There are times when life gets tough. John was a solo farmer. While ploughing, his tractor hit something which threw him off and left him with a broken pelvis. Despite his cries for help, none came. After several hours of struggle he managed to crawl up to the roadside where an ambulance was then called. But just after the ambulance arrived and set off for the hospital, a P-Plate driver came speeding around the corner and clipped the back of the ambulance causing it to lose control and roll over off the road. This resulted in John's leg being shattered. When he eventually got to the hospital, John's leg and pelvis were attended to but he then contracted golden staph. Disappointments, heart-aches, setbacks, injuries, illnesses, loss - can all shake their fist in our face and demand that we quit. Retreating can often then look pretty inviting unless you make a tough discovery about yourself.
for the righteous falls seven times and rises again,
but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.
SOME TOUGH FACTS
It is a wonderful moment in a person's life when they discover not only who God has made them but how God has made them. God has made you tough! Chances are you don't yet know just how tough you really are. I don't mean the pathetic school-bully kind of tough, I mean the kind of tough needed to hang in there in the midst of challenges and setbacks. The kind of tough that Charles Simeon displayed. In 1782, November 10, at the age of 23, Charles was appointed the vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge despite the protests of its members. They not only refused to attend whenever he was preaching, but because they 'rented' their pews (which had lockable gates attached to them), they locked their pews and prevented new attenders from sitting during the services. Charles Simeon was mocked, ridiculed, and slandered by the members of his own congregation! He wrote, "I was an object of much contempt and derision in the university". He had to endure this mocking and derision for years. Yet each Sunday he stood at his pulpit and declared Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. He faithfully served God and endured all this hardship at Holy Trinity Cambridge for 52 years!
In April, 1831, Charles Simeon was 71 years old. He had been the pastor of Trinity Church, Cambridge, England, for 49 years. He was asked one afternoon by his friend, Joseph Gurney, how he had surmounted persecution and outlasted all the great prejudice against him in his 49-year ministry. He said to Gurney, "My dear brother, we must not mind a little suffering for Christ's sake. When I am getting through a hedge, if my head and shoulders are safely through, I can bear the pricking of my legs. Let us rejoice in the remembrance that our holy Head has surmounted all His suffering and triumphed over death. Let us follow Him patiently; we shall soon be partakers of His victory."
H.C.G. Moule, Charles Simeon, London: InterVarsity, 1948, 155f.
God has made us tough. You are made tougher than you realise! Yet, we all need to be reminded from God's Word to endure hardship because we are made to!
but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities ... in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
Our Enemy wants to delude us into believing that we are soft and weak. But you are a child of The King! You are called to be strong, summoned to endure, and empowered to persevere! In other words, God has made you tough! You have a divinely planted strength deep within you that is activated in your neediest times. In those moments when it feels all too much, God can empower you to endure and get back up. When we are battered by disappointment and criticism and feel weak, hurt, and hopeless, we have a promise from God that can enable us to withstand this storm and come out the other side stronger, taller, and wiser (2Cor. 12:10). Some virtues, such as these, are only attainable through the dark tunnel of endurance.
Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
Second Timothy 2:3
I really admire people who just hang in there. I know what it's like to feel punch-drunk from life's disappointments. I have had seasons when things just had not gone the way I had hoped. In fact, the feeling of being punch-drunk comes not merely from unmet expectations, but from suffering set-back after set-back. When I arrived to pastor Legana back in 1995, we had 17 members. We grew quickly in the first couple of years. I expected that this would continue. We moved into our new building on August 31st 1996. Things were looking up. But then some people began to find fault and grumble. People began leaving our church. In 1997 about half of those who started out with us that year had left by the end of that year. While I didn't understand what God was doing, I knew one thing for sure: God had called us to plant our lives here and had called me to be a shepherd of His sheep. From Christ's words in John 10 it was obvious to me that the main difference between a false-shepherd (a "hireling") and a true-shepherd was: only a true shepherd endures and perseveres attacks and hardships. Any Pastor who loves God, and those God calls them to love, can tell you, pastoring requires perseverance.
The second thing the church did was to lock the pew doors on Sunday mornings. The pewholders refused to come and refused to let others sit in their personal pews. Simeon set up seats in the aisles and nooks and corners at his own expense. But the churchwardens took them out and threw them in the churchyard. When he tried to visit from house to house, hardly a door would open to him. This situation lasted at least ten years. The records show that in 1792 Simeon got a legal decision that the pewholders could not lock their pews and stay away indefinitely. But he didn't use it. He let his steady, relentless ministry of the word and prayer and community witness gradually overcome the resistance.
But it's not just pastoring. It's elite sport. It's business. It's parenting. It's marriage. The most rewarding things in life can only be the most rewarding things in life if we persevere through the necessary hardships and trials they afford. It's personally heart-breaking when I see a pastor leave his pastorate because things have become tough (it's even more heart-breaking when a God-called pastor quits the ministry), or when someone wants out of their marriage, or when children become estranged from their parents. If following Christ teaches us anything, it should inform His followers that the greatest things in life require the greatest perseverance.
...and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.Matthew 10:22
To my shame, I have not always endured well. And shame upon shame, I have not always celebrated the victories of other when I myself have been reeling from defeat. And while I don't understand why God has not granted me my heart's desire to see more of our community come to know Christ and be added to our church, I have painfully learned a few lessons about the broader aspects of enduring.
1. Things such difficulties and trials come to pass not to stay. Most of the time simply staying in the saddle during these times is enough to help you ride on through.
2. Not everybody around you will endure. Enduring is often an individual and, dare I say it, lonely activity.
3. Progress is progress. Sometimes the weight and ferocity of adversity only begrudges us a baby-step of progress toward our goal.Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.Ephesians 6:13
If I may sum up all three lessons about enduring into one word, that word would be "plod". If I have learned anything about advancing under pressure, persecution, and problems galore, it's: when the going gets tough, the tough keep plodding. You may not feel tough, but if you are plodding, you are tough. As I look at each of the photos below, I see a church full of tough people! I see dozens of people who have come on a wonderful journey with me and others along the pathway of endurance. It is quite remarkable just how many people in our church have joined our church and endured. You have to be a special kind of tough to do that. Thank you for the past twenty years or so together. And while others may look at us and think we are each tough, perhaps only we will know how incredibly weak we truly are and just how difficult it is at times to keep plodding. But if we keep plodding, we will continue to advance Christ's cause in our city, community, homes, families, businesses and church. The church that Jesus has called us to be is a tough church, or put in even tough language- a church that just keeps plodding.
By the way, John the farmer recovered but lost his farm due to his long stint in hospital. But during this time he regularly visited the Children's Cancer Ward and changed his perspective about his situation. And Charles Simeon eventually out-lived all of his opponents and became a hero among the Cambridge University students. The pews were opened up to the visitors and new attenders who flocked to hear him in his latter years. He inspired hundreds and hundreds of young men to enter the ministry and hundreds more to become missionaries in the far flung parts of the world. He established the "Simeon Fund" which paid the salaries of many of these young men and enabled the Gospel to preached in previously unevangelised parishes and regions.