Recently, I had the occasion to watch The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Although I had seen parts of some of the movies before, this time I watched all three in the extended edition format. If you are familiar with the works of J.R.R. Tolkein you know that they tell the story of Frodo Baggins and his friend, Samwise Gamgee as they make their journey to the fires of Mordor. Along the way they meet many people – some foes and some friends. Meanwhile, they know that regardless of what happens as they travel, they must keep moving forward. The fate of Middle Earth rests on these two small hobbits’ shoulders.
At the end of the second movie, The Two Towers, Frodo begins questioning their quest and whether or not they can fulfill it. Sam, acknowledging that it “seems all wrong” begins reflecting on the great stories they have heard of heroes growing up. What sets legends apart, he realizes, is that they kept going. When odds were not in their favor, when villains seemed to wait them around every turn, they persevered. It was their perseverance they often was the difference in their victory. So it would be for Frodo and Sam as well.
It’s not only The Lord of the Rings that teaches the importance of perseverance, however. Scripture also has much to say at the topic. One verse in particular has had a significant impact in my own life in regards to this subject. That verse, James 1:12, states:
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”
This verse, rich in encouragement and promise, teaches us at three things when it comes to the subject of perseverance. I’m going to explore each of these three things in separate blog posts. However, before we get to the promises of this verse, it’s important to acknowledge that endurance often starts in an unlikely place. Specifically, if we want to endure, the first thing we need to do is….
Anticipate that trials will come.
One of the things that I love about this verse is that it makes no equivocation that trials are to be an expected part of this life. This is a theme that James continues from earlier in the chapter when readers are instructed to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds….” There are no “ifs, ands or buts” about trials coming. James knows that his readers should anticipate difficulties and challenges.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise since James was echoing the words of Jesus. In other words, this wasn’t new news. In John 16:33 Jesus told his disciples that “in this world you will have tribulation,” however He provided this encouragement as well, “take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Too often as human beings we are adept at seeing the pain that others go through and thinking that nothing similar will happen to us. Additionally, somehow when we get through one trial, we think “what a relief – I’m so glad that’s over” and completely disregard the fact that if we are still breathing, there is likely additional turmoil that will come our way. We fool ourselves into thinking that there are nothing but blue skies up ahead, when history and Scripture tell us this is a false perspective.
What this means is that part of persevering through trials is acknowledging that they will come. Instead of spending our time feeling sorry for ourselves that a difficulty has arisen, we would be wise to acknowledge ahead of time that God’s Word specifically states that His children will have troubles – but He also states that we do not need to fear them – for He is greater than our trials will ever be. Acknowledging that trials will come doesn’t mean admitting defeat – it is simply clearly articulating what the journey will hold.
If you were to go on a journey – say to hike to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro – I hope that you would take the time to consider the differences in altitudes and terrains that you will cross along the way. I hope that you would be wise enough to realize that climbing to the top of this mountain is different from a stroll in the park – and that you would prepare accordingly. This doesn’t mean that you don’t climb – it simply means that you assess the situation as best you can ahead of time – that you seek God’s wisdom in doing so – and prepare for those trials by committing to remaining steadfast in Him.
In a similar way, we do ourselves a disservice if we willfully ignore the fact that trials are to be an expected part of life – not only for the Christian, but especially for the Christian. If we acknowledge this, if we anticipate the difficulties that the journey will bring, we are more likely to remain steadfast when the difficult times do in fact come. As a result, we are more likely to endure until the end – to get to the place that God desires for us to be.
(We will continue looking at the importance of perseverance in the days ahead.)