Stay a Little Longer

We have no control over most outcomes in life. We do our best to influence them: eat right to stay healthy; drive carefully to avoid an accident; invest wisely to accumulate a net worth — we try to influence outcomes, but we can’t control them.

Sometimes we get sick anyway, sometimes the fender-bender isn’t our fault, sometimes seemingly good investments go south.

You can’t always control outcomes, but you can control one thing that is biblically guaranteed to work in your favor every time.

What is it?

Perseverance. Stick-to-it-iveness. The habit of getting back up and trying one more time.

You can’t control results, but you can control whether or not you quit. No one else can make that decision. It’s yours alone.

This is how Johann von Goethe said it: “Perseverance lies within the affordings of everyone; its power increases with its progress, and it but rarely misses its aim.”

He’s saying: Persevering is something anyone can do. The longer you do it, the stronger you get, and the more likely you are to succeed.

Almost every minister, missionary, pastor, church planter and Christian disciple knows about this. You’ll have a chance, and sometimes many, to give up before you really get going. A greener pasture and a wider path will tempt you from time to time.

Sometimes quitting just seems to make sense: it’s easy and appears to be painless. But deciding to stay is often the key that opens the door to God’s abundant blessing.

Napoleon Hill said, “Effort only fully releases its reward after a person refuses to quit.” I believe he was speaking from both observation and experience; this principle has certainly been true in my life.

Babe Ruth’s take on it was, “You just can’t beat the man who won’t give up.” (Even the devil knows this; when you resist him, he flees. James 4:7)

Paul challenges us…

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

Let’s begin this week determined to keep doing good. Let it not make you weary. There’s a harvest waiting

Persistence (John 21:6)

The How of Persistence

It’s been said that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing again and again, hoping for a different result.

Someone then asked, “What’s the difference between that and persistence? Isn’t it irrational to keep trying, failure after failure, expecting this time the outcome won’t be the same?”

Business leader Seth Godin had something to say about this.

“Persistence isn’t using the same tactics over and over. That’s just annoying. Persistence is having the same goal over and over.”

There’s a story in the gospel of John, after the resurrection of Jesus, when the apostles had spent the entire night fishing, but caught nothing. Jesus called out to them from the shore…

“Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. (John 21:6)

It was like he was saying: “Keep trying, just do it a little differently this time.” The goal didn’t change. The strategy didn’t change. But they modified their method a little bit, and it worked.

If you’ve been in pursuit of an elusive goal — one that you know is worthwhile — the solution is not to give up. Instead, consider what you might do differently. Consider how you might approach things from a new angle. Instead of giving up, ask yourself: What would it mean, in this case, to cast my net on the other side of the boat?

The how of persistence is not that you keep doing the same thing again and again, trying and failing, trying and failing, hoping for a different outcome.

The how of persistence is that you keep pressing on, toward the same goal, adapting as you go.

1 Peter 1:2

Living the As If Life

James MichenerDuring World War II, James Michener worked as a naval historian in the South Pacific. Overall, a fairly mild tour of duty, till one fateful brush with death, a near fatal landing in French New Caledonia, forever changed his life.

He later wrote in his autobiography:

But as the stars came out and I could see the low mountains. I had escaped, I swore: “I’m going to live the rest of my life as if I were a great man.”

And despite the terrible braggadocio of those words, I understood precisely what I meant: “I’m going to erase envy and cheap thoughts. I’m going to concentrate my life on the biggest ideals and ideas I can handle. I’m going to associate myself with people who know more than I do. I’m going to tackle objectives of moment.”

From there Michener began to pursue his life’s work, publishing Tales of the South Pacific in 1947, ending some fifty books / fifty years later with Miracle in Seville.

It’s the as-if part of his declaration that most captures the imagination: I will live the rest of my life as if I were a great man.

To that point, his life had been, for the most part, non-descript. Maybe he didn’t yet believe he had greatness in him. But he chose to live as if greatness were already there.

Is there an as-if declaration waiting to be made in your life? Chances are, it’s already there, waiting for you to reach out and take it.

I will live today as if I’m forgiven. (Because you are, by the way.)

I will live today as if Christ lives in me. (Because he does, you know.)

I will live today as if I can make a difference. (Because you most certainly can.)

I will live today as if the words “I am with you always” were meant for me. (Because they surely were, and they still are.)

There is no limit to how meaningful every day can become when you dare to live as if the purpose of God can be fulfilled in your life.

You were chosen according to the purpose of God the Father and were made a holy people by his Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be purified by his blood. May grace and peace be yours in full measure. (1 Peter 1:2)

Satchel Paige

Your Time Will Come

Satchel PaigeSatchel Paige threw his first major league pitch at the age of 42.

Actually, he was good enough to play in the majors at 18, but he couldn’t: Satchel Paige was African American.

Seven years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, Paige, an undisputed superstar everywhere but in the major leagues, finally got his chance.

