Every year, Mirriam-Webster announces their word of the year. It’s largely determined by what words dictionary users have been searching for, and is assumed to be caused by some political, cultural, or societal event. In essence, then, the word of the year can be a sort of summary of what’s been happening in the world over the last twelve months.
For example, in 2016 the word of the year was “surreal.”
In 2017, it was “feminism.”
2018 was “justice.”
And 2019 was “they.”
I leave that list there with no explanation because that’s kind of the point, right? It’s to make us remember what was happening at a given time and see if we agree that this word is a good summation of that period. But I’m wondering today – what will the word of the year be for 2020?
I’m sure you have some opinions: Catastrophe? Pandemic? Mask? Shutdown? Social distance? Protest? Any of these are viable contenders. But what if we took it from a Christian perspective? What would our word of the year be? For me, there’s a clear frontrunner:
Because that’s what this year has felt like. Not a year to be enjoyed; not a year to thrive; not a year to rest. It’s not that those things haven’t happened, because they have. It’s that in the midst of all those other things, it’s felt and continues to feel like this is the season in which we are all learning about endurance.
Not a very exciting word, certainly. It has the connotation of something unpleasant; a necessary evil that must just be gotten through to get to the other side. But despite what the feelings the word – and the action – might conjure in us, endurance is important for the Christian. Not only important, it’s also unique for the Christian. There are at least four components of Christian endurance that make it so:
True enough, to “endure” means to just hold on. To keep things steady until you reach the other side. But endurance for the Christian is not without gratitude; indeed, it must not be so, for a life without gratitude is a life lived in disobedience:
“See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:15-18).
To be clear, the command here is not to give thanks FOR everything, but to give thanks IN everything. Those are two very different things. It means that no matter what situation you find yourself in, there’s always something to be thankful for. You may not be thankful for the suffering, the pain, the hardship, or the persecution, but there are other things to lift your heart. When you consider everything the Lord is, all that He continues to do in the world, and the next world waiting for the believer, there’s plenty of reasons to say “thanks.” No matter what happens to be going on. For the Christian, endurance is still a season of gratitude.
The temptation during a season of endurance is to spend your days wishing for things to be different, or remembering the days when things were. So we drift into self-pity, pining away for what might be and continually trying to escape what actually is. For the Christian, though, a season of endurance is an opportunity to grow in the virtue of contentment.
It is indeed something to be learned, for contentment isn’t natural to any of us. And yet Christ strengthens us to this very end:
“I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself. I know how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
A season of endurance doesn’t feel good. In fact, it feels very bad. It’s painful because we live with a daily sense of loss and longing and the temptation is lapse into self-pity. But the Christian isn’t ruled by feelings; we are ruled by Jesus. So we must, during a season of endurance, let faith – not feelings – take the lead.
That doesn’t mean we have faith that everything’s going to get back to normal. Faith is bigger than that. Faith is in the wisdom, goodness, and sovereign design of God – that He will do what’s right in the end. Based on faith in Him, we endure:
“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
In a season like this, we are all tempted to turn inward. That’s natural enough – we need to take care of ourselves, we are all by ourselves, and we all have our own opinions. But for the Christian, our focus should be different. Our eyes should be fixed on a different place. And ironically, our focus is really the most practical way we can continue to endure.
In the book of Hebrews, for example, the writer exhorts the suffering and persecuted church over and over again to endure. Remain. Persevere. Stay in the fight until the end. But how do you do that? What’s the formula for endurance? It’s surprisingly simple:
“Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
How do you endure? Fix your eyes on Jesus. Focus on Him, and you’ll keep going.
Now when we hear that, the cynic inside all of us rises up and says, “Yeah, but…” It sounds too simple, doesn’t it? Got to be more to it? But perhaps the simplicity in and of itself is what gives this formula its credibility. We have the luxury of overthinking so many things in life, and in so doing, we can analyze many things to the point of ineffectiveness. Let’s not do that with this. Because when you fix your eyes on Jesus, all those things in your peripheral vision have a tendency to become a little more unfocused.
Endure, Christian. Keep going. And endure in the unique fashion of those who follow Jesus – with gratitude, contentment, faith, and focus.