Out of the Storm
By Jill Briscoe
You have heard of Job's perseverance. ~ James 5:11
Years ago there was a little boy in a boarding school in Chefoo, China. His parents were far away; they were missionaries in the interior of that vast nation. One day war broke out between the Japanese and Chinese, and the Chefoo school was taken by the enemy. All the boys – hundreds of them – were moved out of the school compound and into a Presbyterian compound, which was much larger. Here, along with other expatriates, businessmen, and sundry foreigners, the boys, under the care of their missionary teachers (also captives), tried to normalize their lives.
Far away, separated by the wild terror of the ongoing war between China and Japan, the mother of that boy heard what had happened. Suddenly she found herself in a “Job” situation. She also found herself in God’s waiting room. She wanted to stop all she was doing and pray. She was tempted to quit her work of guiding a small group of believers and just hammer on heaven’s doors for help. Instead, she continued fulfilling her responsibilities. In her words, the Lord said to her, “You look after the things that are precious to me, and I’ll look after the things that are precious to you!” Able to wait on the Lord and not on the answers to her agonized prayers for her children, she labored on. She persisted. God did take care of what was precious to her; little J. Hudson Taylor III survived his imprisonment and lived out many years of ministry in China.
The pain of waiting gives us a marvelous chance to grow some flowers of persistence in our lives. This is because waiting for the pain to pass gives us an opportunity to get into some spiritual action. But people don’t persist these days – or so it seems to me. It takes so little to change their minds.
I have found it frustrating, for example, to set up a meeting to organize an event or do some practical ministry of service. Perhaps we need to bag groceries for the poor, baby-sit in the church nursery, or stuff envelopes for a church mailing. Too often I find that only half (and sometimes not even half) the people who sign up to help show up! And I really think its’s getting worse.
On one occasion, a lady bought craft materials for twelve women in her church. They were to make one item for themselves and one to sell for missions. She went to all the trouble of buying and arranging the material, readying her house, and preparing refreshments for all the women who had signed up saying they would come, only to have not one of them come. As you can imagine, she was not a little discouraged. So she called each person to find out why they hadn’t come. The excuses were exceedingly weak, to say the least! The most frequent one was, “Oh, I changed my mind.” People don’t show up anymore!
If we can’t follow through on our commitment to a craft class for missions, I wonder if we’ll be able to follow through when the going really gets difficult. The book of James tells us that Job’s perseverance became legendary. It is an example, says the apostle, to all of us. Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy (Jas. 5:10-11).
Persistence doesn’t involve merely what we do but our very character. A person who has built this trait into his or her life will likely follow through when the hard times come. In looking at Job’s reflections on his own life, we see patterns of persistence that made it possible for him to weather the storms.
Persistence That Pays Off
I am writing this chapter in Brasilia, in the heart of the great nation of Brazil. We have come at the invitation of Wycliffe Bible Translators to minister at their missions conference. Some of these people have spent forty years living with Indians in the vast Amazon rain forest or in other areas, trying to learn the various and difficult tribal languages and then, having learned them, translate the New Testament so that the people can have the Word of God in their heart language. The Bible has been translated into Portuguese, but many of these extremely primitive people don’t know Portuguese. This job takes the patience of Job. Add to that a cool reception to the whole project by government officials and many of the Indians themselves, and you can guess what kind of dogged determination it takes to keep on keeping on!
Al, a veteran long-term missionary, told me many stories of the discouragement awaiting someone who goes uninvited to one of these groups and begins from scratch, trying to understand sounds and words that no one from the outside world has ever heard or written down. “They didn’t want my wife and me to stay,” he told me. “Many nights they would burn the boards on the roof of our makeshift house. We would replace them. They threatened our lives,” he said. They loved on. Al would follow the Indians to the fields day after day with his tape recorder, recording the sounds of this strange tongue, because the Indians refused to assist or become language helpers. The couple persevered, even when the Indians told Al they didn’t want their language written down.
One night Al was sleeping in a donkey barn – the only place they would let him stay. He was exceedingly discouraged. “Do you want me to stay, Lord? What am I doing here?” he asked. Maybe it was the fact that he was sleeping in a donkey barn that brought the passage to mind, but he remembered the story in the Gospels about Jesus sending for a donkey so that he could ride it into Jerusalem. Well, Al thought, even though I feel like an ass, I guess God needs me to carry Jesus to these people just like the donkey carried Jesus into Jerusalem—a city that turned against Him. So he and his wife persisted. They stayed and prayed and loved and listened to the strange sounds. Today a ministry that people rejected has been received, and the New Testament has been written in their heart language.
We give up far too easily when people do not receive our message of life. Like many of us, Job found out that home is so often the last place that will receive a message from us about the Lord. But God would have us endure to the end. He would have us show up and keep it up till He says to our spirit, “That’s enough, well done, good and faithful servant!” Job was a servant leader and it takes a lot of perseverance to “serve one another in love” (Gal. 5:13).
Many years ago I was teaching a women’s Bible study. I had painstakingly visited all the houses around our own, inviting the older women who were my neighbors to come to a Bible study at our house. After weeks of visiting, three people showed up. They were all well into their seventies. It was hard going. It took so much time and energy to prepare a lesson, get a babysitter so I could go and pick up the women, have the study, and serve them refreshments, and then get a babysitter so I could take them all home!
One day one of the women got sick, and one quit coming. That left me with one! It was hard to persist, to patiently wait it out, to work as hard preparing my lesson for one as I would have worked for a hundred. But I knew God was expecting me to be faithful with the one woman, not only for her sake (she eventually came to Christ), but also for mine. We need opportunities to practice patience. If we get ourselves out of all the irritating, discouraging situations to relieve tension and stress, how will we ever grow endurance? I am so glad I persisted, even though, like Job, my stomach would often churn inside, especially when I would go to all that trouble, and my one woman was sick and hadn’t bothered to let me know! One day God began to bring me other women in the neighborhood, and I was soon surrounded with a crowd to teach – just as Job was in chapter 42 at the end of his story.
Take a minute and think about the particular situation that is giving you an opportunity to practice patience. Try to hunker down for the long haul and wait it out with dogged determination if you can. Then, like Job, you may become an example and encouragement to others who are in trying situations too. James 5:11 says, “As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.” If we learn to persevere, others will point to our example and be helped. They will hear about our endurance and take heart.
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