02 Nov 2014
In the Chinese service, recently I just completed a series on the book of Proverbs to cover wisdom for Christian living. I believe it's important for us as Christians to understand that God wants us, as Christians, to live wisely and successfully. Because that is a testimony, that God has not only given us life eternal with Him, but He has also given us an abundant life. And so I thought it was good to share with you one message of the series on the wisdom of diligent persistence. So before we go further, let's have a word of prayer together, shall we?
Our Heavenly Father, we give thanks to You that You love us so much, that You gave Your son, Your only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for our sins, to purchase for us our eternal redemption, to give us hope of an eternal life with you, but at the same time by an indwelling Spirit, who forms Christ within us, You desire us also to live wisely, to do well in the way we think and the way we live, that it should be a witness for our Lord Jesus, of the light and the hope that is in Christ. So we pray, Father, for You know the needs and struggles of Your children. You know what they're going through in their various stages and phases of life. I pray, Father, that You may be pleased to take Your word and speak it into the hearts of Your people. Speak into our lives so that Lord we may rise and we may follow You with renewed passion and vigour to live for Your glory. We ask this now in Jesus’ name, amen.
The history of human travel was changed in the year 1903 when the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright, successfully completed their first man flight across the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk in North Carolina. Before their successful flight which changed the history of travel for mankind, ushering us into aviation, usher us into flying at, you know, sound speed and even beyond for those jet planes, they were just obscure bicycle mechanics. In fact, they were so unknown that the world at that time was looking to another man to bring them into this new era of human travel, of air travel. And that man is none other than Dr. Samuel Langley. You may not have heard of this man. Although you may have well heard of the Wright brothers. But in his day, this man was a renowned professor; a renowned professor who invested the majority of his studies and life into the science of aviation. In fact, he was funded by the U.S. War Department in order to bring the United States in his military technology into this new age. But on October 8th 1903, when he attempted his first man flight, Charles Manly, the man who piloted the flight, was put into a catapult with his plane and he was hauled into the air. But unfortunately, the plane got caught with a catapult and it was burled a mere 46 meters from the launch point and it dashed into five meter deep of water. The press was highly critical of Dr. Samuel Langley’s efforts. In fact, the New York Times said that this was a ridiculous fiasco. It criticized Dr. Samuel Langley and said, you know, that he could have put his remarkable talents to better use. Another would say that perhaps it would evolve in between one to 10 million years. And so he was deeply discouraged but he persisted and he tried again in December. Unfortunately for Dr. Samuel Langley, his second time in December again ended in disaster and the press was once again highly critical of this man. And after 20 years of research into this area, he decided to give up all his studies and his dream of seeing man fly in a plane in the air. Only a few days after, the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright, flew successfully across the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, ushering human travel into the age of aviation. What do we learn from this? Well, we can learn from Thomas Edison who said that many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.
Diligent persistence in pursuing the correct goals in life is the key to success
You know, this is so important to life but I feel and I fear that it is a missing quality or character trait in the modern age, even among Christians. So from the book of Proverbs, I would like to share with you a simple thought. And the thought is simply this, that diligent persistence in pursuing the correct goals in life is the key to success. Diligent persistence, to persevere, to endure, to not give up, to be like the Ever-ready Energizer battery, and never say die, even though we know that batteries do die. But you know, the “never say die” attitude, non-quitting, non-quitters is the key to success when you are pursuing the correct goals in life.
Now, I know what some of you may be thinking. You may be thinking, you know, this sounds like a lesson from moral education in primary school. It sounds like the hao gong min that my kids come back with and say, you know, “don't give up”, “bu yao fang qi” and so on and so forth. But you know what? The truth is this, if we had really learned our lessons well when we were in primary school, maybe we would have seen more success in our lives today. How many times have we been tempted to give up? How many times did we actually give up? Have you thought about this, that when we are tempted, maybe when things are going well, you feel that there is no issue and you will press on. But you see, when you suffer more failures than you can stomach, when you have one setback after another, when you're rejected all around, those are the times when you and I will be tempted, and we will be asking ourselves things like, “Did I miss something? Why? What's wrong with me? What's wrong with my life? Did I get on the wrong side of the bed every time? What's wrong?” And we will begin to ask ourselves, “Is it just me?”. You know, I think of the picture of the comic strip Garfield, where he will be looking into the air, with his hands raised up and he will ask, “Why me? Am I just the unlucky one? Am I just that one appointed for failure? Is this God's will for me? Why me? How come? How come the next person seems to be doing so well? How come he is blessed with good looks, intelligence, and everything that has him going, and I'm short and stubby? Why me?” And you'll be wondering, you know, perhaps there's a shortcut! It seems like the world is much into shortcuts, from plastic surgery to Botox and what have you. So anything goes! Just pay the money and fly to, you know, Korea, get yourself changed and come back. But you can't even get through the immigration because your face is now different. You know, shortcuts! You know, let's just go. I am tired of all this struggling, you know, because I noticed that since the pretty ones always get their way whereas for me, I just need to get my nose fixed. Shortcuts! And it may not be your nose. Perhaps it is your heart, your spiritual life, and you were wondering, maybe there is a shortcut spiritually too! Maybe I should just try that ‘name it and claim it’. You know, I saw that Lamborghini run past my house. You know, let me name it and claim it and you know, you still try it, the word of faith. Maybe you have read on the internet that there are some powerful prayers you could pray for internal healing. And you thought maybe I should just try that because it is perhaps a problem with my faith. If I feel more, if I strengthen my faith, maybe I will get it this time. Maybe the last time when I saw the Lamborghini run past, you know, my faith was too weak. Let me whip myself into a fervor. Let me study my Bible and pray. Let me fast and maybe one day it will really materialize and appear before my doorstep. And so you begin to wonder and you begin to struggle. And when you still don't seem to see success on the horizon, you begin to wonder, “maybe I should just give up”. But you know what, friends? The wisdom of diligent persistence tells us that how you and I respond to setbacks will determine your ultimate success or failure.
