The Power of Perseverance

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How to Finish Well

I started without really knowing if I had what it takes to finish, a real-life test of the power of perseverance. Training hard for several months and continually pushing myself beyond what I thought I was capable of increased my confidence considerably. However, a nagging voice of doubt whispered to me that I had bitten off more than my middle-aged body could chew.

What I Learned About Perseverance From My First Marathon

It started with a 5K my friend convinced me to run with her. That’s the gateway drug to running. Then when my daughter needed a running buddy for her 5K I signed up. With a few of those under my belt, I wanted to try a 10K. Only after I signed up, did I realize it was a trail race. (What is a trail race, anyway?) It was a series of 3 races and the final one was a 15K, a new record for me.

Quick math informed me it was only 4 more miles to a half-marathon and that sounded much more impressive than 15 kilometers. So I signed up for one of those and ran it. I was seriously hooked now. What’s after a half-marathon? A full marathon! There’s not much between the two. You just have to go from half to full.

That’s the short story of how I found myself on a 26.2-mile course wondering if I would even be able to finish what I had started.

Our life on this earth requires even more perseverance if we want to finish our race well. I have 3 ways to help you do just that. Do not get discouraged, become distracted, or accept defeat. Now let’s dig into those 3 keys to the power of perseverance a little deeper.

Do Not Get Discouraged

So let's not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't give up.
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I had never run 26.2 miles before and had no idea how to get it done but I had 3 months to train and figure it out. A running website had a printable training schedule, so I just followed that. Every Saturday on my long run day, I ran a little further than I’d ever gone before. I pushed my ability to persevere a little harder, slowly building my running resilience.

The last two weeks before the race are called tapering. I was only supposed to do short, light, 2-mile runs a couple of times a week. The purpose was to rest my legs for the big event, but it really messed with my mind. Suddenly, the confidence boost of running longer each week evaporated and I started to psych myself out, doubting that I could even run 26.2 miles. The furthest I had ever run in training was 21 miles (5.2 miles short) and that run/walk was UGLY.

Desperate to regain a hold on my shaky confidence, I scoured the internet and pumped my running friends for race-day advice. I heard from 2 separate sources that a marathon is “just a 10K with a 20-mile warmup”. That sounded doable. I tucked the tidbit away for later.

A marathon is just a 10K with a 20-mile warm-up >> marathon motivation
Marathon motivation!

The first half of the marathon was great. I had been training throughout the heat of the summer, but the morning of the race was a refreshing 70-degree day. The sun was cheerful but not sweltering. As I ran on fresh legs, I finally embraced the wisdom of the tapering period. Blissfully ignorant about the unforeseen challenge ahead of me, I felt great!

What I learned about the power of perseverance from my first marathon
Halfway through my first marathon, I was feeling pretty good. The worst was yet to come.

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Mindset Matters

But by mile 14, my body complained loudly even though my race was only half done! Knowing I couldn’t give up yet, I shifted my focus from being only halfway to thinking about the 10K. “I just have 6 miles left of my warm-up,” I reassured myself. “I can do 6 miles. That’s just one lap around the flight line.” My training track was the 6ish-mile loop around the Air Force base where we were stationed at the time.

At mile 15, I thought, “Just 5 more miles to the starting line.” I repeated this same internal pep talk for miles 15, 17, 18, and 19. Counting down to the “starting line” was very encouraging to me when my body was beyond tired but my brain needed to keep it moving.

Finally, I reached mile 20 and I was completely blown away to discover that I wasn’t dead yet! In fact, I was still standing upright and running! I had not walked at all during the race except to drink water and that’s only because the coordination necessary to drink and run simultaneously eludes me.

It was like a starting gun went off in my head as I started my 10K, realizing I had enough gas in the tank for 6.2 more miles. Instead of hitting the wall, I got a second wind. That’s the power of perseverance at work!

It was the first time I actually believed I could finish a marathon.

Don’t Lose Heart!

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 2 Corinthians 4:36
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Cool story but how do we apply that to daily life?

When we allow ourselves to get discouraged, we run the risk of losing heart and giving up. Here are some important truths to remember about the power of perseverance in Christ.

