DePree tells a wonderful story about a man who was superb at running the ninety-five
yard dash. His problem, as you can imagine, is that dropping out before the
last five yards, he never won a race. In a 100-yard race, leading for the first
95 yards is an exercise in sheer uselessness.
significant attention has been focused on the high number of ministers who are
dropping out of the ministry because of burnout. By some estimates as many as
1,600 American pastors a month decide to quit. Heaven knows, there are plenty
of reasons to choose that course; almost all of them legitimate when they have
you in their clutches. I know. I’ve been there. But, here’s good reason to hang
tough: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we
will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
his popularity, the golden-tongued John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople,
once complained, “My work is like that of a man who is trying to clean
a piece of ground into which a muddy stream is constantly flowing.” Maybe
you identify with that. You’re not the first one.
his first years as a missionary to Native Americans, David Brainard recorded
in his diary, “My heart is sunk . . . It seemed to me I should never have
any success among the Indians. My soul was weary of my life; I longed for death,
beyond measure.” After two years he believed his hope of winning even one
convert was about as dark as midnight. The next year, however, he finally witnessed
a spiritual breakthrough among the Indians he was trying to evangelize. A year
and a half later, the number of believers had soared all the way to 150. Soared?
You’re not impressed with my verb choice, are you? One hundred fifty converts
in three years is unimpressive in this era of fast-track mega-churches. Yet,
for David Brainard those numbers were significant enough to keep on keeping
on. In years to come, William Carey, “the father of modern missions,”
often pointed to Brainerd’s persistence as the key to his own determination
to hang in there against tough odds.
Scottish novelist, poet, historian, and biographer, Sir Walter Scott, sometimes
called the inventor and greatest practitioner of the historical novel? It is
not commonly known that in his 56th year he faced his own failing health and
that of his beloved wife. In the midst of that, a publishing venture in which
he invested his life savings collapsed. No wonder he wrote, “I often wish
that I could lie down and sleep without waking.” Those were not the words
of one of his great novels. They were the words of his life. He could have chosen
the way of bankruptcy and perhaps none would have blamed him. Instead, Walter
Scott asked his creditors for time and promised them, “I will fight it
out if I can.” He fought it out and won. He paid each creditor in full
before he died. Sir Walter Scott passed from this world leaving a legacy of
far greater worth than all his novels. It was his steadfast determination and
think of Charles Spurgeon, who suffered from such great bouts of discouragement
and depression that, from time to time, his congregation sent him off to the
sunny south coast of France for a period of recuperation. Next time you feel
like quitting, remember that the great Spurgeon felt that way, too. But, he
said in one of his sermons, “It was by perseverance that the snail reached
thinking of quitting at the ninety-five yard line? Well, I hope you can see
that you’re in good company. These were, after all, no lightweights. But before
you write that resignation letter or preach that final sermon, let me give you
three more thoughts that I hope will make you want to hold a little tighter
to your plough: God is for you! God is with you! He will carry you the last
five yards if you ask Him. After all, it was He who carried you over the first
ninety-five if they were worth running!
Leslie Holmes, pastor of Pittsburgh’s First Presbyterian Church, is a contributing
editor to Preaching. He is the author of a number of books. The latest,
The Creed: Life Principles for Today (Ambassador-Emerald Int’l), examines
the Apostles’ Creed in the light of post-modernism. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.