Every life has hardships, and every success story is filled with obstacles and near disasters. Nearly every financially successful person has lost everything at least once, and many several times. No one has made it to the place of success without facing and overcoming difficult odds. And all too often those that succeed do it at a tremendous price. Everyone who succeeds may point to a particular strength. But, the one strength common to all success is endurance. Because no one wins without hardship, everyone who wins must endure!
Paul’s writing to the Ephesians seems almost simplistic, “After you have done everything to stand just stand!” Sometimes I know I’ve done all I can do to bring about a success. All that is left to do is keep standing. Standing and enduring may be the hardest part. Activity makes us feel safe. It gives us the sense we are accomplishing something, whether we are or not. But enduring is what takes place when there is nothing left to do. When it seems that everything is beyond our control, it will be the strength to endure that keeps us holding on until success comes.
Endurance comes from many sources. It is the fruit of discipline, vision, hope and faith! In the parable of the sower and the seed, Jesus said those who lost the word through tribulation and hardship, lacked root. The truth was not rooted in their heart. “These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble” (Mark 4:16-17, NKJV). Enduring hardship is directly related to having an enduring vision. An enduring vision is one that is rooted deep in the heart. It is the unshakable certainty that the end is sure. If the vision is not rooted in our heart, we will give up when the hardships arise. If we lose sight of the vision, the hardships become exaggerated. They become bigger in our mind that they really are. But the person who is focused on the vision has little awareness of the hardship. Few people exemplify this more than the Apostle Paul. Paul, who had been beaten, imprisoned, betrayed, shipwrecked and maligned, referred to his suffering as “light affliction.” Paul experienced something that influenced him more than his hardship.
He had a vision to take the gospel to the world. It was his calling, his destiny. It was rooted too deeply in his heart to by plucked up by life’s hardships. When giving the secret to his capacity to endure incredible hardship Paul said, “we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen” (2 Cor. 4:18, NKJV). The person who sees the end from the beginning will endure hardship. The person who sees the end, experiences strength beyond what others can see or perceive.
Those who see the end are immovable. They always have a light in the darkness. The hardship is minimized by the joy of the goal. Sometimes the only difference between the incredible success and the failure is the ability to endure. Many times we have the right idea, the right plan and the right opportunity. But if we do not see it through, all the way to the end, we never know! We are left in that vague tormenting uncertainty; was the problem me or was the problem the plan? We must always be ready to walk away from a bad plan. We need to know when it is time to quit. A bad plan will never work regardless of how long and hard we work at it. But we should never quit because we lack the character to endure till the end. A person of character does not equate a bad plan with being a bad leader. Great leaders know when to walk away. Their ego is not bound to a particular project. But they never quit just because they lack the personal strength.
I enjoy the story of Wally Amos, a man who succeeded late in life. It is said that he lost everything he had, several times but he never lost faith. Late in life he became known as the father of the gourmet cookie industry when he found success with the Famous Amos Cookies. Wally Amos faced and overcame hardship so many times that he embodied the saying, “when life gives you a lemon make lemonade.” He so embraced this philosophy that in his official portrait he holds a pitcher in one hand and a glass of lemonade in the other. He endured until he could turn the lemons of life into lemonade. As one person pointed out, he didn’t just make lemonade; he sold it back to the people who handed him the lemons.
Colonel Sanders was another man who continually faced hardship and failure. As a child he learned to cook by taking care of his siblings while his widowed mother worked to provide an income for the family. Over the course of the next 30 years, Sanders held jobs ranging from streetcar conductor to insurance salesman, but throughout it all his skill as a cook developed. It was actually while operating a gas station that he began to develop the chicken dinner that would eventually become KFC. He kept trying until he found a way to succeed at the thing that he loved.
Then there is the story of Og Mandino, a homeless man who found refuge from the cold winter of the streets in libraries. Looking for little more than a warm dry place to survive he was only allowed to stay in the library as long as he was reading. So, he began reading books on success. The self-trained, homeless man overcame what must have been insurmountable obstacles and went from a homeless street dweller to a millionaire.
One of my favorite stories of endurance is about Bob Carlisle who sang and wrote Butterfly Kisses. It is said that everyone had given up on him. His record label had dropped him. Nothing he was doing was working. No one believed he would ever make it. When he recorded Butterfly Kisses it happened because of an act of kindness by someone who had allowed him the use of a studio. This person had so little hope for the project that he didn’t even want any claim to the royalties. This would be his last shot at any kind of success.
According to those that knew him, Bob Carlisle was sleeping in his van when he got his first royalty check on Butterfly Kisses, which was the number one song in the world at that time. It is said that his first royalty check made him wealthy. He went from poverty to wealth in one moment, from failure to superstar. All his success came when everyone had given up on him and advised him to give up.
The list of success stories that occurred when people were at the end of their hope is endless. The world has been changed by people who just didn’t know how to give up. And most of them had a string of failures that preceded their success! Anytime I hear the phrase “over night success,” I know this is usually someone who spent years becoming that “overnight success.” I know this is usually someone who would not quit! My good friend and fellow minister, Jimmie Bratcher talks about the gift of “showing up!” Sometimes that’s all we know to do, but there is virtue in the fact that we keep showing up.
Sometimes, facing adversity is like walking in a freezing wind on a winter’s day. You just lean forward and try to walk. When facing adversity, James 5:11 says, “Indeed we count them blessed who endure.” You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord — that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful. In one of the worst hardship stories in the Bible, we see that God’s plan for Job was always a better life. No matter what you are facing, God has a good ending prepared for you! The more clearly you see that end in your heart, the greater your capacity to endure.
Do whatever it takes to keep you goal alive in your heart. The mark of a winner is not that he never falls or fails. He or she just keeps getting up. Maybe all you can do today is show up. But that’s better than any other option. The person who keeps showing up, eventually shows up at the right place, at the right time.
The words of John Osteen, the founder of Lakewood church, now pastored by Joel Osteen, have encouraged me so many times. John was a pioneer in so many ways. But his early days were filled with constant challenge and opposition. According to Bill Deerman, this super-church never had more than 200 people for over twenty years. At the time of his death more than 10,000 people per week were attending Lakewood church and tens of thousands were watching his services on television. I once heard John say that the secret to his success was that he kept preaching good news until he found the people who wanted it!
Don’t quit! Tomorrow you may become the next “overnight success!”