  • Life can be totally falling apart on the outside, but the spirit inside us is renewed daily by God’s grace.  His mercies are new every morning (Lam 3:22-24).
  • His spirit in us is greater than anything in the world around us (1 John 4:4).  Take heart!  He has already overcome all that (John 16:33). 
  • I know it doesn’t always seem like it, but our afflictions are light and transient compared to Eternity.  Focus on the unseen eternal rather than the visible temporal (2 Cor 4:17-18).
  • Don’t be surprised by difficulty or caught off guard when life veers off course (1 Peter 4:12). Jesus told us to expect obstacles and setbacks (John 16:33).
  • Consider the joy in the midst of the struggle.  When our faith is tested and stretched and challenged, our perseverance muscles are developed.  The result is a faith that is mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).
  • Look how far you’ve come more than you lament how far you have left to go. Use the “20-mile warm-up” analogy to break up whatever marathon you’re on into manageable chunks (Zechariah 4:10).
  • Don’t get tired of doing the right thing, even if it doesn’t appear to be working. God will make your efforts fruitful at just the right time (Gal 6:9). It’s so tempting sometimes to give up because we feel like our efforts are unnoticed and unappreciated.  It’s easy to wonder if we can really make a difference at all. God assures us that our work is not in vain (1 Cor 15:58).  A harvest is coming, but it will be on His time table—not ours.  Don’t quit too soon.

Don’t Become Distracted

Intentionally keeping ourselves encouraged is necessary to harness the power of perseverance, but so is staying on track. Keeping to the race marked out for us and not running after every shiny object requires a lot of self-discipline. Often in life, we look like Dug here. We try to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, but we wind up chasing every squirrel that crosses our path (especially, the ones that hide in our phones!)

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The marathon I happened to pick was ideal for a first marathon race. It was a local race that was well run. There were more volunteers than runners! So many people to cheer us on and pass out water. It’s easier to run when there are a lot of people supporting you and cheering you on. I had run all my training runs alone.

The town made quite an event of the race with schools, neighborhoods, churches, and various groups sponsoring each mile. It created a carnival atmosphere with live bands, cookouts, costumes, and balloons.

I was entertained and distracted from the pain of running not only by the multitude of action and excitement going on around me, but even more so by the guy running ahead of me.

He was an older man who had run many marathons over the years. His desire was to have a good time, not break any records. Unlike me, he was relaxed because he knew he could finish the race. So he spent more time socializing than running. He kept stopping to chat with people, shake hands, or enjoy an extra snack.

The reason I know about his past running history is because he also stopped by a couple of times during the race to chat with me. (There should be separate lanes for extroverts and introverts in races.) I couldn’t help but wonder if he would make it to the finish line with that many side detours.

Easy Street is a Dead End

Power of Perseverance
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Humans often derail their purpose when they focus more on peripheral issues than the eternal goal God set in front of them.

Again, The Message translation of the Bible explains it well:

“Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal. There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites. But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven!” (Phil 3:17-20)

Keep in mind that everyone around you is not running the same race God gave you. They may not be running for the same reasons or with the same goal. Focus on your goal, your desired outcome, and let others focus on their race.

Frequently, we know other people in our lives who have their goals for our lives. It’s okay to reject their goals for you and claim your own. It is your life after all. God will hold you, not them, accountable for what you did with what he entrusted to you (Matthew 25:14–30 and Luke 19:11–27).

So ask God, not other people, what race he wants you to run. People can guess. They can want you to choose a certain path because it serves them. But God knows the best way for you to go. Seek his will.

Get off Easy Street and fix your eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). Then run with excellence each day. Be consistent and don’t wander off, distracted by things that perish (1 Peter 1:4).

As you will see next, choosing your running partners in life carefully is critical to maintaining your power of perseverance. Run with those who run and you are more likely to succeed.

Don’t Accept Defeat

With just about 4 more miles left in the race, I had overcome discouragement and bypassed distraction but the biggest attack on my perseverance, defeat, was closing in fast on me.

Without warning, a fellow runner came up behind me and pulled up right next to me. He startled me. At first, I wondered what my husband was doing this far back in the race. He’s a much faster runner than I am and had finished his marathon long before then. My husband was the only person I could imagine running that close to me.

But when I turned to glance the runner next to me, I realized he was a complete stranger.

So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! -Hebrews 10:35 (The power of perseverance!)
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I was very focused on trying to finish well, so I didn’t say anything but his presence did make me uncomfortable. The shirtless stranger spoke first, “So, do you just want to walk for a bit?”

I couldn’t believe my ears! Did he really just say that to me? At, mile 23 of a marathon, this guy ran up to someone he’d never met before and tried to make her stop running! Who does that???

In my head, an inner voice said resolutely, “Get behind me, Satan.” (Mt 6:23) But my external self was more polite. “No thanks. I would have a hard time running again if I let up now”, I replied with a nervous, half-hearted laugh to soften the blow of my rejection.

“But you can walk if you want.” I really hoped he would accept that offer so I could leave him behind. He didn’t.

Enemies can persevere too.

Undeterred, he kept pace with me. After another mile had passed, I could tell by his labored breathing that he was running on pride alone. He confessed to not training very seriously for the race. I had worked hard for months and resented his effort to drag me down to his level.

He wanted to make me stop, but when I wouldn’t, he doggedly hung on. I tried to ignore him. He wanted to keep the conversation going.

