Stick At It
Stick At It
Maryam and Marziyeh were arrested in Iran in 2009. Their crime: being Christians. They were blindfolded, interrogated and became ill during their time in prison. They were taken to court. Mr Haddad, the prosecuting lawyer, asked the two women if they were Christians. ‘We love Jesus,’ they replied. He repeated his question and they responded, ‘Yes, we are Christians.’
Mr Haddad asked whether they regretted becoming Christians, to which they replied, ‘We have no regrets.’ Then he stated emphatically, ‘You should renounce your faith verbally and in written form.’ They stood firm and replied, ‘We will not deny our faith.’
When Mr Haddad told the women to return to prison to think about their options and come back to him when they were ready (to comply), Maryam and Marziyeh responded, ‘We have already done our thinking.’
The author of Hebrews writes to Christians who are the subject of persecution: ‘You stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering’ (Hebrews 10:32) – as Maryam and Marziyeh did before their prosecutors. (Thank God they have been released – we interviewed them as part of the Alpha Film Series: https://alpha.org/watch/alpha-film-series/
The will to persevere is often the difference between success and failure. This is true of learning a new skill or sport, or achieving success at work. As has been said, ‘Observe the postage stamp; its usefulness depends on the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there.’ ‘Stickability’ is also a key to the Christian life. If you want to learn to read the Bible, pray, resist evil or whatever else, learn to persevere. The writer of Hebrews encourages his readers not to be ‘quitters’ but ‘to stick it out’ (vv.34–39, MSG).
Look to God for helpPsalm 123:1-4
‘I look to you... God, look up to you for help’ (v.1, MSG). Like the psalmist, wait patiently for God to help. Stick at it in the face of opposition: ‘We have endured much contempt. We have endured much ridicule from the proud, much contempt from the arrogant’ (vv.3b–4).
His response to this opposition is to turn his focus on to God. He writes, ‘I lift my eyes to you… our eyes look to the Lord our God’ (vv.1–2). This focus is built upon a recognition of who God is – the one ‘whose throne is in heaven’ (v.1) – and also on his relationship with God.
God is ‘the Lord our God’. Look to him to help you: ‘like servants alert to their master’s commands, like a maiden attending her lady, we’re watching and waiting, holding our breath, awaiting your word of mercy’ (v.2–3, MSG).
Lord, whatever happens, help me to endure, persevere and keep my eyes fixed on you.
Stand your groundHebrews 10:19-39
Millions of Christians around the world today are still being persecuted for their faith. The letter of Hebrews is written to Christians who were the subject of persecution (possibly at the hands of Nero in Rome). One of the main purposes of the book is to encourage the readers to persevere. The writer has finished his doctrinal exposition. He now begins a prolonged call to perseverance. Here he gives reasons, incentives and encouragements to stick at it.
You can be confident
Persevere because of what Christ did and does for you. You have a new freedom, boldness and confidence. You are welcomed into God’s presence through the sacrifice of Jesus: You ‘can now – without hesitation – walk right up to God into “the Holy Place”. Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice’ (vv.19–20, MSG).
You are not on your own
We are to persevere because we have one another to help. As the writer urges us to ‘hold unswervingly to the hope that we profess’ (v.23), he does so in the context of community. Gather together often: ‘consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another’ (vv.24–25).
This really matters
He warns against deliberately continuing to sin (v.26). This means something like sinning ‘defiantly’. He warns of ‘a mighty fierce judgment... if you turn on God’s Son, spit on the sacrifice that made you whole... God has warned us that he’ll hold us to account and make us pay... Nobody’s getting by with anything’ (vv.26–31, MSG).
This is often applied to people outside of the church but actually it was written in the context of the Lord judging his own people. This is not something his readers have fallen into. He reminds them of the time when ‘you stood your ground’ (v.32).
