Perseverance: when weakness is strength

By Tiffany Atkins

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Hebrews 12:1-3

How is life for you at the moment? Are you enduring, embracing, suffering or just resigned to the current reality? Are you persevering?

In Hebrews 12:1 we are encouraged to ‘run with perseverance the race marked out for us’ but how do we do this when we’re not sure where the finish line is? And what is perseverance? Is it just something within us or a goal in itself?

What is perseverance?

“We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Romans 5: 3-4

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

These verses tell us that perseverance is born out of suffering and trials, not a way to cope with trials. It in turn results in fruit: character, hope and spiritual maturity. Perseverance is not a case of ‘stiff upper lip’ or pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. It is not about being strong in the face of adversity, but, by looking to Christ and following his example of humility, endurance, weakness and hope in the joy before us, we don’t grow weary and lose heart.

It is not about mustering up self-reliance or is that just me?

Weakness

Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 12, from his own first-hand experience, that Christ’s power is made perfect in our weakness. Suffering and trials reveal our weakness. This is a good thing. Weakness is a universal human condition, we can’t pretend we don’t have weakness. In our weakness Christ’s strength can work through us, but we need to acknowledge that weakness. Goodbye to ‘keep calm and carry on’ and that rigid top lip! When we look to Jesus and have confidence in His strength, we grow perseverance.

Consider those whom Jesus is drawn to in the gospels. In contrast to the hypocrisy and self-righteousness of the Pharisees, the faith of the Syrophonoecian woman is commended when she admits her unworthiness (Matthew 15, Mark 7). The centurion’s humility and recognition of Christ’s authority is commended as faith (Luke 7). The humility of the tax collector is exalted (Luke 18). The repentant heart of the prostitute, the neediness of the sickness-bound widow, the lame man, the blind man, the hungry, the sinners – these are the people Jesus meets at their point of need.

The Beatitudes

In Matthew 5, Jesus shows us four types of healthy weakness and offers us four different strengths. You may know these better as The Beatitudes. In the great Bible narrative, Jesus is our hero who has experienced these weaknesses and demonstrated these strengths. If we fix our eyes on Him and what He exemplified, we are promised blessing. Here’s a quick run-through:

Weakness

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit: This is our starting point – we express our neediness.
  • Blessed are those who mourn: let us acknowledge that the world is not as it should be and know that Jesus was a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief.
  • Blessed are the meek: weakness in its positive sense, yielding to God’s will and leading.
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: making right from wrong, salvation from sacrifice.

Strength

  • Blessed are the merciful: is your life characterised by a love and concern for others?
  • Blessed are the pure in heart: our actions towards others are not self-serving.
  • Blessed are the peace-makers: actively pursuing peace in a world of conflict.
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness: doing the above does not guarantee exemption from more trial and suffering. Avoidance of such is not our goal. But our aim is to persevere ‘because great is our reward in heaven’.

A work of grace

But this is more than a redirection from self-help to Jesus-help. The reason that we can have confidence in Christ’s strength is because He has endured, suffered and died on our behalf. Just as we need to come into a relationship with Jesus from a position of neediness, not trusting in our own righteousness, so we continue in that position. Perseverance is a work of grace.

So, as we face today’s trials, whatever they may be, throw off the desire to trust in your own strength. Embrace the strength that Christ so readily offers us so that you may persevere and receive a crown of life.