Spiritual Tenacity

The word “tenacity” comes into English “from Latin tenacitas ‘an act of holding fast,’ from tenax (genitive tenacis) ‘holding fast, gripping, clingy; firm, steadfast'” (Online Etymology Dictionary). It’s not a word that’s used in any of the Bible translations I frequently read (WEB, NET, TLV, KJV), but the same concept is expressed with terms such as “hold fast” or the related idea of endurance.

When we hold fast to something on a physical level, it’s either because we love it so much (e.g. hugging your child tight) or because we need something to keep us from falling or getting pulled away (e.g. clinging to a rope when climbing a cliff or holding onto a tree branch to keep from being swept away in a flash flood). Something similar is happening on a spiritual level.

When we’re living in covenant with God and have a relationship with Him, He wants a close and loving relationship with us. He also expects an exclusive relationship, but there are other things pulling at our time and attention that could draw us away from Him if we don’t hold on tight. Putting something before Him, making covenant relationships with conflicting things, or holding tight to something other than God would mean that we’re being unfaithful to Him (Ex. 34:12-14). In contrast, holding fast to God involves having a faithful, love-filled relationship with Him.

Image of a woman reading a Bible. Overlaid with text from 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15, NET version: “God chose you from the beginning for salvation through
 sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. He called you to this salvation through our gospel, so that you may possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold on to the traditions that we taught you, whether by speech or by letter.”
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

What are you Holding Onto?

In the Old Testament, Joshua warned ancient Israel about the importance of staying faithful to God. With God’s guidance, Joshua led them into the promised land, fought and conquered the land under God’s leadership, and saw the people settled in their promised inheritance. The surrounding nations weren’t completely gone, though, and neither were the influences from Israel’s past. So when Joshua was old, he called Israel together to give them instructions and warnings.

Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that you not turn away from it to the right hand or to the left; that you not come among these nations, these that remain among you; neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow down yourselves to them; but hold fast to Yahweh your God, as you have done to this day. …

“But if you do at all go back, and hold fast to the remnant of these nations, even these who remain among you, and make marriages with them, and go in to them, and they to you; know for a certainty that Yahweh your God will no longer drive these nations from out of your sight; but they shall be a snare and a trap to you, a scourge in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land which Yahweh your God has given you.”

Joshua 23:6-8, 12-13, WEB (emphasis added)

Here, Joshua presents the people with two options. They can “hold fast to Yahweh your God” or they could “hold fast” to the ungodly nations around them. Similarly, we see other people in the Bible holding fast to either good or bad things. A psalmist tells the Lord, “I hold fast to your rules” (Ps. 119:31, NET). Yahweh promises good things to those who “hold fast to my covenant” and keep the Sabbath (Is. 56:1-7, WEB). God praised Job to Satan as an example of “a pure and upright man,” saying, “he still holds firmly to his integrity” (Job 2:3, NET).

In contrast, there are others who “hold fast to their deception” (Jer. 8:5, NET). Proverbs says, “The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare him. The cords of his sin hold him firmly” (Prov. 5:22, WEB). Jesus chided people who rejected God’s law to “hold fast to human tradition” (Mark 7:1-8, NET). Clearly, we need to be careful what we’re clinging to. Are we holding on to God, or to things that are trying to tug us away from Him? Trying to do both isn’t going to work. “No man can serve two masters,” Jesus said, “for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24, KJV). We need to make sure the one we “hold to” is God.

Image of two hands holding each other, one older and one a small child. Overlaid with text from Psalm 119:31, 117, WEB version: “I cling to your statutes, Yahweh.
    Don’t let me be disappointed. ... Hold me up, and I will be safe,
    and will have respect for your statutes continually.”
Image by RitaE from Pixabay

Holding on to Hope

There are strict warnings about who or what we choose to hold onto in this life. We can’t have divided loyalties when we come to God. He’ll work with us through our doubts, but He expects us to choose Him when it comes down to it. The admonition to us today is still the same as the one Joshua gave Israel: “hold fast to Yahweh your God.”

God also told people in the Old Testament to hold onto His covenant, including the Sabbaths (which are a sign of being in covenant with God). That continues today. For example, Paul told the Corinthian church to “hold firm the traditions” and “hold firmly the word which I preached to you” in an epistle contextualized by his discussion of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (1 Cor. 11:2; 15:2, WEB). Paul also gave similar instructions in three other letters (2 Thes. 2:15; 1 Tim. 1:18-19; Tit. 1:8-9). We need to carefully hold on to the truth God gives us and obey his instructions. And when we do that, we’re holding on to some amazing things.

