There’s hope for those who persevere

Don Follis Jan. 31 column; News-Gazette, Champaign, IL  (After talking with several pastors in the last couple of weeks who are barely holding on, I decided to write a column on perseverance.  Also, my son-in-law Drew Hall gave me Stephen Arteburn’s Healing is a Choice (Thomas Nelson 2005, 2011).  It has a great chapter on persevering and keeping hope.

Perseverance was a high value for my dad. In fact, we buried him with his boots on.  Working into his 80s, he finally stopped just weeks before he died.  He gave the sermon at his church 6 weeks before he passed.  So many times in life I heard him say, “Hang in there, buddy.” 
One of dad’s go-to Bible verses was: “Count it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”
Dad’s very words came off my lips one day during a church service at the Danville Correction Center.  A discouraged guy in his early 20s came up to me and said, “There really is no hope for a guy like me.”  We talked a long time, and before I left I said, “Hang in there, buddy.” 
            Driving back to Champaign-Urbana a window of understanding opened as to why dad frequently said to hang in there. Dad was the oldest son of a poor tenant farmer. By the time he and his 3 siblings had graduated from high school, they had moved from farm to farm to farm, living in 6 or 7 drafty old farm houses.   
Dad made no apologies to his five children in speaking about perseverance. Choosing to persevere is one of the most important choices in life, he said.  But that also means not believing the lie, “There is no hope for a guy like me.” 
Dad once told me he even felt hope in one of his darkest hours.  In the only discussion I ever had with him about the Korean War he told me about serving as a platoon sergeant when his platoon got surrounded on a small hill. A fire fight ensued.  When my I pressed him he only said, “War is awful. I just never gave up hope.”    
When he returned to his Kansas home, he married my mom, started a family and settled into a job with a public utility company, a job he kept for the next 45 years.  As dad rose from ditch digger to foreman to district management, the only “complaint” I ever heard from him was, “Well, it doesn’t always go your way.  You have to hang in there.”  Dad’s secretary once said to me, “I always know your dad is back in the office. I hear him whistling.”
Dad’s vocabulary did not contain the words “instant” and “easy.” It did include “Be patient.”  “Give it time.”  “Persevere.” 
A pastor who reminds me of my dad told me that almost every month he tells someone from his congregation to rejoice when they run into problems. Quoting from Romans chapter five he says, “We rejoice when we run into problems and trials because we know that they help us develop endurance and perseverance.  Perseverance develops character, and character develops hope. And hope does not disappoint.”
One day when I was in college, I got a similar challenge from a friend. A girl had dumped me, and we were talking about how to keep hope when everything looks bleak. Opening his Bible to I Corinthians chapter one he read that God “chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.  As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.”
His explanation was that if your circumstances make no sense to you or to those around you, perfect.  If what looks best to you is not what God seems to be doing, super.  My friend said there is just no reason to give in to hopelessness.  God had a plan for me, he said, and I needed to persevere and allow that plan to unfold.
Steve Arterburn in his book “Healing is a Choice” says while perseverance never denies reality, so much of perseverance really is a question of trusting God.  “Will you trust Him enough to hang on one more day?  Will you trust Him enough to make your foolish circumstances an example of how He can make the best of the worst situations?” 
 Just recently a disheartened pastor said to me: “I don’t think I have much hope for this congregation I am serving.” He feels he has done everything he can to gain the trust of the people and he now feels perhaps it is time to throw in the towel. 

I don’t know what he will do, but I encouraged him to ask God to keep orchestrating the affairs of his life so the outcomes will be for his good.  Smiling and nodding, he quoted these words from Romans 8:  “We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

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