On 12 February 1809 a baby boy was born in a one-room log cabin with a dirt floor on a farm in Kentucky. He grew up to be a man of rugged determination. And although he had less than a year of formal education, he succeeded in becoming a lawyer. However he really wanted to make a difference in the world, and so entered politics. He believed that if he was going to have the maximum impact, he would have to become president of the United States. However, he tried and he tried – and he failed and he failed.
In fact, his list of failures was embarrassing:
In 1832 he lost his job and was defeated when standing for the state legislature
In 1833 he failed in business
In 1835 his fiancée died
In 1836 he had a nervous breakdown
In 1838 he was defeated when he stood for the position of Illinois House Speaker
In 1843 he was defeated for nomination for Congress
In 1846 he was elected to Congress, but he lost re-nomination in 1848
In 1849 he was rejected for the position of land officer for Illinois
In 1854 he was defeated in elections for the U.S. Senate
In 1856 he failed to win the nomination for Vice-President
In 1858 he was again defeated in elections for the U.S. Senate
But in 1860 he was elected President of the United States.
You’ve probably guessed that I’m talking about Abraham Lincoln, the greatest of all American Presidents, who led the country through the American Civil War, held the union together, and abolished slavery. His persistence paid off. I’d probably have given up long ago, and I think many of you would too, but Lincoln persevered. He didn’t allow setbacks to deflect him from his goal.
Another, quite different, example of perseverance, was in the film The King’s Speech, telling the story of how the Duke of York, later King George VI, overcame his speech impediment. The Duke suffers from a terrible stammer when speaking in public, and this comes to everyone’s notice in a way that can’t be avoided when he has to give a speech at the British Empire Exhibition in 1925. The stammer probably resulted from the difficult upbringing Bertie, as his speech therapist addressed him, had in the rather starchy and stiff upper lip, to put mildly, parents King George V and Queen Mary.
For ten years the Duke of York persevered and persisted through his speech therapy to work through his speech impediment, and although he made good progress, the biggest set back of all was perhaps his accession to the throne, which became increasingly obvious to the Royal family during 1936.
Thrust into the microphone as King, Bertie was required to address the national many times during World War Two. On each occasion, an ordeal for him every time, Lionel Logue, the faithful speech therapist, was with him as he made his broadcasts. How relieved he must have been when 1945 came.
Without that incredible persistence and perseverance, what effect would it have had on British morale at a crucial time, if their King had not been able to address them?
Another, again very different, example of perseverance and persistence is John Bunyan, who was imprisoned for most of the time between 1660 and 1672 for his Nonconformist beliefs. I wonder how many of us would be willing to be imprisoned for twelve years for our Christian faith? And not just for Christian faith in general, but for our particular flavour of Christian faith? John Bunyan was certainly a man whose perseverance and persistence are an example to many.
During those years in prison, and also in a later spell in 1675, he wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress, which many of you will have read, and know to be a story that is all about persistence and perseverance being an essential part of Christian faith.
Three very different Christians, Abraham Lincoln, King George V, John Bunyan and his Pilgrim’s Progress, who are all examples of incredible and amazing levels of perseverance and persistence.
These three very different Christians do not come from nothing, and do not stand alone. They’re part of a long tradition of perseverance and persistence, which is deeply rooted in the Bible. We heard one such instance – the old man Simeon: a man of perseverance and his persistence bore fruit.
It would have been so very easy for Simeon to give up as the years passed and nothing seemed to happen. But for Simeon God had spoken – and he believed God, even though the fulfilment of God’s promise was a very long time, almost a lifetime, in coming. Because Simeon persevered, against the odds, he was able to respond when the Holy Spirit prompted him to go into the Temple.
Persistence is something that is alien to our modern culture. We live in a fast moving society. We want everything to happen instantly. If what we want doesn’t happen instantly, many people in our world today give up.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. We don’t have to “to go with the flow”. We can decide to be different. Endurance and perseverence are still important godly attributes for the Christian today, just as they were when John Bunyan wrote the Pilgrim’s Progress.
We all face different challenges and obstacles, unique to us and our own situations. If you were to have asked Abraham Lincoln what it felt like to achieve all he did as President of the USA – I’m sure he would have said that it was worth the wait.
If you were to have asked King George VI in 1945 what it felt like when the Allies won World War Two and he had successfully delivered all his wartime speeches – I’m sure he would have said that it was worth the wait.
If you were to have asked John Bunyan what it felt like to be free to preach and worship after all those years in prison – I’m sure he would have said that it was worth the wait.
If you were to have asked Simeon what the greatest day of his life was – I’m sure he would have said that it was when he saw the Messiah of Israel, the baby Jesus. It was worth the wait. It was worth the wait. May we meet Christ, as Simeon did. It will be worth the wait.