Perhaps you read a book, or you saw or heard in your care group meetings, or in a message on Sunday morning, how important it is to have a good marriage. And so you thought, you know, I haven't dated my wife for the past 20 years but I want to rebuild my marriage. So, I'm going to invite her on Friday night to go on a date. I'm going to rekindle the romance 20 years ago when I first set eyes on her. So you got all excited and told your wife about it and your wife was kind of like, “okay” and all that, you know, “let's see whether this will last” and agreed to it. Come Friday, your wife comes home and she's wheezing and sneezing and she's down with a flu. And you look at her and you feel so discouraged and say, “Okay well, honey, we'll try again next week.” Now, next week comes along and just before Friday, on Thursday, your children come home with a paper in their hand and say, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy! Dads for life! This event has been rescheduled to Friday, will you please please come with mommy?” And you know, you wanted so much to persist but you knew you had to give in. And so you join your kids for the Dads for life activity back in school and you didn't get to do that romantic candlelight dinner that you dreamt of for the past two or three weeks. How are you going to respond next? Are you going to just give up? Or are you going to press on? Or perhaps you heard a message on Sunday from the pastor or from the internet and you realize that you need to shape up your spiritual life? Perhaps you decided that okay, I hear that I need to have a walk with God, I need to be praying, and so I'm going to get up at 6am in the morning. And although this is not me, I'm a night owl, I sleep late and I wake up late, I am going to try to get up at 6am in the morning, and I'm going to get up and read my Bible and pray. Now that is a good goal, isn't it? It is good to time to spend time with God, quiet time alone with God. But you know what? You set your alarm at 6am and some mysterious hand reached out when it was ringing and turned it off. You thought it was your wife but your wife said it was you - and it's so mysterious you can't remember who! So well, you slept in. And the next day, you try it again. This time you did get up at 6am in the morning. But what happened next, when you turned on your smartphone, all the messages started flooding in and they are all so urgent that you cannot help but have your eyes glued to your smartphone, answering messages after messages, and by the time you're done, you have to set off for work. There, again, you didn't succeed. What are you going to do next? Are you going to give up? Are you going to press on? It is no wonder that the book of Proverbs has much to tell us about the wisdom of diligent persistence.
What Proverbs says about the wisdom of diligent persistence
So let's look at what the scriptures have to say here. It says in Proverbs 10, verses four to five, “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame”. In other words, my friends, if you are going to be lazy about life, if you think that just because you have a degree, you have a good job, or you have a rich family or whatever, you don't have to work, one day you're going to find yourself poor. Because that same attitude will not only translate into your economic situation, it will translate into your physical health, it will translate into your spiritual health, into your mental health, in every other area. Because this quality is missing, you are going to face poverty. So the scripture warns us that you need to be diligent or you will be facing shame rather than success. How about this, Proverbs chapter 12, verse 24, “The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.” In our day and age, we always think that it is the rich who get ahead in life. Of course they do. That's what money does, right? But we also think that perhaps it is not just riches but well-placed connections. And so we think that I'm not successful, I'm not making waves, you know, I'm not moving forward because I don't have those resources and advantages. But Proverbs begs to differ. Proverbs tells us that “the hands of the diligent will rule” because while they may seem to get ahead, if they are not diligent, they will fall back. But if you work hard, one day, you will have the leadership abilities, that character, the respect of those around you to begin to lead them; whereas the slothful, the lazy will eventually squander away all those resources and they will end up having to work for others - “put to forced labor”. How about this one - Proverbs 13, verse four says, “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing”. Isn't that graphic? Do you have dreams in your heart? Do you have a vision of a better life in whatever areas you may be thinking of - in your work, in your studies, in your future, in your home, in your marriage? You know, the Scripture tells us in Proverbs that while all those dreams are good, if you are not diligent, you can have all the passion and desire, you can raise your hand every time an invitation is given, weep and cry, have all those desires, but you will end up still with nothing. Why? Because that's what the soul of the sluggard will end up with. But the soul of the diligent is richly supplied. How about this one? I like this one very much because it is so graphic, it is a bit exaggerated but yet it is so true. Proverbs 26, verse 13 to 14 says, “The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road!””. Now you need to understand the context here, that in the Jewish towns, the possibility of seeing a lion in the road or in the street is as likely as you seeing a dragon on Orchard Road. And I don't mean the Chingay procession. I mean, a real dragon. All right, this is totally exaggerated, far fetched, and nobody believes it. But this is the ridiculous length that the lazy man goes to, to get out of what he is supposed to do. And so he goes on to say, “As a dog turns on his hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed”. This is another graphic description. Some of you may already be disagreeing, saying, “Hey pastor, you shouldn't go on and on like this. I'm a very hard working person. You know, I'm busy all the time.” Notice with me - Proverbs tells us, so is this sluggard. You know how he's busy? He's busy turning from one side of the bed to the next, then from the next back to the other side, and then back to the other side, like a door on the hinges. He is so busy, but his business and activities are all comfortable business. And by the way, he's so comfortable on his bed, being busy turning from one side to the other, and he is getting nowhere in life. Have you ever seen a door walk? I mean, a door on its hinges get up and walk? So all a door does is swing on the hinges. And it's telling us that if we don't have that character of diligence, of persistence in life, you're going to swing like a door, you're gonna turn like a sluggard on the bed, and you will get nowhere in life.
