In his book Nothing Like it in the World, Stephen Ambrose writes about the building of the transcontinental railroad in America. It was a monumentally ambitious vision, the linking of the nation’s two coasts by rail. In 1863, at the beginning of the project, some California enthusiasts decided to sponsor a launch ceremony. They invited a large selection of West Coast dignitaries to attend. Collis Huntington, a key backer, was invited but declined saying, “If you want to [celebrate] over the driving of the first spike, go ahead and do it. I don’t… Anybody can drive the first spike, but there are months of labor and unrest between the first and the last spike.”
We may have a vision to accomplish something, but vision is only the beginning. The substance has not been realized. Vision will always be tested on its way to realization. Difficulty, the perfect test, is God’s way of hauling our values out of the shadows into the light. Difficulty reveals what we really care about, and how centered we are on accomplishing something God gave us to do. Difficulty refines our trust in God and proves our commitment. The power of difficulty is the opportunity it gives us to practice determination and learn perseverance.
We must never forget that the achievement of goals and victory over challenges are not endowments. They are won in the crucible of real-world pain and gritty courage, one intentional step after another. The Bible repeatedly reminds us of this great confluence of dreams and challenges in the journey toward the fulfillment of God’s purposes. Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and even Jesus Himself come to mind. They lived in obscurity for decades and walked a humble path to be faithful to God’s assigned destiny, sometimes with little or no evidence of an awaiting promise.
What is it that gives people great courage and dogged determination? The more I have studied perseverance and have had to persevere through my own difficulties, the more I have come to believe that the most powerful force for the advancement of the gospel is the glory of God at work in our lives. We cannot endure for long on our own. But we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength (Phil. 4:13)! Even with the unsupportive influences of culture, we can follow Jesus Christ in His mission! Jesus empowers us. Jesus gives us grace.
Morally courageous people perceive something that is more vivid than the rising sun, and more inspiring than a brilliant night sky. They have experienced God’s glory revealed in Jesus Christ, a love and nearness that flows in and through their lives in witness and service. That connection with God’s Son is grounded in intimacy with God’s Word and His Holy Spirit. Enduring strength is founded on God’s eternal truth and His boundless love. When we have experienced God’s glory, we can forgive, we can endure, and we can move patiently and resolutely forward in faith. God’s glory empowers us even when we are hurting and our work seems pointless. Paul had this to say about the glory of God:
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:17–18 NKJV)
The fact is, no one—leader, pastor, entrepreneur, student, janitor, doctor, pilot, soldier—can have genuine Christ-honoring moral courage in difficulty without the overflowing grace of God at work in us. But, when we lean into Him, and allow God to have His place in our lives, when God’s glory is our first and only aspiration, then everyday endurance is easier, aspirations for greatness are attainable, and moral courage becomes a reasonable posture. The apostle Peter writes to people experiencing great difficulty. He begins his first letter by saying,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope… to an inheritance… kept in heaven for you… In this you rejoice, though now for a little while . . . you have been grieved by various trials, so that… your faith… may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 1:3–7 ESV)
We cannot be morally courageous on our own. We are too selfish and self-absorbed. But when the glory of God explodes into our lives in all its power, we can persevere in what God asks us to be and what He has called us to do until He fulfills His purposes through us. In this life, we may never fully understand human sufferings and the sovereignty of God. We may never see the complete fulfillment of what God promised us. But God is working to redeem the world, and we are called to participate with Him in it. Our participation includes suffering. And, like the biblical heroes of faith and Christian servants of history, we too can persevere through difficulty, disappointment, even death. In the end, we glorify God by our faithful obedience and our steadfast belief that God will bring His purposes to completion.
Adapted from Before You Quit: Everyday Endurance, Moral Courage, and the Quest for Purpose by Doug Gehman. (©2020). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.
Doug Gehman is the President/Executive Director of Globe International, a mission sending agency based in Pensacola, Florida. Doug and his wife Beth are lifelong globally-engaged people. They were married in 1976 and served for fifteen years in South East Asia with their family. Doug and Beth have four married children and eleven grandchildren. They have ministered in over fifty nations. Doug loves to coach emerging leaders and help them discover their giftings and life direction. He is the author of four books. The most recent, Before You Quit – Everyday Endurance, Moral Courage, and the Quest for Purpose.