The apostle Paul wrote that God's people should be "stedfast, unmovable" (I Cor. 15:58). How can we develop this quality of stedfastness?
Every visitor to the ruins of ancient Persepolis in southwest Iran is struck by the sight of 13 soaring stone pillars. Of 100 original columns in Darius the Great's apadana, or audience hall, only these 13 have stood firm and unmoved through two and a half millennia of ravaging desert winds, scouring sandstorms and exhibit hunters from various museums! Why did a few pillars remain standing, while others fell? No one knows for certain. Even the best architect could only venture an educated guess at whatever mysterious combination of chance and physical law was responsible. Yet what if we apply this same question, by analogy, to God's Church today? We call leading ministers and members "pillars of the Church." What enables some "pillars" to remain stedfast and stable throughout the manifold trials and tests through the years, while others collapse? We need to know the answer to this question! Remember, Jesus Christ said, "He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (Matt. 24:13). Only those who remain standing after every trial in their lives will be deemed worthy of entering God's Kingdom. Paul advised the Ephesians to put on the whole armor of God, that they might "be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand" (Eph. 6:13). Fortunately for us, we can know the answer to this question. God, the Architect of the universe, tells us in His Word how we can remain stedfast to the end.
This wavering world
In this end time, stedfastness is a rare commodity. Why? One reason is that, especially in the Western world, people are today more comfort-oriented than ever before. People feel challenges and adversities should be avoided at all costs. Yet, for those whom God calls, mastering hardship is a very up-to date challenge. A Christian's baptism is an outward sign that he has decided to handle hardship and trials differently than before. When Paul wrote to the young evangelist Timothy, he explained that every Christian is a soldier: "Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.... Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (II Tim. 2:1, 3). A soldier may not turn his back on the enemy and flee the front; he must endure to the end of the battle. Children and teens find it particularly difficult to develop this essential, godly trait of stedfastness, in part because they see people running away from their problems instead of persevering and solving them. Take, for example, the social plague of divorce. When parents break up, their offspring get the message: "No need to stick around if problems crop up in marriage — just get a divorce!" Gone are the days when newlyweds were expected to confront problems and make their marriages work. Today people take the "easy way out," namely divorce. Young people suffer most from this approach to problem-solving. Their attitudes and character are still forming, and they absorb the behavior patterns of those around them. Thus many youths adopt the approach that "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." If schoolwork gets tough, they drop out. If a job poses problems, they look for another. If marriage makes demands, they "bailout" through divorce. Yet God dearly wants every one of us to stick it out, whatever trials we face. Paul admonished, "Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God" (I Cor. 7:24). The book of Proverbs offers some sage advice in this area: "As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place" (Prov. 27:8). Those who imagine that a better job lies just beyond the horizon may be deceiving themselves. Perhaps a little more effort is the key to success right where they are at the moment. Proverbs 10:4 chimes in: "He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich." It's easy to run away from tough competition, unfriendly colleagues and difficult assignments. But only mastering the challenges builds stedfast character like God's. And if stedfastness of character is hard to develop in this world, stedfastness of belief is just as hard to come by. Yes, being born into this wavering world makes it hard for the average person to believe God with the kind of simple, unwavering faith Jesus wants us to have. Why? Think of the leading figures we encounter in this world. These can include teachers, the boss at the office, the policeman on the corner and politicians. Our experiences in the world with these figures of authority subtly influence concepts of God the Father in heaven. Observing many, though not all, political figures shakes our confidence. As Winston Churchill wryly commented, "A politician needs the ability to foretell what will happen tomorrow, next week and next year; he also needs the ability to later explain why none of it happened." Tragically, this disillusionment with society's leading figures all too often affects our readiness to believe God. This is why some pillars of God's Church topple and fall. They simply forget that "God is not a man, that he should lie" (Num. 23:19). They aren't able to trust in Jesus' promise: "I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18).
Our reliable God
Fortunately for us, our God knows how difficult it is for us to remain stedfast in character and belief. Jesus Christ came to this earth as a human and knows we'd collapse if left to ourselves. He was "in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). Christ understands our human tendency to waver, and has therefore blueprinted a "spiritual reinforcement program" to shore us up. God works according to plan. God shows us in His Word that He has a great plan in mind for mankind. His transcendent purpose is to reproduce Himself through humanity. You and I are to become full members of God's own divine Family. (If you haven't already done so, be sure to order and read our free booklet, Why Were You Born?, right away.) God's plan is the foundation of Christian stedfastness. Therefore God goes to great lengths to convince those He calls that He, and not blind coincidence, is working things out here below. Notice the painstaking care God took with Abraham: "For when God made promise to Abraham... he sware by himself, Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee" (Heb. 6:13-14). God knew that men, distrustful as they are, often demand additional "security" regarding promises or agreements: "For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife" (verse 16). So, because God realized even Abraham might at first find it hard to believe Him, God reassured him: "Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That... we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us" (verses 17-18).
