The pathway to purpose
In this age of instant and quick fixes, perseverance is a scarce commodity. In an age where the answers to questions are just a few keystrokes away, perseverance seems to have distanced itself from us. In an age of fads and trending discussions, perseverance might be an attribute for the old and outdated. In an age of instantaneity, perseverance is harder to come by.
To persevere, according to the Oxford Concise Dictionary, is to ‘continue in a course of action in spite of difficulty or with little or no indication of success.’ Wow…to continue ‘with little or no indication of success’. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine the futility that often accompanies perseverance? Can you imagine the hopelessness that we experience? The frustration? The dismay?
Yet, this is what purpose requires. Purpose requires persisting, continuing, standing firm notwithstanding the bleak or dismal circumstances around us, notwithstanding the (seeming) lack of success. Purpose requires us to stand, not on the substance of what we see but rather on the assurance of the promises of God. Expressed another way, purpose requires faith which is ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’ (Hebrews 11:1).
But how do we persist? How do we continue? How do we persevere? It’s not easy, but it helps if we understand what happens as we persevere. The readings for Proper 26, the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, highlight three things.
- Lament: The first thing that occurs is the lament. This presumes that we have been in the circumstance or the situation for some time. Perseverance is triggered as we perceive the ‘lack of success’ or our languishing circumstances, yet we decide to continue. At this point, we might be inclined to lament, to cry out, to complain and to express dismay at our circumstances.
And so, in the Old Testament reading for Proper 26, (Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4), the prophet complains in 1:2, ‘O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?’. The prophet laments the wickedness and corruption of the people. The prophet cries out to God because he is convinced of God’s nature – God is a god of mercy, of justice and of righteousness. God does not enjoy witnessing the evil ways of humanity. The prophet perseveres when he resolves in 2:1, ‘I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.’
Let’s continue to the second thing that happens as we persevere:
- Reward: In the very reading from Habakkuk, we see the second thing that happens when we persevere: we are rewarded for our persistence. No sooner does the prophet resolve to stand guard, than the Lord answers him. In chapter 2:2, we read, ‘Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.’ The lesson? There is reward in our perseverance.
The notion of reward for our perseverance is even stronger in the Gospel reading (Luke 19:1-10), the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was ‘a chief tax-collector and was rich’ (Luke 19:2). In those days, tax collectors were viewed as traitors by the Jews, for they were Jews collecting taxes from Jews on behalf of the Roman authorities. The Jews did not support the Romans – the Romans were pagans; the Jews were monotheists (they worshipped one god, Yahweh). What’s more, the tax collectors were known for inflating the taxes and pocketing some of the monies collected. So apart from representing the enemies of the Jews, the tax-collectors defrauded their own people.
Zacchaeus had heard that Jesus was in town and wanted to see him. Zacchaeus, however, was short and resolved to climb up a sycomore tree to get a view as Jesus passed. Zacchaeus persevered. His perseverance was rewarded when, in verse 5, Jesus says, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ Zacchaeus was rewarded for he not only saw Jesus, but was going to host Jesus at his home. Of course, there was much objection to Jesus’ decision, but Zacchaeus’ perseverance paid off. Not only that, but Zacchaeus also later repented and this was the real value in his perseverance.
So, what’s the third thing that happens as we persevere?
- Recognition and Support: We receive recognition and support. God knows our needs – our physical and emotional needs. As such, as we persevere towards purpose, there will be moments when others will recognise our resolve and our determination and will offer support to us. Now, while we do not persevere to receive recognition and support, the recognition and support certainly do make it easier to persevere.
In the Epistle, 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12, Paul, Silvanus and Timothy write to the church in Thessalonica, ‘We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring.’ (2 Thess. 1:3-4).
Now, with such words of encouragement, who wouldn’t find it easier to persevere, even in the face of persecution, afflictions, and a seeming lack of success?
So, I’ve described what happens as we persevere. Now, I answer my earlier question: how do we persevere? The collect for this week, (the opening prayer), reads in part ‘Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service’. So, how we do persist? Only by the gift that God gives us: the grace of God and the power of Holy Spirit.
Friends, until next time, I pray your perseverance as you pursue purpose. I pray you perseverance in