Developing Endurance in Difficulties
By Calvin Landrus
As a teenager, one of my favorite shows was a REAL reality show from the 1970’s called “Survival of the Fittest.” It was a broadcast of athletes from all disciplines doing commando-style, adventure-racing stunts before there was even adventure racing. One of my favorite episodes is when the competitors ran down the steep flanks of Hells Canyon to the Snake River. There was as much tumbling as there was running during the three-thousand foot descent.
On a personal level this morphed into doing “Survival of the Stupidest” feats like running in a snow storm on city streets in the dark or doing 500 push-ups in a day. The twisted sense of challenge spawned an idea for a fundraiser called “Climb-up so Kids can Grow-UP” which benefits an organization that buys medicine for children with AIDS in Africa. My self-imposed assignment was to climb 30 pitches in one day at my home crag, Smith Rock of Central Oregon. As a reference for non-climbers, climbing five to seven pitches is a full day.
The big day got off to an inauspicious start! Approaching the crag from my campsite before dawn, there was just enough light to make my way. Apparently, it wasn’t enough light because lying on my pathway was a board in the field. I felt a more direct and faster line was to step off the board. Big mistake! Suddenly, my leg plunged into the cold water of an irrigation canal, causing me to lose my balance ending up fully-in the canal, thigh-high. I sloshed my way to the start of my “survival” day.
Not to burden any one person too much with my full day of misery, I arranged for three different climbing partners. Mostly, my partners and I took turns in leading the pitches. Leading is the more dangerous part because the leader goes first and takes the rope to the top. Any slip off the rock leads to a fall. My first partner, Ryan and I were cruising along when on our fifth climb, when he commented that a block he had just pulled on was loose. But he moved past anyway and when he weighted the block with his foot, the block blew off. Now, as his belayer, I was properly positioned beneath him. When he screamed "falling," I looked up saw the block heading my way. While keeping Ryan safe on belay, I desperately jumped out the way shortly before the large block landed where I had just been standing. This “survival” day had just gotten a little bit more serious.
My second partner, Adam, joined me about 10:30 am and we headed for the shade during the warmest part of the day. He’s a strong climber, so on the fourteenth pitch of the day, I attempted the hardest climb I would do that day. It was going well, but the pump overcame my endurance and I soon found myself falling and hanging on the rope. I got back on the rock and finished the pitch but I wasn’t sure if it should count towards my thirty? Climbers usually say they have climbed a pitch if they arrive at the next belay spot without falling.
The last pitches of the day were climbed by headlamp and it appeared I would get 30 pitches done. The wind was blowing hard and it was getting cold, but my third partner of the day, Kristin, was willing to persevere. I had explained the dilemma of falling and hanging on a pitch and I suggested we do one more pitch. Without a hint of disapproval or resistance, we roped up for one last pitch - my thirty-first of the day. Interestingly, it was called “Phone Call from Satan” – not sure I heard the ring.
My “survival” day required a lot of endurance and had a few trials. How about most of your “real-life” days? Do they have trials? Do they require endurance?
Our 30th President, Calvin Coolidge, recognized that real life does; he once said, "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; un-rewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."
Where do Christ-followers obtain their persistence? Their endurance? Do they just dig down inside and pull it out? In the book of James, he opens his letter to the “scattered tribes” with a teaching on trials. Please take a moment to read James 1:1-8 as it will illuminate the source.
Let’s begin with four “facts of life” that can be distilled from verses 2 and 3. Here are truths you need to know about everyday living.
#1 Problems are Inevitable. “Whenever you face trials…” (verse 2). He did not say “if” but whenever. Difficulties will come. Although self-evident, it’s a good reminder to know we are all “in the same boat.”
#2 Problems are Unpredictable. The Greek word for face in “face trials” is “peripipto” which means to “fall into something that is all around.” Problems come from all directions and at various times. Just like the irrigation canal I stepped into, we don’t always see what’s coming our way.
#3 Problems are Variable. The thought continues in verse 2: “trials of many kinds…” The notion here is that trials are not just bad things that happen to us. Sometimes they happen because of the battles God is calling us to fight. Other times, they come from our own moral failings. No one day has the same trials or intensity of trials as the day before.
#4 Problems are Purposeful. The NASB renders verse 3, “the testing of your faith produces…” Motivation can wane during difficulties. It’s very reassuring to know that there is always potential growth during tough times.
Helen Keller said that "Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved." In verses 3 and 4, James highlights three outcomes that problems can bring to your Christian walk.
1. Problems Purify My Faith. Verse 3 says, “the testing of your faith…” What is faith? I define it as “taking God at His word.” Through trials you will find out how much you are walking in faith and believing what God has said.
2. Problems Boost My Persistence. Continue on in verse 3: “the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” Keep-on, keeping on. This is one of the great by-products of climbing that applies to life. Through climbing, you realize just how much further you can push yourself. God loves it when we will leave it all on the table for His Kingdom. Great Christians are just ordinary people with an extraordinary amount of Godly endurance. They simply don't know how to quit.
3. Problems Sanctify My Character. Verse 4 reads, “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Character is all about who you are and what you do when no one is looking. John Luther said, "Good character is more to be praised that outstanding talent. Most talents are to some extent a gift. Good character, by contrast, is not given to us. We have to build it piece by piece--by thought, choice, courage, and determination."
Now, just knowing that problems are part of life and that they can serve a wonderful (not always easy) purposes in our life is not enough. We need some help on the “how” in order to deal with difficulties. James gives three!
1. Rejoice! Go back to verse two – “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials…” Taken by itself, this would appear to be a very strange thing to say to someone in trials. But as we have learned already, trials can elevate our walk and James knows that when we face trials with a joyful attitude, they will seem a whole lot more manageable. During my first successful time of climbing El Capitan, a 3000 foot granite face in Yosemite, I was blessed with a partner with a great attitude. We experienced several episodes of nasty weather, rain, sleet, hail, and all of those we faced with joy. On my first attempt, my partner wasn’t so positive. In fact, we were low on the wall but well positioned to make a successful climb. After our first night on the wall, we awoke to some low-lying clouds, gently rolling in. My partner saw those and he had to go down…immediately. He rebuffed my attempts to climb and watch or even wait and see what would happen. His attitude and perspective sunk our attempt.
2. Request! Verse 5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” Difficulties require wisdom. How often do we attempt to solve our problems without ever asking God how we should proceed? God wants us to ask!
3. Relax! Verses 6 through 8 say, “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” When a climber is leading a climb, what happens once he or she has ascended a tough section and then is able to clip the rope to a piece protection? The climber relaxes with the feelings of freshly found safety. That’s what we most do once we have prayed. Relax in the trustworthiness of God.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO DISCOURAGE YOU? Things that don't go your way? Expectations not being met? Someone disapproving of how you did something? When difficulties are before you remember that they are an opportunity for growth in your faith, persistence and character. Face them with joy, asking for God’s help and relax knowing He is in control.
And if you do, here is a promise in verse 12 of James 1: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” You will be blessed…believers who successfully endure trials are truly happy.
I had a great deal of satisfaction when I endured and climbed 30 pitches in a day. However, the contentment that comes as I push forward in trials and the challenges of life and ministry for Christ’s sake is over-whelming and I am truly blessed. Today, you may be facing circumstances that will not be easy to endure. Keep in mind the good that will come from it and be strengthened in the Lord!
NOTE: This is rework of an article released in Update 151 (September 2007) that was requested by Sixth Day Magazine (http://www.sixthdaymagazine.com/). It is geared towards men desiring to become more Godly men, published quarterly, in the Central Illinois Area.