What image does the word ‘endurance’ conjure up for you? ‘Endurance’ was the name of the ship that took Ernest Shackleton and his crew to Antarctica. The ship, however, got stuck in the ice. Sealed in and unable to move, the ship sank on 21 November 1915. It was discovered last year, 3008 metres down on the seabed. You might recall that all the crew escaped safely, sailing a small boat across mountainous seas to the Falkland Islands. The ship perhaps didn’t really live up to its name, but the crew certainly seemed to have done!
For you, the word might bring some other image to mind. Climbing a big mountain? Grinning and bearing something nasty? Running a marathon? Sitting through a long and boring sermon!
St Paul was someone who knew what it was to endure. Recently, I’ve learned something new about him. In the story of his conversion, a Christian in Damascus called Ananias is told by God to go and pray for Paul. Ananias is naturally reluctant, after all, Paul was well known for persecuting Christians. God says to Ananias, ‘I will show Paul how much he must suffer in my name.’ How about that! Not how many people Paul would win for Jesus; not how many churches he would plant; not how he would speak about Jesus in front of kings and rulers. No! It was how he would suffer.
Paul knew the full spectrum of mental and physical hardships, certainly more than I’ve ever known or will know. You too may have experienced a whole range of challenges and hardships in life. Perhaps you are in the middle of a difficult time right now. Or perhaps life for you resembles a bed of roses. But we know, as human beings, that challenges come our way.
Paul seemed to know what it was to endure.
In Philippians 3:8 Paul talks about the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. He knew about Jesus – after all, he’d been persecuting Christians for some time. Now he knows Jesus personally; he calls Jesus my Lord. He’s encountered the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus and everything else has changed.
Paul is not content to let his relationship with Jesus stay static. He tells the Christians at Philippi that he wants to know the power of Jesus’ resurrection. Paul knew that the resurrection of Jesus had set the future in motion. That Jesus was the first fruits of that great and glorious day when we will resurrected. That is a glorious future to look forward to, but it also invades the present, bringing joy and light to life’s journey.
So far I’m with Paul. But then he goes on to say not only do I want to know the power of Jesus’ resurrection he also wants to participate in Jesus’ sufferings. Paul’s no masochist though. But he did recognise that for Jesus, the path to resurrection and glory lay through the pain of rejection and crucifixion. And Paul knew that this was in some way a paradigm for all Christians. If we want to model our lives on Jesus, we model it on one who walked the way of the cross.
As Bonhoeffer, held in a Nazi Prison said,
‘To endure the cross is not tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ.’
I wonder if it was this realisation that enabled Paul to say that whatever his circumstances, he had learned the secret of living in every situation, knowing the presence and encouragement and strength of his risen King.
Because of this, Paul could say to the young church in Philippi, ‘Don’t worry; don’t be anxious. For the God who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion on the day Jesus returns’. So press on! Oh and by the way, live joyfully! Live joyfully in surrender to the King of Kings.