Put Off Worry, Put on Perseverance

  • Steve Hatter

There is a lovely song that came out in 2006 by country singer Martina McBride entitled “Anyway” that comes to my mind from time to time, especially when I’m engaging in intercessory prayer throughout the week at Grace. The song is about persevering amidst guaranteed uncertainty in life, and the refrain of Martina’s lyrics addresses the uncertainty that people of faith often experience when praying amidst tragedy. Here is that verse :

God is great, but sometimes life ain’t good
When I pray it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway
I do it anyway

I think Martina’s prose is actually a quite elegant application of three foundational themes of a biblical worldview: First, the world is fallen, and it is not God’s fault. Second, prayer for the believer, should be regular, but also done in the context of trusting God when we cannot presume His perfect sovereign will always aligns with our temporal desires. Third, people of faith are called to persevere, in faith and obedience, always.

Romans 8:22 tells us that all of creation is “groaning” under the weight of Adam and Eve’s original sin. God’s curse on them, Satan, and the creation was the result of willful transgression, as Scripture records in Genesis 3. Every human born since bears the consequences of the unthinkable first crime and thus, as one writer put it, to live in a groaning universe “means we struggle with sin daily. We experience heartache and pain. We witness natural disasters and staggering loss. Injustice, inhumanity, and falsehood seem to hold sway. Discord and trouble are commonplace. None of this was God’s original plan for humanity.” The Gospel, of course, is the single answer for fallen humanity, but we also know that until Christ’s triumphant return, the creation will continue to groan, which means for a while yet, we must accept that “sometimes life ain’t good.”

First Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells the believer that in our acceptance of having to live in a fallen world, we are commanded to pray with gratitude for the saving effects of the Gospel even when “life ain’t good.”  The Apostle Paul exhorts the Christian to Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I have come to see again and again, that sincere obedient prayer brings discernment of the will of God more than it results in the outcome I might want in my temporal short-sightedness. But if I obey Paul, I have the opportunity to align my will with God’s will, which Scripture tells us is always good and praiseworthy. So, when I pray, I must pray for God’s will and understand that it won’t always “turn out like I think it should.”

Finally, I’m always to “do it anyway,” which means I’m to persevere not just in prayer, but in all matters of life and doctrine. The life of the saint is a call to marathoning in faith. I learned early in my military career that most of the success in accomplishing the mission is found in simply showing up ready, willing, and able. Moreover, the antidote to any inertia we feel that is rooted in fear, doubt, and worry when times are tough and we see so no clear path to success, is simple perseverance.

Moreover, one of the principles of Christian growth is called the “put off and put on” principle, which Paul articulated in Ephesians 4:22-24 when he called the redeemed saint  to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Behind the principle lies the fact that there are always sinful attitudes and actions we need to put off, and there are always positive traits of righteousness we need to put on more firmly as we persevere in the groaning universe.

We get to make choices all the time and Scripture, of course, helps us make the right choices. In 2 Timothy 4:7, Paul affirmed his lifelong perseverance as an example to us in saying, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” This well-known and oft-quoted passage is quite significant in that Second Timothy was Paul’s last letter written before his martyrdom in A.D. 67. It is a deeply moving affirmation of his unwavering faith and unyielding love for the Gospel of Jesus Christ when life got grim. Paul’s life is a treatise on choosing faith over fear, perseverance over paralysis. (Galatians 1:4; Galatians 2:20; Philippians 1:21).

The fundamental conflicts of our political and culture war are really no different than at any time in history. As we said up front, sin has sunk the world, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the single answer for everyone who will hear and believe. Earlier in this same epistle, Paul reminded Timothy to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3).

Simple perseverance is everything in the Christian life because circumstances will go up and down. Emotions will also go right along with the ups and downs, which means we must try to govern our feelings with both sound doctrine and reasoned faith. God promises that when we persevere like Paul, seeking the strength of the Holy Spirit and not relying on ourselves, we will ultimately see victory.

We will see the day when we can rest because our mission is indeed, and in fact, complete. Whether combat, sporting competitions, parenting, school, or ministry, we see that there is a trajectory to things. There will be either success or failure in the end, but there will be an end. It can be hard to see the end when we are in the throes of the storm, as it were. But we should all remember there will come a day when it is over, and we hope to take comfort on that day in knowing we fought and did not waiver.

Our reward for obeying Scripture is something Martina doesn’t overtly say in her song, but is the most important thing to consider as we live out our days in fallen creation. The Bible tells us the reward is this: We can have God’s peace along the way, we can experience joy in truth ministry, we have the privilege serving Christ full time, and the fruit of our labors is eternal. Romans 8:28 promises glory as the final stage of our gracious salvation in Christ alone:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

God is great! Keep praying! Do it anyway!