Cleveland owner Bill Veek was criticized for adding such an “old man” to his roster; some sportswriters and critics called it a publicity stunt. Others said Paige was finally getting the break he had deserved for years, though most doubted his ability to compete effectively at his age.

Paige silenced the critics when he won his first three games as a pro, shutting out Chicago twice in the process.

All along he knew he was good enough to pitch in the major leagues, and when he finally got his chance, he proved it. He went on to win 28 games during his pro career, and even made a brief comeback at the age of 59, pitching three innings for the Kansas City A’s.

He approached his major league pitching debut no differently than he approached any of the 2,500 games he pitched during his career. “It was just another game,” he said. “And home plate was where it always was.”

Though Paige had the ability to make throwing a baseball look effortless, he spent his life perfecting the art. And, eventually, he got his chance to show the world he was capable of competing with the best.

King Solomon said…

Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men. (Proverbs 22:29)

Solomon is emphasizing that commitment to quality is more important than self-promotion. Do your job well, he says, and you’ll get your chance to serve before the best.

In the work that you do, you may have to wait years before you get your chance to play in the big leagues. And the fact is, the chance may never come in the way you would like.

But you can be sure your time will come.

Believers can work with the assurance that our jobs — even the most menial tasks — are performed before our King. Our efforts do not go unnoticed. All the more reason to pursue excellence in all we do.

Your time will come; never give up on the dream of being the best.

The Rule of Five

Jack Canfield Rule of FiveWhen Jack Canfield was trying to get Chicken Soup for the Soul off the ground, he asked a number of best-selling authors and publishing experts how he should go about it.

He received more advice than he could possibly act on — he was overwhelmed  with possibilities and had no idea where to start.

Then a man named Ron Scolastico told him, “If you would go to a very large tree and take five swings at it with a very sharp ax, eventually, no matter how large the tree, it would have to come down.”

Out of this advice Canfield developed what he called The Rule of Five: every day he did five specific things that moved him toward the goal of getting Chicken Soup on the best seller list.

He might do five radio interviews, or send out five review copies, or call five bookstores, and on and on.

Eventually the ax felled the tree; two years after the book came out, it made the New York Times best seller list, where it stayed for many months.

Where can you apply the Rule of Five in your life?

Can you make a five-minute phone call to encourage one of your leaders every day? Or send five ‘thank-you’ emails each morning? Or read five pages of a book each day? Or review five memory verses?

As you survey the areas of your life and ministry that present the greatest opportunities for growth, think about how you can apply Canfield’s Rule of Five. How can you take five strong swings at the tree day after day?

Solomon said…

He who works his land will have abundant food. (Proverbs 12:11)

The rule of five is a great way to start working your land.

Albert Schweitzer

Your Best Argument

Albert Schweitzer was a theologian, humanitarian, musician, and medical missionary.

For many years he was also the target of a great deal of criticism. Some didn’t like his theology, others didn’t like his way of ministering to the poor and caring for the sick. So, naturally, they talked bad about him.

Instead of explaining himself or campaigning for himself or debating with the naysayers, he just kept working.

In a letter to a friend, he explained his reasoning:

“I decided that I would make my life my argument.”

As you no doubt know, over the course of time he won the argument. He did, ultimately, get the recognition he deserved, including a Nobel Peace Prize. He wasn’t perfect, his theology wasn’t perfect, his methodology wasn’t perfect — but he decided that he wouldn’t spend his life promoting himself or defending himself. He left that to others, preferring to let his life, his work, and his actions speak for themselves.

I guess he remembered the words of Solomon…

Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips. (Proverbs 27:2)

Schweitzer also once said (quoted here):

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”

When it comes to setting a good example, no one can claim a perfect track record. Especially in this day and age, when your slightest misstep has the potential to go viral.

But what if — for today — we took Schweitzer’s words to heart? What if we were to say: I will make this day my argument. Today I will seek to influence others not with an abundance of words, not with a series of lectures, but with a living example of what the Christian life should be.

It takes longer to influence others with your life, to be sure. But the impact of your example goes far deeper than your words ever will.

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)

Greatness Within Reach

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love…”

This quote from Martin Luther King reminds us of what greatness really is … echoing the words of Jesus …

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (Mark 10:43)

Today, and every day, each and every one of us has the capacity for greatness, for one simple reason: Each and every one of us has the capacity to serve.

Success may be ever elusive, but greatness never is. It’s as simple as doing something for someone other than yourself as often as you can: your family, your co-workers, customers, and clients, and even those you may never personally know — greatness lies in your willingness to serve.

The Value of Persistence

It’s no coincidence that so many books of the New Testament contain verses encouraging us to stay faithful in difficult times. Persistence is an essential characteristic for anyone who wants to succeed in the Christian life.

Rarely a month goes by that I don’t talk to someone who’s ready to throw in the towel on some aspect of their calling.