Proverbs’ contrast on success and failure
And so, let's look at the Proverbs’ contrast on success and failure. And I want you to see with me that this runs contrary to modern thinking today. This runs contrary to what even we as Christians secretly believe or hope for. What does this mean? It is not:
(a) Clever vs. stupid
Well, the process of contrast, success and failure between the clever and stupid. So often we think, you know, if you're only more clever, you're smarter - so we even have movies titled locally, “I not stupid”. Why? Because I want to move on. Xiao Hai Bu Ben - why? Because we feel that if you are stupid, you are gone case. I mean, if you fail your PSLE, you fail your ‘O’ levels, you fail your ‘A’ levels, what more do you want to do? But you know what? In Singapore, a lot of people who may not do well academically, they still succeed in life. And we hear stories after stories about not just here, but even elsewhere. So it is not true that your lack of intelligence is going to doom you to an unsuccessful life.
(b) Beautiful vs. ugly
How about this? It is not between the beautiful and ugly. You know, because we live in the entertainment world, we are constantly engaged with beautiful images of men and women. You know, who wants to watch a movie with an ugly actress? Who wants to watch a blockbuster with this man with a big nose? Right? So everybody thinks that if you are beautiful, if you are handsome, you have made it in life. But you see, Proverbs has never considered this as important.
(c) Rich vs. poor
How about this - the rich versus the poor? In our society, affluence - we think that money says it all. But this is not true where Proverbs is concerned. Because Proverbs tells us that money can sprout wings and fly away.
(d) Lucky vs. unlucky
How about this - it doesn't contrast the lucky and unlucky? Because you know, when you run out of excuses, you just reduce it down to “I'm just plain unlucky”. You know, it's just my life. I'm meant to fail. I meant for a miserable existence.
But it is:
But no, friends, if you remember those verses I shared with you, Proverbs contrasts success and failure, contrasts the diligent and the lazy. It contrasts the wise and the foolish. It contrasts the persistent versus the quitters. Now, some of you who have studied the Scripture and know about the spirit-filled life may disagree at this point and say, “No, no, no, no, no. What about the Holy Spirit? Don't we depend upon God's grace? Don’t we depend upon the power of the Holy Spirit?” Now, we're not saying that you don't depend on God's grace and the power of the Holy Spirit and His enabling. We are just saying that even when you are dependent upon him, you have to persist diligently. Even when you're obeying what the Word of God says, you have to diligently persist.
Examples in Scripture where we need to diligently persist
And there are so many examples in the Scripture. Let me share two with you.
