There are days when I open my eyes and wish I awoke to a simpler world. Pandemics, politics, gender issues, racial injustice, loss, grief, violence, and senseless hate, crowd us on every side. Life and ministry are wearying and difficult. We are pushed to shift and change at a constant rate, pouring into our output, our influence, with vigor. Drastic times call for drastic measures, they say. Do not grow weary in doing good (Gal. 6:9). Or as the old hymn says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” But complexity and questions wear me down. Weariness creeps into my soul no matter how hard I try to keep it out.
Jesus said that all the Law and the prophets hang on two things: love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:36-40). It sounds so simple, and it feels so impossible some days.
The Apostle Peter reminds believers, in 2 Peter 1:3, that Jesus’ “divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life.” Everything we need. He lists a group of characteristics—a recipe of sorts—and urges us to grow in them, to be transformed by them. He says, “Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love” (2 Pet. 1:5-7). Grow, add, mature, change, expand.
As I stare these dark and difficult days in the face, I know I must grow to look and be more like my God. The world doesn’t need more opinions or effort or feeble attempts at human help. It needs Jesus.
If I want to incarnate God in the world, I must allow him to mold me and shape me through such attributes as faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, friendship, and love. Since we can’t tackle them all, I’ll pick two. Let’s see what we can glean by developing working definitions of perseverance and godliness.
Perseverance and Steadfastness
A lot of my life is lived under the umbrella of motherhood. Therefore, I think about big words, like perseverance, in terms of describing them or defining them for my kids. On its most basic level, we inherently know perseverance to mean: never give up, don’t stop, don’t quit. We know it takes perseverance to have a successful marriage. In fact, I think it took a lot of perseverance on my husband’s part to get me to go out with him in the first place. It takes perseverance to learn a new skill—reading, writing, gardening, playing an instrument, tackling athletics, or quilting, to name a few.
When we simplify the definition down to merely “never give up,” however, we miss something. Merriam-Webster defines perseverance as: “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition: STEADFASTNESS.” So, it means never give up, but it means never give up in the face of hard things.
The synonym listed in that definition is steadfastness. Although this is not a word I use in casual conversation very often, it does pop up regularly in Scripture. Again, Merriam Webster is very helpful, steadfast means “firmly fixed in place: immovable, not subject to change.”
As is often the case, the original Greek gives us more insight. This word, translated as perseverance in the NIV and steadfastness in the ESV, is hypomonē. It means patient enduring, hopeful endurance, or longsuffering. Throughout the New Testament, this word is used to describe the “characteristic of a man [or woman] who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith by even the greatest trials and sufferings.” Someone who perseveres in faith is not run off the road and off track. They are not moved, despite failure or fear. Someone who perseveres in faith is loyal; they are sure and confident of their purpose no matter what.
My congregation is full of these people. As I prayed for them and studied, the Lord brought specific situations and people to mind. Perseverance is the mother, father, grandmother, and grandfather who refuse to stop praying for their kids whose lives are wrecked with addiction. It is the family with children abroad, serving in the military, who get up every day and pray for their safety. Perseverance is the woman I know who refuses to give up hope for the pregnancy she so desperately desires. It is the men and the women around us who have applied for 30 jobs and haven’t landed one yet. Still, they fill out the next application and go to the next interview. Perseverance is the man so dear to my heart who deals with chronic pain. He gets up every day, goes to work, comes home, and stays present with his family. He does not give in to despair, defeat, or depression. Perseverance is the woman I knew whose body was completely riddled and wracked with disease and discomfort, and yet, she refused to deny the goodness of our God.
Perseverance exists around me. I can identify it with certainty and pride. Steadfastness exists around me as well. When I think of that word, I think of God.
There is a beautiful story in the Book of Exodus where God describes himself to Moses. Moses is hidden in the cleft of the rock, and God’s Presence passes before him. God declares himself: “The LORD, the LORD,” Yahweh, Yahweh, I Am that I Am (Ex. 34:5). Then, he describes himself as, “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6, ESV).
