One of the greatest displays of human endurance came as a consequence of disaster that struck an Antarctic expedition lead by Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton. The ship became trapped and finally crushed in the Antarctic ice leaving Shackleton and his crew with the daunting task of finding a way across the vast, frigid wastelands of the Arctic Sea to return home. This resulted in a trip displaying overwhelming human endurance. Not one crew member perished. The name of the ship, as you probably know, was Endurance.
The New Testament Call to Endure
Endurance is an admirable quality, especially when applied to positive ends such as the return home of stranded sailors.
In the New Testament, in which the Greek noun translated endurance is used 31 times, we are called to possess this quality in our own character. For example, Hebrews 12:1 exhorts, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us….”
Endurance Must Be Developed
Scripture informs us that this quality does not come easy, but as with building muscles in a gymnasium it must be developed through the challenges of life. The Apostle Paul makes this point in Romans 5:3-4, “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces endurance; and endurance, character; and character, hope.” James makes the same assertion: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But let endurance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4) No pain, no gain.
It is easy to take a jaded view of the call of both Paul and James to view life’s difficulties with joy. “Good news, another hit and run driver got my car while it was parked on the street.” However, think about people who pay to go to a health club so that they can experience pain using free weights. They do so in order to get stronger and look better. If those people are even willing to pay to experience pain, we should at least be happy when God enrolls us in His exercise program free of charge. And even better news, that program makes us stronger and look better spiritually. Yeah, it even makes us look better. As we display the Fruit of the Spirit we are much better looking spiritually. Therefore, we can rejoice in our difficulties by focusing on what they can do for us.
Endurance Requires More Than Troubles
Difficulties alone don’t produce endurance anymore than going to the gym produces muscles, especially if we spend our time at the health club snack shop. We gain muscle by exercising muscle. Likewise we gain endurance by exercising endurance. Therefore, James challenges us to “let endurance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” In other words, it is only as we exercise endurance in difficult situations that our endurance grows.
As we exercise endurance by responding to the challenges of life by viewing them as being permitted by God, and believing He will work them out for our good, we will become cut and ripped spiritually. But if instead of responding by faith we manifest the same old attitude that many unbelievers would display, we will consign ourselves to spiritual wimphood.
The last several posts have highlighted the importance of the will, making the point that even the New Testament places great stress on the need to be volitionally strong. It seems that God wants volitionally strong children, ones who can handle the challenges of life without folding.
A documentary was made about the Antarctic journey by the Endurance and the phenomenal manifestations of inner strength displayed by the crew in their journey to survive. As I have watched this film, I wondered if I would have possessed the endurance to display that level of fortitude. The greater question is whether we are developing the level of endurance needed to meet the challenges of the Christian life. “For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise….” (Hebrews 10:36)