Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

May 16, 2010


Perseverance is the difference between winning and losing


          In life there are winners and losers. The key virtue of winners is perseverance. Ben Franklin called perseverance “the mother of good luck.” Thomas Carlyle called it “patience concentrated.”

Many synonyms clarify the meaning of perseverance.  Persistence may be the best of these. Others that enlighten us are resolve, tenacity, diligence, doggedness, steadfastness, and grit. These words describe winners.     

Losers have a lack of resolve. They are not tenacious. They do not stay the course. They quit. They give up. They are unwilling to stick to the task at hand. One can never describe them as doggedly determined to get the job done.

Historians agree that perseverance was the key to George Washington’s success in our nation’s revolutionary war. In his book titled 1776 David McCullough says of Washington:

"He was not a brilliant strategist or tactician, not a gifted orator, not an intellectual. At several crucial moments he had shown marked indecisiveness. He had made serious mistakes in judgment. But experience had been his great teacher from boyhood, and in this his greatest test, he learned steadily from experience. Above all, Washington never forgot what was at stake and he never gave up.”

McCullough goes on to say, “Without Washington's leadership and unrelenting perseverance, the revolution almost certainly would have failed.” The historian’s use of the word “unrelenting” is superfluous since it is actually a synonym for perseverance. But his use of it as an adjective serves to hammer home the point that perseverance was the great key to Washington’s leadership.

In the Bible there are many powerful examples of perseverance. Job persevered in faith in God despite his suffering. Nehemiah is another example. He took on a difficult assignment for God, a task he could not accomplish alone. The rebuilding of the wall required the help of many people. Some people refused to help. But Nehemiah refused to give up. He stayed the course.

          Churches suffer when disgruntled people walk away from the fellowship. Those who remain must decide whether to give up or carry on. Recovery usually requires a few people with the spirit of Nehemiah who will, without rancor toward the quitters, remain steadfast in building a new and stronger fellowship.  

It is not difficult to recognize work that needs to be done. We are all good at seeing a problem and saying, “Somebody needs to do something about that.” But usually nothing gets done until a Nehemiah comes along and says, “Let’s tackle this job together.” The most “Somebody” ever does is complain. Significant work usually requires a team effort – and plenty of perseverance.

          Attitude is so important. When we choose to be persistent, we must not become mulish and inflexible. Henry Ward Beecher wisely observed, “The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won’t.”

          As a pastor I was tempted many times to give up when resisted by people who were as “stubborn as a bobtail mule.” But I found the strength to persevere by looking again at the example of men and women who were winners despite their problems. One of those winners was the great hero of my faith, Jesus. He refused to let his enemies deter him from his mission. His willingness to “endure the cross” continually inspires me to hang in there when the going gets tough. 

          One admonition from Saint Paul that has always helped to restore my “stick-to-itiveness” is Galatians 6:9 – “Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Often that has been enough to restore my flagging zeal.

          The virtue of perseverance calls to mind Winston Churchill’s speech to students at Harrow, his old school, in 1941, when he said,  "This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."

          Winners never give up. They persevere. Losers give up. They lack the backbone to hang in there. To be a winner or a loser – it is a choice each of us must make every day. Daily choices determine which crowd we will hang out with when the roll is called up yonder. + + +