Last night after we finished up with our chores for the day, Holly and I enjoyed an evening in with popcorn and a movie. We watched Run Fatboy Run, a British romantic comedy about a man, Dennis, who left his pregnant bride Libby at the altar. As the movie progresses, we see that the man, Dennis, is basically a goof-off loser who does stupid thinks like scratching his private parts while on the job as a retail store security guard and teaching his son to play practical jokes on joggers at the park. Dennis never follows through on commitments and seems to be going nowhere in life.
This all changes when he meets Whit, the man that Libby has been dating. Whit is a successful businessman who is fit and kind and overall seems to have his life together. Whit is preparing to run in a charity marathon and Dennis, though he is terribly out of shape and smokes regularly, decides to run the marathon as well to prove that he can change and finish something.
WARNING: Plot Spoiler Ahead!
Dennis works hard to train for the marathon and actually seems to get into reasonable shape. His friend and his landlord help him train by encouraging him and occasionally smacking him with a metal spatula. Shortly before the race, Whit and Libby get engaged, albeit with some apparent hesitation from Libby. Dennis is devastated and nearly gives up on the race. He has a crucial conversation with his son in which he explains the importance of not running from challenges but pushing through and sticking with it even when the situation is really hard. At the end of the conversation, Dennis' son asks him, "Is that what you do, Daddy?" Dennis has an Aha! moment and determines that he will run the marathon, not to win Libby back but for himself, to finally finish something.
The film wraps up as any good romantic comedy should: The day of the race, Dennis overcomes long odd and extreme adversity to run and complete the marathon, defeating his rival Whit. Whit shows his true stripes and turns out to be a coward and an arrogant jerk. Libby is impressed by Dennis' resolve and accepts a dinner date with him. Everything works out in the end. (See a somewhat more complete synopsis over at Wikipedia.)
END PLOT SPOILER
The moral to the story of Run Fatboy Run was simple: If you don't persevere, you get nowhere. If you persevere, you might beat your rival and get the girl, and at the very least you will earn your own self-respect.
This is a good moral, one which all of us ought to take to heart. Jesus says things like "he who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Mat 24:13, Mrk 13:13) or "by standing firm you will gain life" (Lk 21:19). But how does perseverance fit with the gospel? Does this idea of sticking with goals and tasks motivate me to rely more upon myself and my own willpower? Or does it move me to a greater appreciation of my own weakness and the surpassing greatness of Christ, leading me to cast myself more upon him?
Fortunately, Scripture teaches that my perseverance ultimately depends upon God rather than on me. "He [Jesus Christ] will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful." (1 Cor 1:8-9) "Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come." (2 Cor 1:21-22)
Scripture also teaches that the means of perseverance is to dwell in Christ and continually look to him. "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." (Heb 12:2-3, see also John 15:1-8)
From that, I can see that perseverance with respect to standing firm in the faith is dependent on and focused on the Lord. Well and good and certainly worth remembering! But what about perseverance in other tasks? Like running a marathon or pursuing a relationship? Life isn't a romantic comedy, and we have no guarantee of success. How can I be focused on the gospel even as I pursue goals that I may or may not reach no matter how hard I work?
Let me offer a few suggestions for applying the gospel to day-to-day perseverance:
- Remember that God is sovereign (Jam 4:13-17) and trust in his grace and his goodness. In light of that, you don't need to fear failure.
- Remember that you are created in God's image (Gen 1:26). You were made to exercise creative ability and get things done.
- Remember that the world is fallen and getting things done takes hard work and diligence. (Gen 3:17)
- Remember that success will merit you no more favor with God and that failure will take no favor away. If you are in Christ, his full and complete obedience is already yours by faith, and you can neither add to it nor take away from it.
I'm sure there are probably more and better approaches as well, but that should give a start. The comment box is open!