Joshua and Jericho
Let's look first, at the story of the march around the walls of Jericho. Remember that God gave the command to Joshua? This is the command of God. God promised them victory and told them to march forward to Jericho, the first city they are to battle in the promised land. And remember that the marching orders were not to assault the walls but to march round the city. Now, you need to think with me. How many times do they have to match around the city? Seven times - not quite accurate, but very close. Six days, every day one time, right? On the seventh day, they got to walk and march around seven times. Now you need to remember, they're not walking, marching around their slippers, with their iPhone, and then you know, checking their Facebook and Twitter and when you are marching, they take a picture or a selfie, and then, “Wow, you see, the walls are gonna fall, you know!”. They had no clue what was gonna happen. They had this huge helmet that are very heavy. They will be like wearing a cooking pot on their head, clanking around with this spear, this sword, and it is all so tiring under the hot sun. And the first time usually people are not too, you know, difficult about things, because let's give it a try. But could you imagine the third and fourth day and they are still marching under the sun and nothing is happening? They will be wondering like, “What are we doing? Are we trying to frighten them? Or confuse them? What are we doing?” And then maybe they are laughing at them, throwing down bad eggs and tofu at them, and they're coming back all dirty and they have to wash it off again. And come the seventh day - that's the worst! To us, when we read the Bible, that's the most exciting. Could you imagine for this soldier - six times and nothing happened? Sweat, sun - nothing. Sweat, sun, dust - nothing. Sweat, sun, dust, bad eggs, tofu - nothing. And then come the seventh day, they got to not marchh one round but seven times. I'm pretty sure there are some soldiers who were like, “Oh, no, seven times! Seven times!” And they will be like this, “Wow, this is getting out of hand!” But could you imagine that if at the sixth round, on the seventh day, at the sixth round, on the seventh day, if they decided, “Forget it, I am not going around it. I wouldn't be a fool. I wouldn't be so silly. I want to do something more intelligent and clever with my life. I'm out of here.” And they take the next boat across river Jordan, what would have happened? They would not have seen God work. They would not have seen God bless. So my friends, even if you're following the leadership of the Holy Spirit, even if you're obeying the commands of God, it doesn't remove the need to persist diligently.
Naman and his leprosy
How about this other man? This man is not an Israelite. He's not a believer in the the normal sense of the word. He is actually an unbeliever who had a problem. He is a general in the Syrian army who was respected and famous because he won many battles. His name is Naman but he had a problem! Besides pride, his problem was leprosy. And leprosy in those days was a disease which ostracizes you, which causes you to be no longer part of the in-group because nobody wants what you have. And so he had a problem. And before he got worse, he wanted to seek help. And he heard that there is healing in Israel. This defeated enemy of theirs could actually heal his disease. So he got the permission of the king and came to the king of Israel and said, “I heard that I can be healed here”. The king said, “No, no, no, no, no. What do you take me for? Are you here to cause trouble with me?” But the prophet Elijah heard it and said, “Come over here and I will provide you with what you need and want.” He came to the door of the prophet Elijah and Elijah didn't come out himself to greet him. Now this is a big affront to his pride because he's used to being fawned on, he is used to being respected but now is hen mei you mian zi, no face, lose face, no dignity. He got so angry and then he heard from the lips of Gehazi, the servant, that you need to dip yourself in the River Jordan seven times. Now at that point, he got really mad. Because first you show me no respect, then you didn't come and do a Hocus Pocus, pray and then the heavens open and heal me, but now he ask me to go and wash? Have you thought about it? How many of you bathe seven times at one shot? I think if you go into the bathroom come out again, go in the bathroom and come out again, your mom will be calling the mental hospital like, “Could you come and take a look at my son or daughter to see if he/she is alright?” You know, what is wrong? Are you all right? Do you have a problem somewhere? Nobody in their right mind washes themselves seven times at one shot right. So imagine the scene - he would be there at the river and all the soldiers would be gathered around Naman, and I believe the soldiers are trying very hard to keep a straight face. Because you know this is their boss and he is usually very fierce and courageous. Now all the armor is stripped away and he's doing the unthinkable, and this is just very uncharacteristic of this fierce and noble warrior. He is bathing one time, two times, three times and they are just trying so hard not to giggle, not to laugh. But he's not a stupid man. He looked at them, his men’s faces and he felt like a fool himself. Could you imagine if when he dipped himself into the pool, the fifth time, his pride got the better of him, or if his anger got the better of him, if his discouragement of how ridiculously he is being treated in Israel, this defeated enemy of Syria got better of him, and he says, “Forget it. I'm done with this silly river, this silly routine. I'm out of here. Give me something more clever, all right. Give me some good, sounding theology. Give me some good Bible verses, some powerful prayers, but dip myself that seven times? Forget it.” Then he walks off. You know what would have happened? His leprosy would have never been healed.
You know, sometimes as Christians, we come to church looking for a formula, looking for some quick fix. Maybe the pastor can preach something and zap you and you feel so good. Or maybe you come in looking for an experience and you never found it. And you thought you're just unlucky. And you thought that maybe you're just not meant for success. But maybe because you didn't persist diligently. So the illnesses in your heart and soul, the flaws in your personality and character never got healed, because you didn't see it through to the end. Not only in our modern age but also in our modern churches, I'm afraid that that is a way of thinking, a way of looking at success in terms of numbers, in terms of sizes. And like Godzilla, the tagline is, size does matter. And so if the church grows to become a mega church with tens of thousands of people, he must be successful and the hand of God must be upon him.
