At the 1983 Australian Ultramarathon—a footrace of 544 grueling miles from Sydney to Melbourne—an odd competitor showed up. Everyone else was a highly trained, commercially sponsored professional. But Cliff Young was a sixty-one-year-old farmer. Unlike the others, who were clad in professional running shoes and cool athletic gear with sponsored logos, Cliff wore a loose white shirt flopping over baggy overalls. He had rubber galoshes over his boots and a white baseball cap hung with sunscreening flaps.
The officials laughed, thinking they were being set up for a joke. But Cliff was serious and ready to run. His name went down on the roster, and someone pinned a number on his faded overalls. Uncertainty about Cliff continued as the runners lined up to start the race. Was this old man really going to compete against young, highly trained athletes with sculpted bodies? Some still thought it was a joke. Others thought him naïve or perhaps a little deranged. Some jeered and shouted insults.
When the starting gun fired, the runners took off. The crowd laughed at the contrast between the young contestants’ disciplined strides and Cliff’s odd-gaited shuffle. But five days, fifteen hours, and four minutes later, no one was laughing. Cliff Young crossed the Melbourne finish line almost ten hours ahead of the second-place runner. The astounded press descended on him en masse. How did this aging farmer accomplish such a spectacular run?
Two facts emerged: First, as a shepherd too poor to own a horse, Cliff often herded entire flocks of sheep alone, sometimes running day and night to keep up with the flock. Second, he didn’t realize that runners in ultramarathons stopped at night to rest. He ran the entire distance without sleeping.1
Cliff Young had the primary attribute required to win any long-distance race: perseverance. He just kept on going. While his competitors eased their ordeal with rest, he relentlessly pushed through his exhaustion. His eyes were on the goal—and nothing else.
The apostle Peter listed perseverance as the next virtue we must cultivate to live the authentic Christian life: “Add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance” (2 Peter 1:5–6). The word perseverance literally means “to bear up under.” It describes someone who remains steadfast in the face of severe trials, obstacles, and suffering.2
Perseverance is a never-give-up attitude, a commitment to move forward when everything is conspiring to hold you back. No matter what happens, you finish the job. Think of the English word itself: persevere. The prefix per conveys the idea of “through,” so perseverance is the ability to go through a severe time.
Perseverance turns ordeals into opportunities. It gives us the opportunity to finish what we begin, to outlast pain and sorrow, to strive until we accomplish things that are difficult, and to demonstrate God’s grace in all the seasons of life.
As Eugene Peterson wrote, “Perseverance is not resignation, putting up with things the way they are, staying in the same old rut year after year after year, or being a doormat for people to wipe their feet on. Endurance is not a desperate hanging on but a traveling from strength to strength. . . . Perseverance is triumphant and alive.”3
David Jeremiah, Everything You Need: 8 Essential Steps to a Life of Confidence in the Promises of God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019).
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