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Endurance in campus ministry

January 15, 2017

As campus ministers, we are often shielded from the types of suffering that most in Christian ministry face.

We don’t have frequent hospital visits, funerals or midlife crises to lead people through. Though our ministry target has it’s fair share of issues, helping others face suffering isn’t the most common that we face.

However, as we get older and life continues to increase in difficulty, we face forms of suffering ourselves. So how do we as campus ministers continue to lead when life keeps coming?

Well, as you study the scriptures, you will notice a common pattern. According to passages like Romans 5:3-4 & James 1:2-5 suffering is inevitable. But suffering is also educational.

We have the opportunity to learn endurance through suffering. When we do this, character is produced in our hearts and lives. Then, if we wait a little while longer, more suffering will come. Followed by more endurance, character, and time.

Suffering is inescapable. We aren’t responsible for creating it, but we are responsible for how we respond to it. According to Tim Keller,

“No matter what precautions we take, no matter how well we have put together a good life, no matter how hard we have worked to be healthy, wealthy, comfortable with friends and family, and successful with our career—something will inevitably ruin it.”

It seems to me that there are a couple different ways people commonly respond to suffering and attempt to endure through it.

Preoccupy yourself

Some just want to escape when it gets hard. Quit, hang it up, distract yourself, run to comfort and ease.

This is sadly the most common in today’s world. Few want to look suffering in the eye.

Power through it

Others will want to put their head down and work hard. Attempt to do all in their power to make the suffering go away.

There are countless stories from history of each of these two styles. But the ones that get the most press are our friends who choose to power through. We suppose that this is the stuff that heroes are made of.

It may be the great leaders like Ernest Shackleton, Winston Churchill or Teddy Roosevelt. Or maybe the modern day Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead.

We are all attracted to this style and assume it is right. Well, sadly, I must disagree with several of my heroes.

I think the Biblical story wants to propose to us that the way to power is through weakness. The secret to endurance isn’t found in preoccupying ourselves or powering through, but in depending on the one who embraced suffering.

God doesn’t need your strength. He needs your weakness. Your “strength” gets in his way. Your weakness is his ally.

Dependence as the key to biblical endurance

The fact that enduring well through suffering depends on my ability to be dependent is a little scary. I’m not good at this whole dependence thing. I’m definitely the “power-through” sort of person, so depending on someone else scares me.

If you’re feeling the same as me, don’t worry, it gets worse. Not only must we depend on someone else to help us through suffering, but we must become weak to do so.

The parallel characteristics of dependence

As I study the scriptures it seems that two qualities are required if you want to be dependent:

Weakness: Developing a proper view of ourselves

To be dependent, we must be broken.

We need to refuse self-reliance and embrace weakness. We can do nothing on our own. We are helpless. We are needy. We must embrace this side of who we are. (John 15:5; Psalm 127; 1 Cor. 2:1-5; 2 Cor. 12:9-10)

God doesn’t need your strength. He needs your weakness. Your “strength” gets in his way. Your weakness is his ally. Jesus calls us the way of the clay pot, not the indestructible Yeti. (2 Cor. 4)

Faith: Developing a proper view of God

Dependence would be incomplete unless we got our eyes off of ourselves so that we could see God. (2 Cor. 4:18; 5:7)

When things are adding up and we are feeling the desire to power through, we will try to ignore God. In this moment, don’t get busy. Get prayerful.

This style of endurance, this dependence, snatches every ounce of the illusion of control from our lives. We end up feeling like a mess because we fear what we can’t control.

This is the hardest part for me. We must learn how to live when only God knows what is going on.

This weakness and prayer run parallel. If I am convinced I am broken and needy, I will pray. If I am not praying, I’m likely not convinced I am weak.

This is what confuses us. But if I want power, then I must be weak in prayer.

So do you still want to endure through suffering? If so, embrace your weakness and trust God.

The truth is that all of us will have to learn how to face suffering either now or in eternity. We will endure through suffering. The question is, when will it be?

The good news for Christians is that Jesus endured through our deserved, eternal suffering for us. (Heb. 12:1-4)

He looked it in the face. He wore it. He became weak so that we might become strong in His grace. Trust this through your suffering.

Reflection questions

  1. What is your initial reaction to dependence?
  2. Where do we need to start in living this style of life?

Bible studies

  1. Jesus-dependent, personal responsibility: Matt 14:13-21
  2. Peter’s example: Mistakes, brokenness, suffering, faith: Gospels & 1 Peter
  3. 2 Corinthians
    • Paul’s perseverance: 1:3-11; 6:4-10; 11:23-33
    • Paul’s faith: 4:16-18; 5:6-7
    • Paul’s weakness: 3:4-6; 4:5-12; 12:5-10; 13:4
  4. The heroes of faith and weakness: Hebrews 10:32 – 12:17

Foundational Verses

  1. Perspective on suffering: James 1:2-18
  2. Strength and endurance from His power: Col. 1:11-14
  3. Strength in weakness: Isaiah 40:29-31
  4. Suffering, endurance and character: Romans 5:3-4