So I'm gonna share with you a real life example of how success cannot be measured by size, by what we see on the outside. And some of you who are on the news may be aware that Mark Driscoll in this year, in 2014, has recently just resigned. He did not get into any immorality. He didn't run away with anybody's funds. But he was known to be aggressive, manipulative, and having bullying tactics. And in the course of his ministry, he hurt many people. But in Seattle back in 1996, he was so successful that his church grew to 14,000 strong. And he's so deep and sound and clever, intelligent with his theology, that he began a movement to once again promote, along with some others, Calvinist teaching in a powerful way. So he is known for being relevant to culture while conservative in his theology. So there's nothing wrong with what he's doing. Nothing wrong. He started the gospel coalition, he started the Acts 29. He started all these good works! But things begin to unravel over time. And now in his 40s, all the worms begin to come out of the woodwork. And this article evaluated 10 lessons that we could learn from Mark Driscoll. It is a bit small, I apologize for it. So let me read it to you. It says in Lesson number three, love is more important than achievement and results. Is it not true that in churches, sometimes we do ministries, we want to see achievements, we want to see results? Number five states the church often elevates gifted people who are not emotionally mature. That means they can sing, they can dance, maybe they can preach and all this and that, and so we elevate them for their gifts. If they are celebrities, we think they can draw crowds in so we put them on the stage. But they are not emotionally mature to handle the success and so they get carried away with pride. They become hardened in their heart, they begin to look down on others, and then people begin to get hurt. How about this other lesson, number six, that when we do not build on character and integrity, our foundation is sad. Mark Driscoll himself admitted as he looked upon his life, he had too much success too quick, too soon. But you know what? We want those kinds of successes, isn’t it? We want to be known as someone who is young and yet so successful and influential, and we think that that is the mark of God's blessing, whether outside in the world or whether in the church. Now lesson number seven, I feel it i very instructive for us today. It says there are no shortcuts to success. You know, friends, even though you serve a great God who loves you so much, who has blessed you with every blessing and spiritual gift, and you have all the resources in the Lord Jesus Christ, through His Holy Spirit, to enable you to succeed, there are still no shortcuts to success. And for that reason, we must persist diligently.
Look at what the scripture says in Hebrews 10, verse 36. It says, “You have need of endurance”. Friends, the problem is not because you are less spiritual or too dumb. It's not because you're not handsome enough, not because God doesn't like you, not because you didn't come from a Christian home or family, not because you don't know all the different tenets of the various theological systems etc. No, the problem is you think that success comes easy. But Proverbs tells us no, and Hebrews concurs and tells us that you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what is promised. You know, if you are seeking to draw closer to God, that is the will of God! If you want to win your loved ones to Jesus Christ, that is the will of God! If you want to serve the Lord and to go into the mission field, for instance, if you want to be able to have a better home, you want your children to grow up godly, if you want to have a stronger marriage, all this is in the will of God for your life. But the Bible didn't say when you had that desire, God blessed you immediately and voila, you have it! No, Scripture says you need endurance. Because the goal is right. It takes time to get there.
Now let's look at another verse in Scripture. It says in James, chapter one, verse three to four. James is the Book of Wisdom in the New Testament, giving us practical wisdom. And it says here, “For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness”, that when your faith is being stretched, when what you know and believe in is being tested, it is going to produce endurance. And it says here, giving us words of wisdom, “let steadfastness have its full effect”. Let it run its course. Let it do its work in your life. Don't give yourself excuses that there is a lion in the streets. Don't give any excuses that I didn't come from a Christian family. Don't give us excuses that it is because my daddy is not a godly man. Don’t give yourself excuses that it is because my wife doesn't love me the way she should and doesn't submit to me. Don't give yourself excuses. Let your faith be stretched out so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
For those of you who play golf, you may be familiar with this man. His name is Gary Player. Gary Player won more golf tournaments in his day than any other man. And it is not uncommon for those who watched him swing his golf golf stick and all that, that people would go up to him. You guys are laughing at me. I got to persist now. I got a bit lost now. Okay. So when he was golfing right, people would come up to him and say, “I would give anything to play golf like you”. And usually he would just smile and be polite. But one day he was tired. He was a bit, you know, irritated. And so instead of smiling and keeping quiet, he actually looked at the people who said those words to him and said to them harshly, “No, you wouldn't.” Then he went on and said, “Do you know what it takes to play golf the way I do?” He said, “I get up at 5am in the morning. I hit a thousand balls until my hands bleed. I go to the bathroom, wash the blood off my hands, and put a bandage on. I take my lunch, come in the afternoon and hit another thousand balls before I could even get close to what I'm doing today.” And he said to them, “You will want to play golf the way I do if costs you nothing. You will want to play golf the way I do if it is easy. If you could just pay for it, wish for it, pray for it. But you know, to play golf the way I do, you have to work hard!”
You know my friends, how often do we look at another family and they have lovely children and we think that they had it easy? You know, that they are God’s favorites? Or we see another young person and he is growing and is spiritual and godly. We think, you know, God's favorite. And you know, what about me? I'm not the favorite. I am, in the Old Testament, I am the Esau. You know, God has favourites - God loved Jacob but hated Esau. I am the hated one. So another lion in the street excuse, right? Another foolish response to life in which we think that God despises us! And therefore we don't have to work hard because my life is ruined anyway, I'm predestined to a foolish life. You know what, when you think like that, it is very likely you will be the fulfilment of your own prophecy. Right? So my friends, we must realize that there are no shortcuts to success.
