Joop Zoetemelk is known as the Netherlands’ most successful cyclist. But that’s because he never gave up. He started and finished the Tour de France 16 times—placing second five times before winning in 1980. That’s perseverance!
Many winners have reached success by climbing a special ladder called “never give up.” However, there are also many who have lost the opportunity to achieve success because they gave up too soon. This can happen in every area of life: family, education, friends, work, service. Perseverance is a key to victory.
The apostle Paul persevered despite persecution and affliction (2 Tim. 3:10-11). He viewed life with realism, recognizing that as followers of Christ we will suffer persecution (vv. 12–13), but he instructed Timothy to place his faith in God and the encouragement of the Scriptures (vv. 14-15). Doing so would help him face discouragement and endure with hope. At the end of his life, Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (4:7).
We too can allow the Scriptures to strengthen us to press on in the race marked out for us. For our God is both a promise-making and promise-keeping God and will reward those who faithfully finish the race (v. 8).
“I don’t think God is good,” my friend told me. She had been praying for years about some difficult issues, but nothing had improved. Her anger and bitterness over God’s silence grew. Knowing her well, I sensed that deep down she believed God is good, but the continual pain in her heart and God’s seeming lack of interest caused her to doubt. It was easier for her to get angry than to bear the sadness.
Doubting God’s goodness is as old as Adam and Eve (Gen. 3). The serpent put that thought in Eve’s mind when he suggested that God was withholding the fruit from her because “God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 5). In pride, Adam and Eve thought they, rather than God, should determine what was good for them.
Years after losing a daughter in death, James Bryan Smith found he was able to affirm God’s goodness. In his book The Good and Beautiful God, Smith wrote, "God's goodness is not something I get to decide upon. I am a human being with limited understanding." Smith’s amazing comment isn’t naïve; it arises out of years of processing his grief and seeking God’s heart.
In times of discouragement, let’s listen well to each other and help each other see the truth that God is good.
In 1986, John Piper nearly quit as minister of a large church. At that time he admitted in his journal: “I am so discouraged. I am so blank. I feel like there are opponents on every hand.” But Piper didn’t walk away, and God used him to lead a thriving ministry that would eventually reach far beyond his church.
Although success is a word easily misunderstood, we might call John Piper successful. But what if his ministry had never flourished?
God gave the prophet Jeremiah a direct call. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” God said. “Before you were born I set you apart” (Jer. 1:5). God encouraged him not to fear his enemies, “for I am with you and will rescue you” (v. 8).
Jeremiah later lamented his commission with ironic language for a man with a prenatal calling. “Alas, my mother, that you gave me birth, a man with whom the whole land strives and contends!” (15:10).
God did protect Jeremiah, but his ministry never thrived. His people never repented. He saw them slaughtered, enslaved, and scattered. Yet despite a lifetime of discouragement and rejection, he never walked away. He knew that God didn’t call him to success but to faithfulness. He trusted the God who called him. Jeremiah’s resilient compassion shows us the heart of the Father, who yearns for everyone to turn to Him.
Normally she doesn’t move or make a sound, but lately she’s been pawing us gently in the middle of the night. At first we thought she wanted to go outside, so we tried to accommodate her. But we realized she just wants to know we are there. She’s nearly deaf and partially blind now. She can’t see in the darkness and can’t hear us move or breathe. Naturally, she gets confused and reaches out for reassurance. So I just reach down and pat her on the head to assure her that I’m there. That’s all she wants to know. She takes a turn or two, settles down, and goes back to sleep.
“Where can I flee from your presence?” David asked God (Ps. 139:7). David took this as an immense comfort. “If I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me,” he noted. “Even the darkness will not be dark to you” (vv. 9-12).
Lost in darkness? Grieving, fearful, guilty, doubting, discouraged? Not sure of God? The darkness is not dark to Him. Though unseen, He is at hand. He has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). Reach out your hand for His. He is there.
Christmas is the time of year when the pressure to be perfect intensifies. We imagine the perfect celebration and then put forth our best effort to make it happen. We shop for the perfect gifts. We plan the perfect Christmas Day meal. We choose the perfect greeting cards or write the perfect family letter. But our striving leads to discouragement and disappointment when our ability to imagine perfection exceeds our ability to implement it. The carefully chosen gift receives only a halfhearted thank you. Part of the meal is overcooked. We find a typo in our Christmas greeting after we’ve mailed the cards. Children fight over toys. Adults resurrect old arguments.
Instead of being discouraged, however, we can use our disappointment to remind ourselves of the reason Christmas is so important. We need Christmas because none of us is or can be all that we want to be—not for a month, a week, or even a day.
How much more meaningful our celebrations of Christ’s birth would be if we would give up our faulty concept of perfection, then focus instead on the perfection of our Savior, in whom we are made righteous (Rom. 3:22).
If your Christmas celebration this year is less than ideal, relax and let it be a reminder that the only way to be “made perfect forever” (Heb. 10:14) is to live by faith in the righteousness of Christ.
A friend struggling with loneliness posted these words on her Facebook page: “It’s not that I feel alone because I have no friends. I have lots of friends. I know that I have people who can hold me and reassure me and talk to me and care for me and think of me. But they can’t be with me all the time—for all time.”
Jesus understands that kind of loneliness. I imagine that during His earthly ministry He saw loneliness in the eyes of lepers and heard it in the voices of the blind. But above all, He must have experienced it when His close friends deserted Him (Mark 14:50).
However, as He foretold the disciples’ desertion, He also confessed His unshaken confidence in His Father’s presence. He said to His disciples: “[You] will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me” (John 16:32). Shortly after Jesus said these words, He took up the cross for us. He made it possible for you and me to have a restored relationship with God and to be a member of His family.
Being humans, we will all experience times of loneliness. But Jesus helps us understand that we always have the presence of the Father with us. God is omnipresent and eternal. Only He can be with us all the time, for all time.
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali used several ring tactics to defeat his opponents; one tactic was taunting. In his fight with George Foreman in 1974, Ali taunted Foreman, “Hit harder! Show me something, George. That don’t hurt. I thought you were supposed to be bad.” Fuming, Foreman punched away furiously, wasting his energy and weakening his confidence.
There is much said today about improving our health by developing habits of optimism, whether facing a difficult medical diagnosis or a pile of dirty laundry. Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina, says we should try activities that build joy, gratitude, love, and other positive feelings. We know, however, that more is required than a general wish for good feelings. We need a strong conviction that there is a source of joy, peace, and love upon which we can depend.
I love to take pictures of sunsets at Lake Michigan. Some are subtle shades of pastel. Others are bold strokes of bright color. Sometimes the sun sinks quietly behind the lake. Other times it goes down in what looks like a fiery explosion.