If any of you have participated in sports, or even something as simple as casual walking, one thing that we all learn is that endurance cannot be purchased at the store. We can buy good shoes, and sports equipment of all kinds, but the ability to play through an entire game, whether it is a walk in the park, or full contact football, or tennis, golf, soccer, or anything else, can only come from hard work. If we say that there is a price for endurance, then that price can only be paid in sweat. I have friends who, after major surgery, could barely walk across the room without stopping for rest. But they persisted. First it was a walk across the room, then to the end of the driveway, and then walking down the street one telephone pole at a time, until finally they were walking several miles every evening. The same growth in endurance is seen in other sports in much the same way. As strange as it sounds, just as we learn patience by being patient, we learn endurance, we train our bodies to endure, by repeatedly enduring.
And, as difficult as it is for us to live through a global pandemic, we are learning to endure, and we learn endurance by enduring. Granted, compared to the bread lines of the Great Depression, or ration cards and blackout drills of World War Two, the difficulties and hardships that we face may not be as great as those faced by other generations, but like it or not, great or small, these are ours.
But as we stay at home, practice social distancing, and are separated from one another and from loved ones by doing so, as many of us suffer from unemployment caused by the shutdown, or by other byproducts of the pandemic, it is worthwhile for us to remember that the writers of scripture were no strangers to suffering and endurance. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-11, Paul writes:
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you, patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
Let me pull a few bullet points from Paul’s words that apply to our current situation:
- We worship the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort
- God comforts us in all our trouble so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we have received from God.
- We are distressed for the comfort of others. In this situation, we are fighting against our desire to be together so that we might not, unwittingly, pass this virus to others, family, and friends that we care about, and bring harm to them.
- Paul says that they were distressed, and experienced trouble, beyond their ability to endure, but at the limits of their endurance, they learned that they could rely upon God rather than relying upon themselves.
It is the calling of the strong to protect the weak, and today we struggle against the pandemic by denying our desires to protect the weak and the vulnerable among us. But our struggle is not without cost. The cost of our endurance is being paid in sweat, in tears, and in great frustration.
Proverbs 18:14 says, “The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?”
Please don’t allow your spirit to be crushed. Pray that God might give you strength and endurance beyond your own. Pray that we might learn to rely upon God rather than upon ourselves. Encourage one another wherever, and whenever, possible. Call, write, email, text, video chat, Zoom, or whatever it takes to stay connected and to encourage those around you who are struggling. And please, please, don’t feel as if you must stoically struggle alone. If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Call me, call a friend, let someone know that you are struggling so that we can do whatever we can to help.
And finally, because we are still the church, and our mission to do the work of Jesus Christ doesn’t stop for a pandemic, also remember Paul’s words from 2 Thessalonians 3:12-14.
13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.
Hang in there. Endure as long as you can. Lean on God when your endurance ends. Help one another. Help the people around you.
And never tire of doing good.