Three suggestions on what to do to have the wisdom of diligent persistence
Now if you agree with me if you are willing to journey with me down this path, then I'd like to share with you three suggestions of what you can do to have the wisdom of diligent persistence in your life.
1. Let go of the past
And the first simply is this, “let go of the past”. Let go of the past. You know, so often we get tripped up by our past success. I remember back in the days of my national service, I was in the army, I attended this divisional conference, and the general was there talking to all the men. He said, “You know what, this is three months into our new year already and so many of you are still talking of our past mission success.” He says, “We need to stop or our next mission will be a failure.” What is happening here? What is happening here is that everybody wants to harp on the past and their success because it feels good. Although it feels good. It doesn't help you to get ready for what is ahead. Even in churches, in our own spiritual life, you know what? We like to talk about the good old days. And you know what, those days may be old but they may not really be that good. And so we need to let it go and say, “Thank God for it” and just move on. Not only must we let go of past success, we must also let go of past failures. How many of us here have been wounded, hurt by comments, looks of others, because they give you that look that makes you feel silly and out of place, and you are so grieved that 20 years later, you are still not serving, you're still not taking that step forward? Because you are so hurt, you feel so defeated? Do you know this guy? I'm sure you don't but at least you know what he sells, right? And I don't have to introduce this to you because now it is worldwide famous. All the kids love it, at least, and that adults don't mind because it seems better value than McDonald's and at least there is some good meat in it. And you know what, we all know about KFC and we think, we will think that because he has this look, he sold the food. But that's not true. Do you know that Colonel Sanders, he retired from the army? Retired, that means he is an old man in his fifties and beyond with only his Social Security check in his pocket and a recipe for fried chicken. And so what he wanted to do was he wanted to try to sell his recipe to as many, you know, restaurants as possible and just earn a profit from it. I guess he didn't have the same success as other roasted meat restaurants and so he had to drive around in his car looking for people to enter into partnership with him. And he was rejected so many times that after a while, an old man with a recipe and a social security check was sleeping in his car, moving from town to town, knocking on doors. And according to records, he knocked on 1009 doors before it opened for Kentucky Fried Chicken to become what it is today. Could you imagine how he felt when he knocked on the 500th door? The amount of rejection, the faces, the derision? Like where are you coming from and why should I go into partnership with you? The hurtful things that people would say, the looks he would get - and all those he got to let go every time he knocked on a fresh door? Could you imagine how he felt when he knocked on the 781th door? How about the 1008th door?
But you know what, for many of us, it doesn't take us that long. One or two doors is enough, and we're out of here. I need a new life, a new job. I need a new church. I need a new pastor. I need a new care group. You know, it doesn't take us 1008 times - maybe two or three once is enough. Why? Because we don't understand the wisdom of diligent persistence unlike Colonel Sanders who did. Do you have a recipe in your life? I believe you do. It's called the gospel. And the gospel is worth more than the fried chicken recipe. Because I'm pretty sure when we enter into eternity, we wouldn't be eating fried chicken, right? Because we will be restored. The Bible talks about you know the trees and the fruits and what we'll be enjoying. You know, we will be, you know, enjoying even God's creation with the animals in the millennial Kingdom. I don't read of us killing the lion to eat the meat, and so this is temporary. But the gospel, the eternal recipe for success, is with you for your marriage, for your work. Everywhere you go, are you knocking on doors or have you given up? Have you given up and thrown in the towel? No wonder Paul says in chapter three, verses 13 to 14, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.” Although he founded so many churches, although he has the apostlic gifts and office, not those who only claimed to be apostles type, he is the real apostle who performed real miracles, healing, tongues, all those he says and he has in his life; yet, he says that those are not the reason of my success and those are not the reasons why I am pressing on. He said, “but this one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind” no matter how many churches I have founded, how many people I won to the Lord, how many miracles I performed, I don't want to think of all these past successes and failures, but I strain forward to what lies before. So in the same way, friends, if you want to persist, you need to let go of the past whether it is past success or past failures.
2. Anticipate setbacks
How about this - if you want to have the wisdom of diligent persistence, I'd like to suggest to you number two - you need to anticipate setbacks. Now Christians sometimes can be at fault here. You know why? Because we think that we take in our scripture and we explain it and put it into a theological grid and build those walls of safety around us, we are meant for success. So our formula for success is to build an argument well, think well, put everything nicely together, outperform everyone, and then I'm going to win. But you know what life is not like that. You may be able to win an argument but are you able to win in life? Because life involves relationships with other people, and others have to follow and agree and cooperate with you. So what if you can talk down to your wife? If your wife just doesn't agree with you, it is too bad. So you have a setback there. You may have all the Bible verses at your beck and call, but your wife does look at you and say, “Well, too bad. You just know the Bible better than me.” So what are you going to do? And you know what, when we think like that, as Christians, when we meet with setbacks, we wonder what's wrong with me.