Christ is faithful as a Son over his house. We are his house, if we hold fast our confidence and the glorying of our hope firm to the end. … we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence firm to the end.

Hebrews 3:6-7, 13 WEB (emphasis added)

Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. …

And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy.

Hebrews 4:14; 10:23 NET (emphasis added)

 God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast

Hebrews 6:17-19, NET (emphasis added)

Look how positive this wording is. We’re to “hold fast” to our confidence in Christ and the glory of hope, the confession of our faith and hope, and the hope of joy set before us in the future. Holding onto God, His word, righteousness, and goodness also means holding onto hope and joy. It makes me think back to part of our Isaiah study from earlier this year about the joy found in keeping covenant with God (see “Isaiah Study: Joy in the Sabbath Covenant With God“). In a close relationship with God, obedience flows naturally from love and honoring God brings joy while strengthening hope.

Image of two men's hands gripping ropes on a ship. Overlaid with text from 1 Tim. 1:18-19, NET version: “I put this charge before you, Timothy my child, in 
keeping with the prophecies once spoken about you, in order that with such encouragement you may fight the good fight. To do this you must hold firmly to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck in regard to the faith.”
Image by Gusli2 from Pixabay

“Hold on to What You Have”

We can sum up the Bible’s “hold fast” instructions with this verse: “hold fast to what is good. Stay away from every form of evil” (1 Thes. 5:21-22, NET). Our spiritual walk requires tenacity–a conviction to hold tight to God and the goodness associated with Him while rejecting the things which would want to pull us away or present alternative things to cling to.

Something that helps us greatly in our quest to hold fast to good is that Jesus holds fast to us. He says that He and the Father hold Their people in Their hands (John 10:27-29). He also holds the keys to death, the spirits of God, the angels of the churches, and the keys to David’s kingdom–wonderous things we can only begin to understand (Rev. 1:16-18; 2:1; 3:1, 7). It’s in the letters to the churches in Revelation that Jesus describes Himself as holding these things, and it’s also here that He counsels us to keep holding on.

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have so that no one can take away your crown. …  The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Revelation 3:11, 13, NET

The “crown” here “refers to a wreath … worn as a symbol of honor, victory, or as a badge of high office” (NET footnote on Rev. 3:11). It’s not so much a symbol of ruling as it is of victory. Think of the laurel crowns in ancient Rome and Greece that still influence our language today; we use the word “laurels” for “a tangible symbol signifying approval or distinction” (Vocabulary.com).

We’re part of a spiritual war. We’ve joined up on God’s side–the one guaranteed victory in the end. Until the time when we receive our crowns of victory, we’re called to be soldiers in a war that mostly takes place on a spiritual plane but also bleeds into the physical realm. I have a book about this called Like An Anchor Study Guide: The Armor of God coming out early next year, but for now I’ll direct you to my series of blog posts on Spiritual Warfare if you want to read more about this.

You will be hated by everyone because of my name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.

Luke 21:17-19, NET

Jesus Christ and God the Father are the ones who make victory possible. We get to play a role, too. It’s our job to hang on to them and endure. That’s how we win. Spiritual tenacity is a vital component to living a victorious, godly life.

Featured image by S. Hermann / F. Richter from Pixabay

Don’t Give Up! Keep Running Your Race of Faith Without Looking Back

Do you ever feel stuck in the past and discouraged by how hard it is to move forward? You’re a Christian and you know that’s supposed to give you hope, but somehow that just doesn’t seem to be the case.

It’s disheartening to feel as if you can’t move forward from your past or that there is no way out of your present. Especially if you feel like you’ve done something so wrong or your circumstances are so hopeless that there’s no point trying to fix things. These sorts of worries weigh us down emotionally and spiritually. They can make us feel heavy, foggy, and hopeless (and may lead to other symptoms of depression as well).

Jesus never promised that life as a Christian would be without trials. He only promised to help us through those trials, and since He has all power and authority in heaven and earth this is an incredible promise (Matt. 28:18). It can be easy, though, to lose sight of the big picture and get distracted by all sorts of nasty things that cling to us, weighing us down and making it hard to keep moving forward. We might wonder how to get unstuck, or even if it’s possible.