Christ our example
The called can certainly take "strong consolation" in their knowledge of God's plan. Yet God goes even further to help us, in His ardent desire for us to endure to the end. He even sent His only begotten Son, to show us that it is possible to remain stedfast to the end: "Let us run with patience [perseverance] the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds" (Heb. 12:1-3). Our Father in heaven gives us the record of His own Son's excruciating trials, allowing us to compare our own sufferings with Christ's. When we do, our problems seem far less intense. Sickness, job worries and inflation dwindle in significance. Remaining stedfast no longer seems so impossible. We comprehend that we "have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin" (verse 4). God allows us to identify with His own Son. Yet this opportunity to identify with Jesus extends far beyond merely recognizing that He, like us, has suffered. Indeed, Jesus is our example in life's every facet: "For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps" (I Pet. 2:21). Are we consciously, every day, trying to live as Jesus Christ did? Do we study the biblical accounts of His life to see how He reacted to various challenges? Do we model our behavior upon His? Our ability to remain stedfast depends on doing so. "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, as ye have been taught" (Col. 2:6-7).
Seize the hope
Another way God helps us remain stedfast is by pointing us constantly toward our goal: "For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end" (Heb. 3:14). God realizes that rewards can positively motivate human beings. That's why He always reminds us of the glorious future ahead for those who remain stedfast in the faith: "Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience [endurance], that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise" (Heb. 10:35-36). God is saying, in effect: "Keep your eyes on the goal. I know how hard it is for you to stick it out and remain stedfast to the end. But it's worth it!" "For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry" (verse 37). In addition, God motivates us by giving us, His called-out people, a specific job to do: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). The Church of God is commissioned by God Almighty to proclaim to the world a solemn warning about where the world's sins are taking it, and to announce the good news of God's coming Kingdom in preparation for the return of Jesus Christ. Jesus is sure that the job will get done — sure enough to prophesy, "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (Matt. 24:14). Every Church member has a vital part in carrying out this great commission. God gives us the chance to support His Work through our prayers, tithes and offerings and our example of dedicated service within our church congregations. Do we understand the awesome importance of this Work? Do our prayer lives and free time revolve around it? Do we really put our hearts into it? Our ability to be stedfast to the end depends largely on the answers to these questions.
"Understand the gifts"
Up to this point we haven't discussed the most important way God helps us remain stedfast. Yet without this help, nothing else we have discussed could really make us stedfast. Lacking this, we would see God's plan as only so much foolishness. Christ's example would seem 2,000 years away in the past and incomprehensible at that. God's rewards of eternal life and serving in the Kingdom would not motivate us. Nor would God's present Work on earth enthrall us to the point of devoted service. What is this indispensable catalyst? Paul gives us the answer in I Corinthians 2:12, 14 (Revised Standard Version): "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God … The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." Yes, God certainly wants to help us be stedfast. He gave man the certainty of His promises, the example of His own Son and now we see He gives to those called His own source of power: the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit helps us not only to understand God's truth, but also to develop stedfastness of character. How? Character involves the ability to distinguish right from wrong, and to choose the right. Where does the ability to judge between right and wrong come from? The prophet Micah answers, "I am full of power by the spirit of the Lord, and of judgment" (Mic. 3:8). However, God will give His Spirit of discernment only to those who have truly repented. Godly repentance involves the decision to unconditionally accept God's definitions of right and wrong, as reflected in God's law. Only those who have set their wills to abide by God's definitions will receive the Holy Spirit, which "God hath given to them that obey him" (Acts 5:32). The Holy Spirit is also the key to developing stedfastness of faith. The ability to believe God — faith — is a gift of the Spirit, according to Paul (Gal. 5:22). The Spirit allows us, in prayer, that intimate access to our Father that is vital to living faith: "We... have access by one Spirit unto the Father" (Eph. 2:18). This access to God is conditional, though! The Spirit will keep the door open only if we seek God's guidance daily in fervent prayer coupled with intensive Bible study.
A pillar in the temple
Seeing God's boundless willingness to help us make it, we can agree with Paul when he exclaimed, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31). Yet each element of God's assistance presupposes our own active participation. We must, for example, constantly study God's plan, as revealed in the Bible. We must emulate Christ's example, not just admire it. God's promises to us remain inspiring only through regular, intensive Bible study. God's Spirit will shore us up only if we fervently, daily ask God to renew that Spirit within us. God wants to create character within us as stedfast as His own. He will continue to help us do so, for He is "the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (Jas. 1:17). Are we willing to do our part and patiently strive for stedfastness? Look what Jesus promises: "Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God" (Rev. 3:11-12).