Let me give you some examples of people who have had setbacks and you'll be surprised at what I want to say after that, so bear with me. Number one, I want to show you this picture of Rudyard Kipling. For those of you who are into literature, who know about Rudyard Kipling, he is a literary author. Okay? He wrote many books and is very famous today. He is very well-known and respected. People who go to school studying literature will read perhaps sometimes the works of Mr. Rudyard Kipling. But did you know that when he first sent his very first draft of his writings, the publisher wrote back and said, “Mr. Kipling, you do not know the English language.” What is he saying to him? What are they saying to him? They are saying, “Please forget a career in writing because you don't even understand how to use the English language.” What a blow and setback to a budding author! But you'll see, if Rudyard Kipling gave up, he would not be what he is today.
Here is another author. His name is John Grisham. John Grisham wrote the New York Times’ bestseller, selling 60 million copies of ‘a time to kill’. Of course, when we look at him standing at the rostrum, holding his book selling so many copies, we think, “Of course, he's a born talent. He's a clever man! Or maybe he has well placed connections.” But did you know that before he sold this book, there were 15 publishers and 30 agencies that all rejected the draft of this copy of the book? Nobody wanted it. Could you imagine if he had given up when those publishers and agencies turned him down?
I like this last one. Some of you who are in my generation might agree because we grew up watching this movie series, and what would it be? Can anyone guess? Yeah, some of you are seeing the correct answer already is stormtroopers, Star Wars. And today, after so many years, Star Wars is almost like an established movie deal, as a cult following. I read the news that people dress up like Darth Vader, as stormtroopers, and they actually feel proud. But did you know that when George Lucas wanted to launch this movie production, every single major studio in Hollywood turned it down? Until 20th Century Fox took it in. And then if you really go and watch it right, the very first one called “A New Hope”. It looks like a pretty cheap production and it doesn't have much special effects and doesn't really look very cool because there was very little funding. And so in those days, if you put on a Darth Vader, they will think what is wrong with you and why are you wearing a bucket on your head? Why? Because it was not successful then! But you see, George Lucas pressed on.
Now some of you who are thinking will be wondering, the mature and the spiritual will ask, “Pastor, why are you doing? Are you going to bring us to be in the secular realm? Are you trying to tell us something? Because you know, you don't seem to be going biblical. You're not going into Christian examples.” So the point is this. The point is this. The point is, even unbelievers have to persist to succeed. Even unbelievers have to persist to succeed. You know why I need to say that? I need to say that because Christians sometimes think that when they fail, it is because of you know what? I'm the persecuted. You know, didn't Jesus say that the world doesn't love me? And so because I'm a Christian, right, I get discriminated against. Because I'm a Christian, I get persecuted, I get rejected. Oh, and you know what, you read the Bible, that because I'm a Christian, there's a spiritual battle. And so the enemy whacked me out, and I'm gone. So you know what, I'm so scared now that I don't even want to get in anymore, because that is a spiritual battle. And so we again, say that's a lion in the street. Once again, we don’t have an excuse to give up. But you see, even the unbelievers have setbacks in life and they have to persist, and they don't have a God to call on to help them or to strengthen them. But you and I who are believers, we have a God who loves us, who will be with us and strengthen us. And you know what? We are among the first to give up. Isn't it sad that we take the grace of God, the goodness and the strength of God as an excuse to give up in life? No wonder the author of Hebrews chapter 12 tells us, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,”, look at all these men of faith in the in the 11th chapter of the book of Hebrews. Every one of them did something great for God, from Moses, to Noah, to David and Saul, and so forth, and every one of them had to persist. And when you look at their lives, the author of Hebrew says, “Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,”. In other words, he is telling us to anticipate setbacks. There will be problems.
Sin, we are aware and it can hold us back. And we know what is sin - it is anything that is wrong, contrary to the word or the will of God. But what are these weights that hinders us? May I say simply that these weights are anything that is not sinful? Maybe a setback, maybe a failure, maybe a criticism, maybe a discussion, maybe we will look at other people's faces and that will simply shake you up. The author of Hebrews says, you know, lay it aside, anticipate what is coming, and press on! Because the difference between a successful man and a lady who is, you know, failing in life is simply this one geese up the other person. And Hebrew says you and I need to press on.