Our God is steadfast; it is the very definition of who he claims to be. It is because he is unwavering and unrelenting that we can trust him. He promises never to leave us or forsake us (Josh. 1:5). He does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17). He is the solid rock beneath our feet (Matt. 7:24).
So, I sit in the tension of seeing perseverance in others and knowing my God is steadfast, while fighting a wretched war in my mind. I don’t feel steadfast. After two years as a wife, mother of two tweens, full-time minister, and full-time MDiv student—in the midst of an isolating, polarizing, fracturing pandemic—I’m tired. I face the temptation to resign anything and everything every day. Very often, I imagine a scenario in which I throw my hands in the air, spin around, and shout, “I’m out! I’m done! I quit!”
But the Spirit leans close in these moments of weakness and reminds me: Bethany, of course you don’t feel like it! When it is in your strength, your might, and your power, you can’t do it. You are not steadfast … but I am. Your life and your faith get to stand on the truth. Jesus has given you victory through his life, death, and resurrection. You don’t need to be steadfast; you get to be because I am.
I can be steadfast because I am a branch, and my God is the Vine (John 15:5). I can be steadfast because he will be with me to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). I can be steadfast because he lives in me (Gal. 2:20).
If I want to be rooted and grounded and established in love, I need to learn how to stand still (Eph. 3:17). If I want to become an oak of righteousness, a planting for the Lord’s sake, I must take the time to let my roots grow deep (Is. 61:3). I must rely on God. I must choose to be resolute.
First Corinthians 15:54 reminds us that death is swallowed up in victory. The Apostle Paul asks, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:54). Then, he urges his fellow Christians to stand firm. He says, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you” (1 Cor. 15:58). This is what it looks like to be a soldier for the Lord. This is what it looks like to be a true believer, a faithful disciple, a trustworthy minister. This, too, is hypomonē. In 2 Peter 1:6 it is presented as a noun, but Paul uses it here as a verb. The way we learn and grow in perseverance is by learning to stand firm.
The psalmist David says, “I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (Ps. 16:8).
Imagine what would happen if we all chose these words as our spiritual mantra. I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. We would be immoveable. We would not swerve or stagger. Our eyes would clear, our minds reclaim right focus, and our legs would grow strong and steady. We would reflect the God we stand upon—naturally, vibrantly, brilliantly, authentically.
The more we stand upon the truth that is our God, the more we surrender our lives to him and put our faith in him, the more he makes us look like him. We glorify him. We magnify him. Incredibly, this is the very definition of the word godliness found in 2 Peter 1:5. Clare Drury, in The Oxford Bible Commentary, says godliness (eusebeia) means “the kind of lifestyle … that arises out of a belief in the doctrinal claims one makes.” Godliness is behavior directly linked to Christian belief. It is holy living.
If we try in our own might and our own power to look like Christians and do Christian things, our actions seem hollow and don’t go very far. If we concern ourselves with the breadth of our lives and ministries before we commit ourselves to their depth, then we burn out. But, if we put our faith in Jesus and stand firm upon who he is, offering our hearts back to him over and over again, then our lives will naturally produce godliness. Inward perseverance produces outward godliness.
“We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
As our hearts grow and strengthen, the words of our mouths will change. As our assurance and certainty of who we are in Christ—our identities as the beloved children of God—shift and intensify, our boldness will increase. As we stand firmly upon the Rock, we will become rocks where others may safely lean. Our lives naturally testify of whom we trust. They magnify him and reflect him.
Inward perseverance produces outward godliness.
Your life tells a powerful story. So does mine. Your heart sings a beautiful song; its music calls to those desperately needing an answer set apart from the world. You do not have to cover up what is hard or hide your shaking knees. You do not have to deny the storm. But you must stand firm. Those to whom you minister are watching with bated breath.
I urge you; practice longsuffering—stand firm. Stay strong. Don’t give up. Through it, your life will speak. Your ministry will thrive. May it glorify the Lord.
Bethany Tippin serves as the Worship Arts Pastor at Sheridan Wesleyan Church. She is working on her Master of Divinity at Wesley Seminary.