Resurrection Perspective: What the apostle Paul and William Carey teach us about endurance
He must have thought of quitting a thousand times. Early-nineteenth-century missionary William Carey faced continual difficulties and heartbreak as he sought to establish an outpost for Christ in India. He buried two of his four young children before his second anniversary there. His distraught wife, Dorothy, lived the remainder of her days behind a locked door. Many supporting churches discontinued their offerings, forcing William to work in an indigo factory to sustain his family. He learned Bengali and Sanskrit in order to translate the Scriptures and to share the gospel, but seven years elapsed before he led his first convert to Christ. Also his early translations went up in smoke as a fire destroyed his print shop.
Yet he pressed on.
Paul's advice: Don't lose heart.
William Carey's life revealed an inherent characteristic of all great Christians; they never give up. Most twenty-first-century American Christians have it easy compared to William Carey and scores of other servants of God. Yet we're still prone to lose heart at the first sign of hardship. How can we increase our spiritual endurance? How can we keep serving during difficult times? In 2 Corinthians 4:8 the apostle Paul shared three things with the Corinthian church that kept him from losing heart.
Inward renewal. Paul remained strong while enduring tremendous trials. He wrote, "We are hard pressed on every side," "perplexed," "persecuted," and "struck down." Yet after each assault he affirmed he was "not crushed," "not in despair," "not abandoned," and "not destroyed" (2 Cor. 4:8). How could he withstand such pressure? His spiritual life was consistently being renewed. A few verses later he wrote, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day" (v. 16).
Just as a good daily diet and exercise strengthen our physical bodies, daily Bible reading and prayer strengthen our spiritual lives. Jesus implied this when He said, "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). Every Christian needs daily time in the Word and prayer to keep the inward person strong. Remember the Bereans? They developed noble character by examining "the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11).
Eternal perspective. Paul wrote, "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (2 Cor. 4:17). How could Paul, who had endured stoning and shipwreck for the cause of Christ, refer to his afflictions as "light"? Because he compared his suffering to the glory it would produce. Paul viewed his earthly affliction from a heavenly perspective. He did not endure pain in vain. He knew reward would follow every sacrifice for Christ.
We tend to exaggerate affliction rather than evaluate it. But hardship comes with the territory. Peter wrote, "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed" (1 Pet. 4:12–13).
How can we put our afflictions into perspective? Instead of dwelling on the "troubles," we consider the "glory" that will follow. We recognize that our troubles are "light" while the glory which we will receive "far outweighs them all." In addition we compare the "momentary" nature of earthly troubles with the "eternal" glory generated. We can endure any pain for the cause of Christ because we know it brings reward, is of limited duration, and produces everlasting results.
Eternal perception. Paul summarized, "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18). The word we translate as "fix our eyes" means "to mark, to take aim at." Our word "scope" finds its source in this word. A rifle's scope enables the shooter to see and hit the target more easily. The scope does not remove distractions; it simply allows the shooter's eye to zero in on the target. Paul did not urge us to ignore the temporary, but to focus on the real aim—the eternal.
Opportunities to exercise such a perspective regularly surround us. Every person we meet will spend eternity with or apart from God. Paul saw people as eternal beings, not as temporary creatures. He focused so much on the eternal that he never seriously considered quitting. Neither should we. He lived here on earth with his goals and activities aimed heavenward. So should we.
William Carey, through gut-wrenching struggles, heeded the exhortation of the apostle John, who wrote, "And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming" (1 John 2:28).
But what if Carey had not persevered in the face of seemingly insurmountable pressure? India would have lost its greatest force for the gospel. Fourteen hundred would have gone unbaptized over the next twenty-one years. Bible translations into thirty-five Indian languages and dialects would never have been produced. More than one hundred schools for seven thousand Indian nationals, including the highly regarded Serampore College, would never have opened their doors.
Yet each of these things did happen because Carey, like the apostle Paul, was willing to persevere in the face of hardship. Carey's eternal perspective blessed the people of India. May we each be a blessing as we exercise spiritual endurance in the face of hardship.
A former pastor, Larry Clements (DMin candidate) is editor-in-chief for the Baptist Sunday School Committee in Texarkana, Texas, which publishes Christian curriculum.