By: Brian Harris
What’s the greatest predictor of future success?
While experts express a range of views, their answers usually include words like resilience, tenacity and perseverance. Those who persevere, reap the reward. Naturally there are limits to this. If you persist in doing the wrong thing, you will be persistently wrong. What we persevere at matters, and checking we are on the right journey is important.
There is an interesting aside in Luke 8:15, as Jesus wraps up his parable of the sower. It’s probably a familiar story, but lest its not in your repertoire, Jesus speaks about a farmer who scatters seeds around his field, not being too fussed that some falls on rocky or thorny soil, and some on the pathway. Time shows which the most fertile soil is, and some turns out to be very productive. Jesus’ summary is “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” Notice that having a noble and good heart, and hearing and retaining the word, were not enough on their own. It was “by persevering” that these good qualities became fruitful. In short, even “good soil” needs your consistent work and effort.
It’s one thing to say, “persevere”, another to identify the reasons we are likely to give up.
Persistence is decimated by disappointment, failure, and ongoing discouragement. It can also be compromised by flashy cheap alternatives. You don’t need to persevere if success is guaranteed from day 1 and comes with the first attempt. Sometimes the temptation to give up and try an easier option feels overwhelming. We might abandon what we most deeply desire for a simpler path.
The assumption that persistence is needed reminds us that we shouldn’t expect every route to be easy or for everything to come right the first time around.
I’m reminded of the soldier who when the war ended said that he had never prayed for courage. When asked why, he replied, “Because the only way I would have know if my prayer was answered would be if I had shown courage, and I never wanted to be in a position to have to demonstrate courage.”
I guess its much the same with persistence. The only way we know if we are persistent is if we persist… and we need to persist when persistence is needed… which is when things take longer than we expected and discouragements are along the path.
I’ve been speaking as though persistence and perseverance are the same thing. Some would say there is a difference. Persistence is keeping on doing something. Perseverance is keeping on despite painful circumstances. You need to persist in going to work if you want to be paid – but hopefully you love your work so persistently turning up is no great struggle. However, you have persevered if you turn up despite difficult colleagues, unfair practices and the many odds being stacked against you. A persistent person might be stopped by the first serious obstacle. They were persistent until it became difficult. By contrast, perseverance sees you through to the other side.
That nuance is worth thinking about. Has your persistence matured into perseverance? For to quote Jesus again, it is “by persevering” that we get to produce a good harvest. It is not unusual to face discouragements and obstacles. Why not persist – and then let your persistence morph into perseverance – and who knows, perhaps in time you will be rewarded. For as Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”