Petersen now turns to the next of the psalms of Ascents, Psalm 129, and focuses on the subject of perseverance. He talks of a word his mother used “stick-to-itiveness”. Not a word I have heard before but one which simply puts the concept of perseverance in a different way, it’s all about “sticking at it” no matter what comes along, good or bad.
He majors, and rightly so, on the tendency of people to give up when times get hard, but I think there is also the danger of meddling and trying to improve “to make it even better”, when things are already going well. But enough of that and lets get back to the chapter in question. And the first thing that he points out is that despite all the attempts from many different angles (though always with one “mastermind”, Satan or the Devil or the Evil One) Christianity is still alive and well and flourishing in many places. This is true of faith in general, and he also points out the temptations of Christ at the beginning (40 days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan) and end of His earthly ministry (His personal struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane) as the prime example of the perseverance of the individual. He also reminds us of the perseverance of Paul, as he encouraged the believers in Corinth to stay strong despite whatever came their way, in 2 Corinthians 11. As he says “the way of faith has been tested thoroughly, and it works.”
Petersen reminds us of the 2 illustrations in the psalm. Firstly, that people will come against us, like ploughmen seeking to plough a field, metaphorically cutting us to ribbons. It will be difficult and hurt for a while but then God disengages the harnesses of the ploughs, so though the enemy continues with his task, they are now rendered ineffective, God has removed their power to damage and hurt us. Then secondly, those who seek to destroy our faith are relying on ground which is poor and though grass or a crop may at first appear, there is not enough for it tho have any depth of root, so it withers and dies.
He then deals with the anger we at times can feel, when we feel unjustly persecuted. it goes against old testament (and Christ’s teaching) so it should not lead to action, but it is right to recognise it and fight against that which causes it to rise up. As he says, if we simply accept the attack he fears that it will lead to problems for the individual or the church :-
“it is apathetic, sluggish neutrality that is death to perseverance …. the person who makes excuses for hypocrites and rationalises the excesses of the wicked, who loses a sense of opposition to sin, who obscures the difference between faith and denial, grace and selfishness, that is the person to be wary of. For if there is not all that much difference between the way of faith and the ways of the world, there is not much use in making any effort to stick to it.”
Perseverance does not mean we are perfect, it does mean we keep going, we don’t quit when we mess up. We will get it wrong in our personal lives and as churches / fellowships, but we keep coming back to God and seek His guidance and help.
Perseverance is also not mere endurance or merely hanging on to what we have, it is striving to move from strength to strength.
Most importantly however we persevere because that is the example God shows to us. He sticks with us when we mess up, so we should stick with Him, when things seem to become difficult or go wrong. The psalmist starts this psalm saying “they’ve kicked me around ever since I was young, but they never could keep me down.” God sticks to His relationships, He establishes a personal relationship with us and stays with it. The writer to the Hebrews gives a whole chapter to the men of faith, who God stuck with despite their faults and who in turn, stuck with God.
The way of the world is to dabble and change when things go wrong, the Christian counter-culture should be to stick with it, change when God leads, not before and certainly not just because things have become a bit uncomfortable. Our Saviour endured many uncomfortable times, where would we be if in the Garden He had “you know what, that’s too much for me”? Thank God He persevered, may we do the same.