The Cage Door Is Open

One thing I’ve realized is that most of the things that are holding onto me are also, at least to some extent, things that I’m holding onto right back. Jesus promises to make us free and to wash us clean of any sin. If we stay in a cage or keep rolling in the dirt, then it’s not because He has failed in some way. It’s because we’re still susceptible to the attacks of the enemy and the pulls of the world.

I don’t say this to make us feel guilty or ashamed (that’s another thing that weighs us down, and shame is not a productive emotion). I want to encourage you to shift your perspective. Instead of seeing yourself as a victim trapped in a locked cage made from whatever’s holding on to you (fear, past sins, personal shortcomings, etc), you can picture yourself as someone in an open cage where God is holding the door and asking you to come out. He knows it’s hard. He knows it’s frightening. He knows there are often circumstances outside your control that keep pulling you backwards. But He isn’t giving up and He’ll be there patiently helping you for as long as it takes. Read more

Trusting God When You’re Confused By Him: A Study of Lamentations 3

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about the practice of lament. It’s something we rarely discuss in modern Christianity, but it makes up more than 1/3 of the psalms and you can find lament throughout the rest of scripture as well. Instead of hiding their pain, people who lament take it to God in prayer. They turn to Him, bring their complaint in an honest, heartfelt way, ask boldly for help and then, equally boldly, choose to trust in God. I ended that first post about learning how to lament with a quote from my favorite passage in Lamentations:

This I recall to my mind; therefore I have hope. It is because of Yahweh’s loving kindnesses that we are not consumed, because his compassion doesn’t fail. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. “Yahweh is my portion,” says my soul. “Therefore I will hope in him.” (Lam. 3:21-24, all quotes from WEB translation)

This passage is lovely and hopeful, but it’s not the whole story of Jeremiah’s lament. It’s not even his concluding thought for this particular poem. Lament isn’t about convincing yourself to be happy. It’s about trusting God even when you’re not sure you want to. It’s about inviting Him to help you deal with hurt, loss, confusion, anger, and other complex, painful emotions. Hope is part of it, a key part, but there’s a lot more going on as well.

Feeling as If God Is Failing You

The third poem of Lamentations (each of the 5 chapters in this book is a separate poem) begins with the words, “I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.” Unlike other poems in Lamentations, Jeremiah doesn’t start by talking about all of the Lord’s people and how their sufferings affect them. This is about him and what God has done to him, personally. Jeremiah begins this poem talking about how it feels to believe that God is targeting him in particular for intense suffering. Read more

Getting Through Affliction With the Help of God’s Law

I was reading Psalm 119 the other day and one of the verses that caught my eye reads, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71, all quotes from WEB translation). Most of us don’t think it’s good when we’re depressed, chastened, weakened, oppressed, and bowed down (those are all meanings of the Hebrew word anah, H6031, which this translation renders “afflicted”). In fact, we’re pretty sure those things sound terrible, especially now that we’re all experiencing some of them as a result of the current pandemic. And yet, this psalmist said affliction was “good” because what they endured helped them learn the Lord’s statues (choq, H2706, could also be translated ordinance, limit, or law).

There’s no getting around it. Christianity is tough. When you think about it, though, it’s not any tougher than life outside the faith and if you’re inside you have God’s help so that balances things out in Christianity’s favor. Jesus promised us His help, presence, and protection but He also assured us that we would face trials, persecution, and suffering. Better teachers than I have tried to explain why — The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis and Where Is God When It Hurts? by Philip Yancey, for example — but one thing we can’t get around is the fact that pain is a part of life. And that’s true whether you’re a Christian or not.

One of the ways Christianity helps make sense of suffering is by saying it is a product of a world that has gone wrong. God didn’t want things to be this way, but they are now and until He comes back to set things right He’s going to find ways to make good come out of afflictions.

Delight in the Law

Psalm 119 is an acrostic psalm divided into 22 stanzas, one for each letter in the Hebrew alphabet. There are several verses within this psalm that talk about affliction, and we find the first in the zayin stanza.

