Tools for the Journey: Perseverance

Tools

I am continuing to address the question, now with various means for personal devotion. You may find a list of all posts in this series here.

Look at the picture of the tool chest for a moment. It was made by hand, obviously not in an afternoon or even a long weekend; it may well have taken weeks to design. You can’t tell from a single picture, but it holds over 300 tools. To create something like that demands not just great skill, but also perseverance.

Our journey toward Christ-likeness also demands perseverance. The Apostle Paul plainly tells the Philippians this truth.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained

Philippians 3:12-16 (ESV)

You may find that changing your focus from other pursuits—television, video games, social media, and other trivialities—to more time with the scriptures and prayer is not a simple exchange. There are deep reasons for this and it is more than just picking up your Bible instead of the remote. Our minds are not CD players in which we can merely switch discs to play a different piece.

[Cassian] also said that the devil, enemy of all spiritual instruction, works hard to provoke useless words. He used the following example, “Once when I was talking to some brothers on a helpful topic, they were overcome by sleep so deep, that they could not even move their eyelids any longer. Then, wishing to show them the power of the devil, I introduced a trivial subject of conversation. Immediately, they woke up, full of joy. Then I said to them with many sighs, ‘Until now, we were discussing heavenly things and your eyes were heavy with sleep, but when I embarked on a useless discourse, you all woke up with alacrity. Therefore, brothers, I implore you to recognize the power of the evil demon; pay attention to yourselves, and guard yourselves from the desire to sleep when you are doing or listening to something spiritual.'”¹

John Cassian, c. 360-435 AD

It is not just our own weakness that makes this hard. We have an enemy. If achieving Christ-likeness was easy, we would not revere saints.

There are some who are troubled because their prayers are full of distractions. This proceeds from pride, which is presumptuous enough to be astonished at the weakness and impotency of the mind. When you perceive that your thoughts are wandering, make an act of humility, and exclaim: “O my God, what an abject creature I am in not being able to fix my thoughts on Thee even for a few moments.” Renew this act of humility as often as these distractions occur, and if it is written of charity that “it covers a multitude of sins,” it is also true of humility and contributes greatly to our perfection. “The very knowledge of our imperfection,” says St. Augustine, “tends to the praise of humility.”²

Cajetan Mary da Bergamo

So don’t lose heart when you find yourself drifting in prayer or reading, either to sleep or to a thousand other things. If your mind wanders to something you need to remember for later, write it down and return to your task. Ask God to help you stay focused. Be humble at how difficult it is for you to read and pray for a time, but how seemingly effortless it is to devote hours to many other trivial or destructive things.

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

James 4:6-8 (ESV)

Press on.


¹ Ward, Benedicta, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, Cistercian Publications: Gethsemani, KY, 1975 p.114
² Cajetan Mary da Bergamo, Humility of Heart, Translated by Herbert Cardinal Vaughn, 1903, §93.

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