Luke Combs auditioned for The Voice several years ago but was turned down before he made it to the televised competition. A letter from the producers explained that he wasn’t “interesting” enough for their show. Last week, Combs won CMA Male Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year.
Persistence is essential to purpose.
Dustin Johnson won the Masters yesterday on his tenth try. He previously led going into the final round of five other majors, but his only win was at the 2016 US Open. Tiger Woods, last year’s champion and one of the greatest golfers of all time, made a ten on the twelfth hole yesterday after hitting his ball into the water three times.
In other words, persistence is essential to purpose, but it’s not enough by itself. I was privileged to attend the Masters several times when we lived in Atlanta, but all the golfing persistence in the world would not have enabled me to compete in the tournament.
Persistence would not have been sufficient if I had met the monster alligator that prowled a Florida golf course during Tropical Storm Eta. Or if I were a victim of Hurricane Iota, an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 hurricane that is expected to make landfall in Central America tonight. Or if I were to join the more than eleven million Americans who have contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic began. (For more, see my latest video, “What does the Bible say about death?”)
It has been said that there is no courage without fear. But it is also true that courage is not enough to defeat fear.
“How’s that working for us?”
I’ve been thinking about the peril of persistence in light of a remarkable essay I quoted last Friday. Biblical scholar Carl Trueman explains how our culture has become so self-centric to the rejection of orthodox morality. He then describes our need to model “true community, oriented toward the transcendent,” that can “show a rapidly destabilizing world of expressive individuals that there is something greater, more solid, and more lasting than the immediate satisfaction of personal desires.”
Here’s the part of Dr. Trueman’s essay that troubles me personally: he warns that Christians are in no sense immune from this quest for such “satisfaction.” He notes: “Every one of us is an expressive individualist now. So comprehensive is the revolution that we are all affected by it and all are at some level complicit.”
We might be tempted to point to those who reject biblical morality and pray with the Pharisee, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:11). But we can be as consumeristic and individualistic in our spirituality as others are in their sexuality.
For example, Dr. Trueman writes, “There is a sense in which we now choose our religions as others might choose their gender or sexuality.” Many choose the church they attend and religious content they consume based on what meets their personal needs. God is a means to their ends. They have imbibed the self-centric ethos of our day with its claim that persistence and courage are sufficient to fulfill our deepest hopes.
In light of our worsening mental health and the “deaths of despair” all around us, we might ask Dr. Phil’s question: How’s that working for us?
“All your fortresses are like fig trees”
The prophet Nahum was called to the Assyrian Empire at a time when it was the world’s greatest superpower. Nonetheless, the prophet warned them, “All your fortresses are like fig trees with first-ripe figs—if shaken they fall into the mouth of the eater” (Nahum 3:12).
The prophet added, “The gates of your land are wide open to your enemies; fire has devoured your bars” (v. 13). This was a present-tense fact, though the rulers and people of the nation did not know it. What we can see is not all there is. COVID-19 was becoming a grave threat to America weeks before we were aware of the menace. Our prosperity in January was no guarantee of such prosperity in March.
Though their merchants were “more than the stars of the heavens” (v. 16), their princes “like grasshoppers,” and their religious scholars “like clouds of locusts” in number (v. 17), they would not be able to save the nation. Their “shepherds” were “asleep” along with their “nobles” (v. 18), but judgment on their self-reliant sinfulness was imminent.
The answer is to reframe persistence: not as self-sufficiency but as Spirit-reliance at the start of every day and all through the day. A time of prayer, Bible study, and worship when your day begins is vital (cf. Mark 1:35), but do not fall for Satan’s deception that this is sufficient for your soul. He does not want you to meet with your Father at all, of course, but if you do, he wants you to separate the spiritual from the secular, check the “God box,” and go on with your day in your strength.
Oswald Chambers offers us wise counsel in this regard: “Never allow that the haphazard is anything less than God’s appointed order, and be ready to discover the divine designs anywhere. . . . The one consistency of the saint is not to a principle, but to the divine life. It is the divine life which continually makes more and more discoveries about the divine mind.”
“Life is so precious and it’s so fleeting”
When we develop such a lifestyle of persistent dependence, we experience the heavenly presence of God even while on earth. In The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis writes: “I think earth, if chosen instead of heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region of hell; and earth, if put second to heaven, to have from the beginning been a part of heaven itself.”
We can and should settle for nothing less.
The time to start is today. Curtis Almquist of the Society of St. John the Evangelist notes: “The energy in Jesus’ teachings is about our being prepared: being prepared to die, but, in the meantime and more importantly, being prepared to live. You don’t want to miss a moment of it—your life—because life is so precious and it’s so fleeting.”
Are you “prepared to live” today?
NOTE: Today, in a world that may often seem chaotic and difficult, we still need “strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow.” Be encouraged by my newest book on ten of Jesus’ parables, Bright Hope for Tomorrow: How Jesus’ Parables Illuminate Our Darkest Days. Please request your copy of my new book today.