Sometimes it’s a volunteer weary of the extra work that comes with being a leader.

Sometimes it’s a pastor weary of not seeing measurable results.

Sometimes it’s a believer weary of the struggle to live a holy life.

This is what Paul referred to in the book of Galatians…

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap of harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

The season between sowing and reaping can sometimes be long. It can also be hot, dry and difficult. There are times for each of us when saying, “I quit” seems like the most attractive option.

During these times, we’ve got to remember the words of Scripture.

• Remember how Peter qualified trials with the phrase “for a little while.”

• Remember how James promised the crown of life to those who have stood the test.

•  And remember Paul’s words about the harvest: it will come in at the proper time, if we do not give up.

Walt Disney once said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” That’s good business advice, and his success proves it.

It’s even better spiritual advice. In this sense, the “hell” we go through is temporary; God’s abundant blessings are waiting on the other side.

Keep going, then.

Dick Hoyt

Father of the Century

Fifty-five years ago Dick Hoyt’s son experienced a tragedy at birth: he was strangled by the umbilical cord, leaving him brain-damaged and unable to control his limbs.

Dick was told that his son, Rick, would be non-responsive all his life and should be put in a home. Dick didn’t believe it; he noticed how Rick’s eyes followed him around the room.

As early as 1972 — long before the digital age — the Hoyts developed a system of communication that enabled Rick to control a computer by tapping a curser with his head.

One day Rick told his Dad that he wanted to participate in a five-mile charity run for an injured class mate.

To do this, Dick would need to push his son in his wheel chair, running behind him. Dick was not in any shape to run five miles, but he tried. Later, his son told him, “Dad, when we were running, it felt like I wasn’t disabled anymore.”

Dick decided to do all he could to give Rick that feeling as often as possible. They began running in races and marathons — they even qualified to run in the Boston Marathon together.

Now, forty years later, they’ve completed more than a thousand races and more than 200 triathlons, including four 15 hour Ironmans and 30 Boston Marathons. All these were done with Dick pushing and/or pulling his son along during the event.

Amazingly, they finished the Boston Marathon one year only 35 minutes away from a world record. (Keep in mind, as Rick Reilly at Sports Illustrated notes, the world record was a set by a man who wasn’t pushing a wheel-chair while he ran.)

“No question about it,” Rick Hoyt types on his computer, “My dad is Father of the Century.”

You can visit the Team Hoyt website here.

Bear Bryant

Honor Your Father and Mother

Years ago the late Bear Bryant, former coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide, was speaking at a football clinic for high school coaches.

Near the end of the session, one coach asked Bryant, “What is the highest priority for recruiting young men to come play for you?”

Bryant didn’t talk about speed or strength or size or talent, though those things are certainly factors.

At the top of the list, however, Bryant said, “What I want to know is how does that young man feel about his momma and daddy. Because if he respects his parents, he will respect others and will become an effect part of a winning team.”

‘Honor your father and mother’ — which is the first commandment with a promise — ‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’ (Ephesians 6:2-3)

Eagle Soaring

The Eagle and the Hippo

Carl Sandburg said, “There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.”

He may not have known it, but he was describing the Christian life. It’s our dual nature, as Paul talked about…

I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another law at work in me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. (Romans 7:22-23)

Everyday you must choose: Will I live according to the new nature, or the old? Will I soar with the eagles, or wallow in the mud?

Your decision determines everything: How you greet the day. How you direct your thoughts. How you talk to — or talk about — your co-workers. How you spend your spare change and how you spend your spare time. And on and on.

Every day — every moment of every day — you have the power to choose your environment: the clear blue sky or the local hippo hangout.

You have a key to both places, and access is unrestricted. It just depends on where you prefer to be.

Remember today that God is calling you upward.

From an ‘A’ to an ‘A-Plus’

In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul urges the church to lead holy lives. He commends them on the great love they have for others, and then he says…

Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more. (1 Thessalonians 4:10)

He’s saying, in effect, “This is an area where you’re making an A. Good job. See if you can bump it up to an A-Plus.

He’s reminding us to strengthen our strengths.

Too often our focus is limited to those things we don’t do well. We spend so much time and effort covering up our weaknesses, we neglect the task of building our strengths. We should never be content with any aspect of our personal growth; there’s room for improvement in every area.

Which things do you do well? If Paul were writing to you, or to your church, consider in which area he might say, “Way to go. Keep it up. Reach higher.”

If you, like the Thessalonians, excel in love, make it your aim to excel all the more. If you’re gifted in leadership, continue to refine your leadership skills.

And for those whose ministry is preaching and teaching, we should always be looking for ways to take our communication skills to the next level.

Excellence covers all aspects of the Christian life. Weak areas need to be made strong, to be sure. But let’s not forget that the strong areas need to be made stronger.

Today, consider what you do well, and give thought to how you may “do so more and more.” See if you can turn that A into an A-Plus.