Gospel—the good news of the forgiveness of sins through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And with that as our constant heading—our north star of calibration—we are really striving toward a better thing, which in my opinion, Luther defined pretty well when he took a moment to comment on the goals of Christian education. He said so simply that the job of a Christian school is to bring children “to believe, to live, to pray, to suffer, and to die.”

In any school, there are struggles and there are successes. I just witnessed one of the fruits of success, and for that, I am humbly thankful to God that Our Savior Evangelical Lutheran School exists and that it continues to move forward supported by you as you are moved by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel!

Keep it up! Consider this little story for all that it is: a Gospel-driven encouragement to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58)!