3. Pursue the right goals
And finally, my third suggestion is this. If we are going to have the wisdom of diligent persistence, we need to be pursuing the right goals in life. It will be sad if you invest all the time and energy, climbing the ladder of success, and when you reach the top, you will realize that it is leaning against the wrong wall, you have earn all the money, you got all the prestige and fame and whatever you thought you need to succeed in life and realize in the light of eternity, it counts for little or nothing. And this is the reason why the author of Ecclesiastes tells us, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come” - this “evil days” are not sinful days, and as a passage unfolds, it is talking about how our body will deteriorate. Ecclesiastes chapter 12 tells us how our natural energy, physical, you know, abilities will fail and falter. He says, before you lose all your energy and strength and life, before you can hardly walk, make sure you're pursuing the right goals in life, so that when you come before the Creator who will evaluate your life, you have persisted in the right goals. That's so important, isn't it? So how do I ensure that I'm pursuing the right goals? Can I suggest to you that you need to ask yourself three simple questions. One, does my goals violate any commands or principles in God's Word? Obviously if what you're doing and pursuing is sinful and wrong, you need to give it up. Don't persist in what is wrong, persist in what is right. Number two, is my goal in keeping with God's general purpose for my life? Have you ever come before God and said, “God, what do you want me to do?” Maybe if you are pursuing the wrong goals for your life, the right thing to do is to let go of it, switch over and start persisting in what God has planned for you. That is a wise thing to do. How about this one: how will the achievement of my goal honor God? Have you wondered about that? If I persist in this work, if I persist in this relationship, will it really honor God? Now if you have the right goals in life, sometimes the plans can change. Don't be a stick in the mud. I mean, your wife can’t meet you on Friday night? Change the plan, you know, on Thursday. Maybe change the plan, take up a holiday and maybe you can fall sick together in some holiday location and all that, and you still have time together. You can change the plan, but you don't have to change the goal. But so often, we throw out the right goals together with the failed plans. Persist in the right goals but feel free to change the plans because that is the way we can find God's will fulfilled in our lives.
There is this lady and I want to share her story with you. Her name is Laura Story. Laura Story was the songwriter who wrote the worship hit, ‘indescribable’, which Chris Tomlin sang and it became a worldwide success in the year 2004. That's right, 2004. So here is a young lady who is talented, who is gifted, who wrote a song that is so successful, it took the Christian world by storm. And at 28 years of age, she married her childhood sweetheart whose name is Martin Ellington. And they were happily married. And they were looking forward to a picture perfect marriage because these are talented people, these are gifted people who love the Lord, and they have the vision and dream to use their abilities to honor and glorify God. But little did she know that two years into her marriage, her husband, an athlete, was diagnosed with a problem of brain tumor. And soon, life begins to go downhill, down south for them. And her husband had to be sustained in his life on machines and there was a possibility that he would lose his vision and all kinds of problems. And Laura Story shared her testimony that nobody prepares for marriage this way. She was two years into her marriage. You know, we talk about how to apply the principles of marriage, we talk about how to do our finances together, but who prepared us for this? And so when she was facing this problem, she struggled in her life. She struggled with anger and bitterness against God because she felt that this was a detour and she waited for God to end it all and bring her life back to normal. And she worshiped in this church called Perimeter Church in Atlanta. And if you're familiar with the church scene in Atlanta, Perimeter Church in Atlanta is the same church GLCC is having fellowship with to learn about life-on-life missional discipleship (LOLMD). So this is the same church that is strong on discipleship. The pastor has been working, Pastor Randy Pope, on discipleship for 40 years and has been successfully helping people grow in the Lord. So even with all this spiritual climate, with all these foundations for Christian growth, they still had problems. And she struggled. And she struggled. And a sister one day, after a long time, came up to her and said, “You know, maybe what you're experiencing is not a detour. Maybe it's the journey.” This is the exact journey God wants you to be on. So often, when we meet with setbacks and failures, we think that these are detours because my life is meant to be one of blessings. And so out of that brokenness and sorrow, out of repentance, and out of the truth she learned, she wrote this song that became a hit around the world to encourage many hearts known as blessings. And I share with you a few words out of this song, the lyrics, it asked questions like this to provoke us into thinking about the wisdom of diligent persistence. When you're faced with setbacks and problems in life, those that you thought perhaps are just detours, she said and asked, “What if your blessings come through raindrops? What if your healing comes through tears? What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know you are near? What if the trials of this life are your mercies in disguise?” To know what God has in store at the end of a tough road, we need the wisdom of diligent persistence. That's why I have this very simple thought to share with you. I would like to encourage you if you feel discouraged in any area of your life: ministry, work, marriage, relationship. If you are pursuing the right goals, you're pursuing what God intends for your life, don't give up. Don't give up. It is not a sign that God hates you or doesn't love you or that you're missing out on something. You just need to persist because the legend persistence in pursuing the right goals in life is the key to success. Press on, press on my friends, press on. Because God is with you.
Shall we pray? Our Heavenly Father, we give thanks to you for this quiet moment, precious moment where we remember our Lord Jesus Christ. Father, we rejoice in your love, in your will, in your purposes and plans for our lives, that it is not for destruction but for blessings, not on our terms but for your kingdom and glory’s sake. Father, we pray that you would be pleased to glorify yourself in our lives, as we humbly use the truth of your word to faithfully follow you. Truly, may our lives become a channel of blessing that others may know Jesus through us. Because like Jesus, we are willing to walk in his steps and ensure whatever sufferings and setbacks may come, that we may accomplish the will of God in our lives. We give thanks to you, and we pray all this in Jesus name’, amen.
More Episodes from Pastor Chee Keen Seethor:
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30 Mar 2018
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25 Dec 2022
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