Text: Ezra 4:1 – 5:2
Proposition: Perseverance is more about faithfulness than success, more about perspective than performance; it is the fine art of following after God.
Introduction: I’d like you to think of one thing that for you is a picture of what it means to persevere. Perhaps it’s the proverbial tortoise, slow but steady, perhaps it’s an inanimate thing like an old rusty Mazda that just wouldn’t quit. Henry Ward Beecher once wrote, “The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will and the other comes from a strong won’t.” Here’s two different views on perseverance and when coupled together give a greater definition… In the 1980’s Senator Mark Hatfield toured Calcutta with Mother Teresa, visiting the so-called “House of Dying,” where sick children are cared for in their last days, and the dispensary, where the poor line up by the hundreds to receive medical attention. Hatfield was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the suffering she and her co-workers faced daily, “How can you bear the load without being crushed by it?” Mother Teresa replied, “My dear Senator, I am not called to be successful, I am called to be faithful.” … Take this piece and add it to what Edwin Markham wrote… “ For all your days prepare, And meet them all alike, When you are the anvil…bear, When you are the hammer… strike.” Perseverance is more about faithfulness than success, more about perspective than performance; it is the fine art of following after God.I want to share with you this morning a little history, a little philosophy and explore together with you the fine art of perseverance. It all begins for us in the book of Ezra, a story of how a nation was not only defeated but then taken captive and displaced from their land for 70 years. After this passage of a generation they return, their hope is to rebuild where only ruin and treachery remain. If you were to be the one to lead the rebuilding of a nation where would you begin? Would it be the walls of a fortress, the power of an army or the strength of wealth? For Israel the rebuilding of their nation began with the rebuilding of the Temple, the center piece of their faith, their capital city, their national identity. It’s here that the story of perseverance begins to play out and it cues us here today on how not only to persevere but grow in the fine art of following after God. Have a look at Ezra 4.
I. The Danger of Diluting Is That Tasteless Is Quickly Followed by Useless. I remember the first time I heard the phrase, ‘church juice’, it describes the way juice is watered down to stretch it more but in so doing becomes this stuff that looks good but has a very disappointing taste, actually, no taste. Church juice is a joke phrase that really pictures the danger of diluting a good thing and making it a lost cause. So consider for a moment the Scripture passage we just read, the fledgling Israelites reject the offer of help from their neighbors, the equally displaced peoples called the Samaritans. Was it just obstinacy that caused them to reject the offer of help or was it an aspect of perseverance? Perhaps in an effort to diffuse the pain of refusal they point to the command of the Persian King, Cyrus, as the reason for this rejection of help. Just consider the perspective of the moment, these were adversaries who had adapted to this new land by combining one faith to another. They served the gods of the Assyrians, they also served the gods of Phonecia and the coast lands. Spirituality to them was like an insurance policy, respect all faiths, taking part in each and appease the demands of each god and then we get to do what we want. To build with this influence in their midst would be to dilute the very holiness of the Temple and would repeat the very mistakes their forefathers had made in being syncretistic with faith. Jesus cautioned His disciples with similar words about salt that has become tasteless, about how yeast can overcome all that it is put into. Perseverance needs a perspective that recognizes when faith is being diluted and then having the conviction to resist that even if it comes with a high price. And just look at the price they paid…
II. Just Because It’s Difficult Doesn’t Mean That It Is A Failure. Three key words define the price that these people paid for their perseverance… discourage, troubled, frustrate. All of these terms refer to an undermining of your will. We can deal with hard work but when our will to want to work is damaged, that is a hard hit. Let me show you what this looked like. Here is the order of the names of the Persian kings who ruled Israel from a distance:
Cyrus 559 BC - 530 BC
Cambyses 530 BC - 522 BC
Smerdis 522BC (lasted 3 months)
Darius 521BC- 486BC
Ahasuerus 486BC- 464BC
Artaxerxes 464BC- 423BC
What Ezra is doing as he tells this story is emphasizing the issue of perseverance at the expense of maintaining a chronological timeline. Look at verse 6 and 7, they describe future resistance. The actual timeline jumps from verse 5 to verse 24. They stopped building the Temple from mid Cyrus to early Darius, a period of 14 years. Do you think that a project that stalls out for 14 years is a failure? Difficult… yes, failure…no. Sometimes you’re the anvil and the blows upon you will be hard. Persevere and desire to see how God is about to move to the next step, all the while knowing that an Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes are yet to come.
III. God Does a CPR On Our Perseverance But It’s Up To Us To Work. Consider the words of Ezra 5:1,2. There are 14 years of paralysis and then God breathes into the people through two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah. Something broke through and reignited the vision of the people. It stirred them to a common purpose and invited them to remember the things that are of lasting value to them. This was not some speech that sought to cheer them on with a “You can do it!” kind of approach. This was prophecy, it was God speaking through these men awakening faith, belief, obedience, repentance and a persevering action. For 14 years Israel was blocked and then these two spoke out. Do you wonder what it is they said? It’s not recorded in Ezra, but if you will, turn to the Book of Haggai and here you can know in detail how God did CPR on Israel, resuscitating their perseverance, in 519BC. Here are the truths that stimulate perseverance:
1. Consider your ways, do your priorities need to change… repentance.
2. The presence of God, the realization that “I am with you”, stirs up the spirit.
3. Frank honesty with God about your unbelief destroys fear.
4. Seeing that the sovereign hand of the Father holds Jesus Christ alone above all.
5. Beware of the insensitivity to sin that seeks to mix good and evil.
6. The discipline and blessing of God are both good, both express His faithfulness.
7. The greatest, most earth changing declaration of God, “I have chosen you.”
Perseverance, it is more about faithfulness than success, more about perspective than performance; it is the fine art of following after God. These were the words of Haggai, what about the words of Zechariah? More and more and more, the key to perseverance is to see Jesus as the beginning and end of all that you do.