Every difficulty we experience in life is either an opportunity or an obstacle. The Chinese symbol for the word “crisis” is actually two separate symbols: one for the word “danger” and the other for the word “opportunity.” Many of us are viewing the present crisis we are experiencing as one or the other. It is either an obstacle in our way or an opportunity for the Lord to display His glory in and through our lives.
In Philippians 1:12, Paul says, “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
That word “furtherance” is the Greek word prokope. It could be translated “progress, advancement, movement.” It refers to something moving forward in spite of obstacles, dangers and distractions. Commentator William Barclay said it was, “specially used for the progress of an army or an expedition…It is the verb which is used for cutting away the trees and the undergrowth, and removing the barriers which would hinder the progress of an army.” The chief obstacle for Paul was his imprisonment, but that proved to be no obstacle to the advancement of the gospel. “There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.” –Francis Drake
If you’ve been in ministry any amount of time—whether it has been a week or a decade—a particular temptation will eventually come to you: the temptation to quit.
This temptation usually unveils itself in the middle of a very difficult season and may lure even the stoutest heart to fantasize about stepping away from ministry. Often, the desire to quit can show up when people mistreat us or cause heartache for us. It has even ironically come knocking on some peoples’ doors when life couldn’t get any better for them! We have all faced the pressure to give up or to give in, but especially, when times are tough.
If there’s one thing that the apostle Paul seemed to reiterate to his readers over and over, it was DON’T QUIT! Paul uses the term “persevere,” “press on,” or “strive” dozens of times in his writings to the Romans, the Thessalonians, the Ephesians, the Galatians, the Philippians and even several times to Timothy! Paul linked perseverance to character and to hope. When we stop pressing on and begin to look back and lose heart, we become stagnant and lose momentum. What’s worse is that we may actually begin to believe that giving up would be easier than to press on to the finish line.
Paul’s admonition to Timothy, in 2 Timothy 2, reminds him that soldiers, athletes and farmers all have some things in common. They all have rules and parameters to work within, whether that is the soldier working to please his officer by working within the boundaries of the hierarchy of command, or the athlete adhering to the rules of the game by staying within the lines, or the farmer not planting a seed and expecting a different plant to grow. Each of these involves incredible discipline and hard work. Each of them also looks forward to an end result: a battle won, a race completed, a harvest reaped. The soldier, the athlete and the farmer must all stay the course to receive the benefit of their labor. Quitting is not an option. Here’s an exercise to practice if you are thinking about quitting:
1. Consider your calling.
Did God originally call you to this? If not, why are you still wasting your time doing what God didn’t want you to do in the first place? If you were called by God, move on to the second portion of this exercise.
2. Talk to someone.
Often we are burdened by trying to hold on to things in our own strength, rather than submitting them to Christ or asking others to bear the load with us. Have you prayed about this and then sought counsel from someone more experienced than you? If so, move on to number three.
3. Stop fantasizing.
Many people who desire to quit are romancing the ease or comfort they think they will experience if they step out of their role. But this is a lie; with God’s calling comes God’s equipping. So when you step down from a role, you are not stepping away from God’s grace, but you are stepping outside of His promised favor and provision for that particular position. If you have stopped dreaming about something else, move on to number four.
4. Get to work!
Ministry is hard! Take up the plow and get busy! Stop complaining about how difficult life is and start pouring in to someone else. Before you give up, consider the following people who decided not to quit (adapted from dailywalkdevotion.com):
At age 23, Tina Fey was working at a YMCA.
At age 23, Oprah was fired from her first reporting job.
At age 24, Stephen King was working as a janitor and living in a trailer.
At age 27, Vincent Van Gogh failed as a missionary and decided to go to art school.
At age 28, J.K. Rowling was a suicidal single parent living on welfare.
At age 30, Harrison Ford was a carpenter.
At age 37, Ang Lee was a stay-at-home-dad working odd jobs.
Julia Child released her first cookbook at age 39 and got her own cooking show at age 51.
Vera Wang failed to make the Olympic figure skating team, didn’t get the Editor-in-Chief position at Vogue, and designed her first dress at age 40.
Stan Lee didn’t release his first big comic book until he was 40.
Alan Rickman gave up his graphic design career and landed his first movie role at age 42.
Samuel L. Jackson didn’t get his first major movie role until he was 46.
Morgan Freeman landed his first major movie role at age 52.
Whatever your dream is, it is not too late to achieve it. Never tell yourself you’re too old to make it. Never tell yourself you missed your chance. Never tell yourself that you aren’t good enough. You can do it. Whatever it is.