Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

When Following God Is Hard, Persevere

Tired woman resting after a run

I stood to the side of the court, bare feet roasting in the sand, sweat dripping all down my face and my lungs screaming. “Why the heck do I do this,” I wondered for at least the fourth time. Every summer in college, some friends and I registered for a sand soccer tournament. I love soccer, but playing in the sand is much harder than grass, and it often wasn't much fun. But I still loved it and still signed up, mostly for everything surrounding it.

Spending time with my team before, watching the pros play in between our matches, and just having a weekend filled with soccer, good friends and the beach was worth the pain of the actual games.

There’s a lot of sports imagery in the Bible, and I think it’s because the authors understood that, like sports, living a life for Christ isn’t always fun. There are certainly fun parts, and the end result is the most incredible prize imaginable. But it’s often hard too, and it takes dedication.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).

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Happy man out for a run

Train Your Body

Think about something in your life that you had to work hard for. Maybe it was a promotion at work, a couch-to-5K training regime, or a musical composition or recipe you wanted to master. If it was a real challenge for you, then it probably took a lot of time and work. And unless you are naturally gifted, you probably had some days when you felt you were making no progress.

God never promises us an easy walk with Him. There are plenty of verses in the Bible that talk about trials, suffering and perseverance. Be wary of anyone who promises you anything else. To be sure, this path is the path of life; Christ offers us a way out of the slavery to sin. But sometimes this walk will feel so hard.

Peter reminds us to “be alert. Your adversary, the Devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Because we live in a broken, sinful world, there will always be plenty of obstacles in our way. And unlike an earthly athlete who can just keep pushing through the tough days of training, we need help. We can’t always pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and keep following Christ out of sheer force of will.

That’s part of the Christian training regime – drawing strength from the Lord. He gave us His word for wisdom, and His Spirit to encourage and lead us. Part of our training regime – to stay fresh and fit – involves prayer and meditating on the Word of God. This isn’t something we start doing when things get tough (though it’s always good to turn to the Lord in those instances, even if you’ve felt distant from Him previously.) An athlete doesn’t start training the day of a big race – they put in weeks of practice and hard work. They know a challenge is coming, and they want to be ready for it.

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Nervous woman biting her nails

Be Strong When the Game Gets Hard

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

Trials and difficulties are coming. That’s just a fact of living in this sinful world. We can count on the fact that things will go wrong or get difficult. But rather than drive us to despair, if we turn our focus to the promises of God – that He will strengthen and uphold us in these trials – then we can choose to persevere.

The best athletes and performers know that there will always be a challenge. There’s always someone faster, stronger and smarter who wants them to lose. The same is true for us. But thankfully, our faith is very much a team sport. We can rely on our brothers and sisters in Christ to support us when things get difficult, and we can rely on God, our rock and fortress (Psalm 18:2) to empower and guide us.

Perseverance is hard, and if we are honest, it’s a word that we sometimes shy away from. My generation likes to joke about something we call “gifted child syndrome.” It’s the idea that those of us who were labeled “gifted” in school now struggle as adults when we try something new and aren’t instantly good at it. If it takes perseverance, we get frustrated and give up.

For something like that gym membership or piano lessons, giving up only wastes some time and money. But laziness has a greater cost for our faith. We have an infinitely greater prize to look forward to in our Christian walk, something worth persevering for. Paul calls it a “crown that will last forever.”

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Yellow ribbon prize

What Is Our Prize?

My last week of high school, I was sitting in the hallway when my track coach walked by. He doubled back and asked me “did you pick up your varsity letter yet?” I paused. “No, I didn’t think I’d earned it this year?” He told me I had, and ran back to his classroom to get it for me.

“Congratulations,” he said as he laid a letter and certificate in my hands. I was elated! I was never the best on the team, and never imagined I’d make varsity. But here it was!

Ten years later, I have no idea where that letter and certificate are. It was an exciting achievement, but a temporary prize. It has since faded away. As Paul finishes in 1 Corinthians, earthly athletes work to “get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

When our faith gets tough and it’s hard to stay dedicated, remember the prize that we have waiting for us. It is infinitely better than any certificate, medal or raise we could ever receive here on earth. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-7).

Imagine everything you think you know about Heaven – all the gold and angels and laughter and reunions. Now realize that your best imaginings can’t come close to reality. It is a miraculous prize that awaits us, and worth every bit of temporary discomfort that we feel here on earth.

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Strong man and woman

Sprint to the Finish

I can’t count the number of times I heard my coach yell at us to “SPRINT through the finish line.” It didn’t matter if we’d just finished 200 meters or two miles – the race was not over until both of our feet crossed the finish line. He said this so often because we frequently forgot it. We put everything into a race, and when we started to see that finish line, we slowed down.

But the race is not over until we cross the finish line. Like my coach telling us this over and over, God speaks it to our weary hearts over and over as well.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

“This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus” (Revelation 14:12).

You can find a much longer list of verses about perseverance here.

So why does the Bible encourage us so often to keep going? Because God knows this walk is hard. He knows we can’t do it on our own, and without Him we’d have fallen over and given up the race long ago. But He gives us the strength we need. He encourages us. He guides our steps. And by trusting in Him, we can sprint through that finish line, right into His waiting arms.

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Bethany Pyle is the editor for Bible Study Tools.com and the design editor for Crosscards.com. She has a background in journalism and a degree in English from Christopher Newport University. When not editing for Salem, she enjoys good fiction and better coffee.

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