“You know, we could probably walk the rest of the way and still get under a 5-hour finish time.” (Notice he used the word “we” as if I agreed to our partnership. I didn’t.)

However, by this time, that was a very tempting proposition. Every fiber of my body ached from four and a half hours of non-stop pounding. I was beyond tired. Though I didn’t know how my legs were still moving forward at this point, I was certain that if they stopped I would not be able to restart them.

Considering my original goal was to finish the race before they closed the course 7 hours after the start time and it was just a few miles ago that I realized I could finish at all, a sub-5-hour finish time sounded really good to me. This guy was assuring me that I could stop running and still reach my stretch goal. Part of me wanted to believe him.

Thankfully, something else in me knew how hard I had worked to get this far and wouldn’t let me give up. Again, I reiterated that he was free to walk any time he wanted but I was going to keep running the race set before me until I crossed the finish line.

Be more stubborn than your enemy.

First of all, let me be clear. Before any of what I’m about to say will make sense, you need to identify your real enemy. The person running next to you or the one who makes your life difficult is not your enemy. You only have one enemy, but he is sneaky and rarely attacks in a way where it’s obvious who’s actually behind all the trouble.

If you are serious about winning at life and living undefeated, then you need to develop a holy stubbornness. No matter comes against you, don’t you dare let the devil win. EVER.

The power of perseverance means that you are unwilling to back down because you know your life’s purpose is a God-given mission.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6, ESV

Rejoice! We conquer!

run with perseverance the race marked out by God for you
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As we neared the end of the racecourse, I could hear the crowds cheering at the finish line. I really wanted to be at that finish line! I was ready to be done. Though exhausted and sore, I knew I still had a little left to give. I had no such confidence in my inescapable “running partner”.

Normally, I’m not a super-competitive person, but I can be provoked and this guy had pushed that button. My running goal is always to beat the girl I was yesterday. Now a new goal rose to the surface. I really wanted to beat this man who appointed himself as my uninvited coach of temptation and discouragement.

My desire to beat him to the finish line suddenly became a confidence that I had the power to actually pull it off. As soon as we rounded the final corner, I dumped every last bit of fuel I had into my legs. I pushed myself as hard as I possibly could, knowing I could pass out after I crossed the finish line, if necessary, into the arms of my waiting husband.

When I pulled ahead of him, I felt like I was flying. Looking back on the video and still pictures of me at the finish line (see below), however, it’s clear that I was a phenomenal source of raw power and drive only in my mind. No matter. My mental state did enough to allow my body to cross the finish line before him.

As my husband was filming and cheering, he was slightly irritated at some runner yelling a desperate cry of frustration. He stopped filming to avoid capturing any more of the annoying noise. Of course, I immensely enjoyed telling my husband why the man behind me was yelling. 🙂

Hard-won victory is deliciously sweet. One can rarely relish a hard-won victory without the power of perseverance.

“Nike! Nike! Nenikekiam!”
“Victory! Victory! Rejoice, we conquer!”

final words of pheidippieds, the Athenian messenger who ran the first marathon and then immediately died of exhaustion
“Nike! Nike! Nenikekiam!”
Not the majestic finish photo I had hoped for, but I will take the win regardless of my appearance and deficient form.

I did my best to describe the finish line scene to you but if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth so much more. This 13-second clip of my marathon finish is all that remains in my life of the man who tried to make me quit. Turn the volume up and have a listen for yourself. Hear the contrasting voices of victory and defeat.

The best part of this short video is not my exhausted run to the finish line. It’s the contrast between the enthusiastic encouragement of my husband and the cry of defeat from my opponent. Learn to pick these voices out of the crowd in your life and run your race well!

I can’t help but chuckle every time I hear that!

The victory I almost lost

Persevere to receive the promise
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My final time was 4 hours and 53 minutes. I was shocked that I had exceeded my goal and run far better than I thought I was possible. Equally, I was sobered by the fact that if I had listened to the sweet-sounding lie that I could walk and still finish in under 5 hours, I would have regretted that for the rest of my life.

I cannot imagine what motivated my self-appointed “coach” to talk to me like that, but I do know this:

Whether intentional or not, he tried to steal my victory.

He attempted to negate months of my hard work and training in exchange for a couple of miles of walking.

This experience is a perfect metaphor for what our real enemy tries to do to us every day. He whispers smooth and tempting lies to us, urging us that we can take the easy road and everything will still work out just fine.

But God emboldens us with encouragement to run with perseverance the race he has already marked out for us (Heb 12:1) and to not give up so that we can receive the prize he has promised (Heb 10:36, Gal 6:9).

Which voice are you listening to?

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.  Hebrews 10:36

What encourages you to persevere in your purpose even when it’s hard to keep going?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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