Remember your word to your servant, because you gave me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, for your word has revived me. (Psalm 119:49-50)

A later verse in the lamed stanza puts this idea even more strongly:

Unless your law had been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for with them, you have revived me. (Psalm 119:92-93)

It is not just knowing or obeying God’s law, but finding joy in it that helps get us through tough times. All the knowledge of His words we can gather won’t do us much good unless we really care about what He tells us. But when we hold fast to Him — and by extension His word and the things that He cares about — it’s possible to find comfort, joy, and help even in afflictions. The psalmists did, and we can too. Read more

Learning How To Lament

Do you ever feel like maybe God isn’t living up to His promises? That He has abandoned you? Isn’t answering your prayers? Or that He should have done something to fix things and hasn’t?

Those are the sorts of thoughts we often feel guilty for thinking. After all, being a “good Christian” involves trusting God (which we often assume means not questioning Him) all the time no matter what, right? And so we try to ignore these kinds of thoughts and bury them deep where they won’t offend God or make us look bad to the other people in our church. But is that how God wants us to handle our painful questions?

There’s a Biblical practice called lament that models how to deal with anguish, pain, grief, and confusion. People of faith in scripture didn’t bottle up, hide, or ignore these feelings. They took them to God, turning questions we mistakenly think of as a lack of faith (or as a reason to give up on God) into a prayer. Over 1/3 of the Psalms are laments — “a prayer for help coming out of pain” (“Biblical Laments: Prayer Out of Pain” by Michael D. Guinan). There’s also a whole book of the Bible called Lamentations. Lament is found throughout scripture, from prophets, to psalmists, to Jesus. Lament is a good and godly practice and, if we learn how to do it, lament can help us hold on to trusting God even when we can’t figure out what He’s up to.

Praying through a sorrowful mood

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning? My God, I cry in the daytime, but you don’t answer; in the night season, and am not silent. (Psalm 22:1-2, all scriptures from WEB translation)

The feeling of abandonment and despair is one that David felt, most of us can sympathize with, and Jesus echoed on the cross (Matt. 27:46). We know God does not leave or forsake His faithful ones, but that doesn’t stop us from sometimes feeling as if we’ve been forsaken. Last week, we talked about moods of faith in the Psalms, specifically a confident, celebratory mood in Psalm 91. Here in Psalm 22 we get another mood — one that is equally valid for Christians and no less worthy of taking to God in prayer. Read more

Sheltering In The Almighty’s Shadow

I’ve been thinking about Psalm 91 quite a bit since the coronavirus became a world-wide concern. The rabbi at my Messianic congregation recently wrapped-up a six-part sermon series on this psalm, and none too soon since the very next week churches were asked to stop meeting. There are hospitals overwhelmed by patients, non-essential businesses being ordered to close, and “stay at home” orders coming from governments. It’s scary out there. But we don’t have to let fear take over our lives.

Psalm 91 contains some of the most stunning assurances of God’s care and protection in the Bible, and it’s a good reminder that we need not fear no matter how bad the things around us get. And things are going to get bad. None of us know when Jesus will return, but we do know we’re getting closer. As that time approaches, we were warned to expect “wars and rumors of wars … famines, plagues, and earthquakes” before the end comes (Matt. 24:6-8). None of what is happening now (or which has been happening for the past 2,000 years) should be a surprise for Bible-readers.

We’ve also been told how to handle it when things get bad. We should watch, be ready, pray, stay faithful, and fear not. Easier said than done, though, especially in these times when fear and panic are running rampant. One way to keep ourselves from getting swept up in unfruitful anxiety is by holding onto the promises in God’s word, like those found in Psalm 91.

God’s Power To Deliver

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of Yahweh, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2, all quotes from WEB)

Hebrew words often have a variety of meanings. The one translated “dwell” (H3427, yashab) can also mean remain, abide, inhabit, and marry. It’s that last one that seems out of place to us English speakers. How can marriage and dwelling mean the same thing? But if you think of marrying someone as giving a dwelling to them it starts to seem a little less unusual (Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew lexicon). The connection also makes sense as part of the recurring imagery of the Lord marrying His people and providing dwellings for them (Matt. 22:2; John 14:1-3).

This place spoken of in the psalm is a secret or “covered, hidden” location (H5643, sether) that belong to the Most High God. Dwelling here lets you rest under the shadow of the Almighty. Using these names helps remind us that God has all power and is perfectly capable of living up to the expectations the psalmist will speak of in the lines to follow. In addition, use of God’s personal name, Yahweh, demonstrates the closeness of relationship the psalmist has with Him and reminds us that He is the I AM who delivered Israel (Ex. 3:14-15). Read more