The rewards are great
He encourages them to ‘Remember those early days when you first saw the light? Those were the hard times! Kicked around in public, targets of every kind of abuse – some days it was you, other days your friends. If some friends went to prison, you stuck by them. If some enemies broke in and seized your goods, you let them go with a smile, knowing that they couldn’t touch your real treasure’ (vv.32–34, MSG).
Life is long and life is short. On the one hand, life is long. In the course of a lifetime there will be tests, trials and difficulties that require stickability: patience, endurance and perseverance: ‘Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised’ (v.36, NLT).
On the other hand, life is short. In a short time, we will either have died or Jesus will have returned:
‘For in just a little while,
the Coming One will come and not delay’ (v.37, NLT).
The writer has full confidence that his readers will persevere: ‘But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved’ (v.39).
Lord, help me to persevere and to encourage others towards love and good deeds as we meet together.
Confront evilEzekiel 20:45-22:22
Personally, I find that confrontation is never easy, but it is sometimes necessary. Ezekiel is told to confront evil (22:2).
He was called to preach and prophesy (20:46). His was not an easy task. His message was a difficult one. It was counter-cultural. Yet he persevered. He did not give up. He stuck at it. He kept on preaching. The word of the Lord came to him time and time again and he faithfully proclaimed it.
God knew that it was not easy. He encouraged Ezekiel, ‘set your face’ (20:46; 21:2): ‘Set your face against Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuary. Prophesy against the land of Israel and say to her: “This is what the Lord says: I am against you”’ (vv.2–3). It must have been really hard.
The sins that he speaks against are as relevant to us as they were to the people of Israel: treating parents with contempt, ill-treatment of the poor and marginalised (including immigrants, widows, and orphans), sexual abuse, incest, rape, bribery, greed and extortion (22:7–12).
They have forgotten God: ‘And you have forgotten me, declares the Sovereign Lord’ (v.12). Those of us who live in the West live in a society that is in danger of forgetting God. As we look around us at a world where there is so much wrong, it can be easy to think that God must have forgotten us. Paradoxically though, passages of judgment like this one actually show us how much God cares for us. God cares passionately about injustice and suffering – that is why he is so angry with those who inflict them on others, and why he refuses to ignore those who suffer.
There is a spiritual dimension to all this too. Our concern isn’t just to oppose injustice, but also to turn people back to God. The wonderful message of the second half of Ezekiel (and indeed of the whole Bible) is that this judgment is not the last word. God will also act in grace, to redeem and save his people.
It is this passionate concern of God for the poor, the downtrodden and the lost that inspired Ezekiel, and that has inspired Christians down the centuries. General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, modelled remarkable stickability. He said, ‘While women weep as they do now, I’ll fight; while little children go hungry as they do now, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, I’ll fight; while there is a poor lost girl upon the street, I’ll fight; while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight – I’ll fight to the very end.’
Lord, help me to set my face with determination not to be put off by opposition, contempt and ridicule. Help me to stick at it; confronting evil and proclaiming the good news about Jesus to the very end.
I can’t help thinking about the terrible suffering in Syria, Yemen and other places where the innocent are being slaughtered, where hospitals and aid workers are being targeted, and the Christians are being persecuted and killed. How much harder it is to hold on to hope when the churches and friends are being attacked and killed.
Praying may not seem much but it does say it is ‘powerful and effective’, and we must take every opportunity of the freedom we have to bring about the kingdom of God.
Verse of the Day
‘… let us draw near to God’ (Hebrews 10:22).
Josh Billings, cited in The Salt Lake Herald, 17 May 1895, Untitled filler item, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Salt Lake City, Utah, via Quote Investigator: https://quoteinvestigator.com/2017/12/22/postage/
William Booth, Cyril Barnes (Ed), The Founder Speaks Again, (Salvation Army, 1960)
Maryam Rostampour & Marziyeh Amirizadeh with John Perry (Ed), Captive in Iran, (Tydale, 2014)
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.