NEVER GIVE UP – Galatians 6:9
There’s a famous story about Winston Churchill being invited to speak at his old school – the famous Harrow Public School. When he was invited to deliver his speech, he stood to his feet and in true Churchillian voice simply said: ‘Never, never, never give up.’Then, according to the story, he sat down.
If a speech like that had been delivered by anyone else, the listeners would have felt they’d been short-changed. But coming from Churchill, whose whole life had been a series of meteoric rises followed by crashing falls from grace, and who, despite his shortcomings, alone rallied the British people to keep on fighting during three years of crushing defeats, those few words carried an authority that those boys never forgot.
They are a fitting introduction to the words with which the Apostle Paul concludes his letter to the Galatians: ‘Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.’In other words, in your life for God, never, never, never give up.
The importance of these words to Christians in every age is clear, because of all the things likely to deflect us from carrying out whatever God has called us to do, the most potent is discouragement.Nowhere is this more evident than in the dropout rate amongst ministers these days. It used to be that someone ordained in their 20s would remain in ministry until retirement; but nowadays the drop-out rate often hits 50% within 10 years, and discouragement stands out as a major factor.
I remember the principal of my theological college, speaking at our final chapel service before graduation, referring to Jesus’ words: ‘No man, having put his hand to the plough and turning back is fit for the Kingdom of God.’He went on to say that there has never been a time when the work of the ministry has not been hard and discouraging, and that it would be for us. And if there’s one thing that half a century in ministry has taught me, it is that he was right.
The secularization of our society that has led to the marginalization of the Church, and its indifference – even hostility in some cases - to religious belief has become a major obstacle in our attempt to share the unsearchable riches of Christ. Add to this the scandals that have beset the Church in recent times and have had such a devastating effect on its credibility and we are left with a situation in which the work of the Gospel has never been harder than it is today in places like Australia.
So, it is appropriate for us to reflect on those closing words of Galatians: ‘Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up...’especially when we compare themwith what Jesus said at the end of of today’s Gospel reading.
Luke chapter 10 tells how Jesus sent 70 disciples out on a preaching mission to all the towns he intended to visit. When they returned, they were ecstatic. Their mission had been successful beyond expectations. They reported that even the demons had submitted to them in His name.
But Jesus responded by saying something quite strange: ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven.’It’s hard to know what he meant by that. He might have been responding to their success by saying: Yes, Satan’s days are numbered, and the kingdom of God is on its way.
On the other hand, he might have been warning them against the over-confidence that leads to pride.The Jews believed that Satan had once been the chief of the angels, but pride had caused him to rebel against God, and as a result was cast out of heaven. So, Jesus might have meant:Don’t let your success go to your head. I saw what it did to Satan.
But then he went on to say: ‘Don’trejoice that the spirits submit to you but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’In other words, don’t look to earthly success for your joy, because life’s not always going to be as easy as what you just experienced. Find your joy in God.
That’s why we need to reflect again on those final words of Galatians: ‘Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.’It’s all about persistence- keeping on keeping on, faithfully doing what we know in our hearts we are meant to be doing, and learning to live with disappointment when the going is tough and the fruits of our labours seem scarce.
The story of the Church is that of countless, unknown people who have faithfully gone about doing what they believed God had called them to do. Some saw the fruit of their labour in this life, but most will probably only see it in Eternity. But they refused to give up and they all will be greeted by our Lord’s words: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’
I learned a lot about the importance of never giving up during my years in the army. The need to stick together and keep on going– especially when the odds are against you – is fundamental to a soldier’s training; and nowhere more so than in the annual Combat Fitness Test, which everyone in combat units and formations has to do.
My first experience of it was in 1990 when I became Senior Chaplain at HQ 2ndDivision. At 45, I was the oldest person on the HQ. The majority were still in their 20s. But we all had to complete the same 4 exercises, one after the other, dressed in combat uniform including boots, 2 full water bottles, combat pack, ammunition pouches and carrying a rifle.
The first test was to climb 20-foot-high rope hanging from a bar. Then we had to get over a 6-foot-high wall, negotiate several obstacles, jump a 5-foot-wide ditch, scramble over wire entanglements, and then do the whole thing again in reverse. I had 60 seconds to complete it.
Then we had to pick up another soldier, complete with packs and rifles, and carry him 100 metres in 60 seconds; before forming up and setting off on a 15 kilometre forced march – a combination of running and fast marching, which had to be completed in 2 hours.
Well, on that first occasion, I managed the rope OK, except that, having never done it before, I wasn’t aware of the techniques, and used my arm muscles to haul myself up the rope, rather than gripping with my hands and using my leg muscles to provide the energy. Consequently, I was already exhausted when I tried to scramble over that 6-foot high wall, which is an even greater challenge when you’re short like I am.
I’d barely recovered from that when another officer, about my height, but built like a barrel said: ‘Come on, Padre, I’ll carry you first then you carry me.’ He was smart; he got the slightly downhill slope of the 100 metre course, leaving me to carry him uphill. I still remember the chief of staffshaking his head and saying: ‘You’re getting the worst of this.’
Well we got to the change-over point and swapped places. But I still remember how I groaned as I got him over my shoulders and then strained to stand up. At that moment, the command was given to set off again and I realized I’d left the 2 rifles on the ground. So, I had to go down again, grab them, straighten up and start running.
After a while I felt the other man sliding from my shoulder. and I thought to myself: There’s no way I can do this. But then a marvelous thing happened. Those who had completed the test all ran back and lined the route yelling in unison: Go! Go! Go! And that put a strength into me I didn’t know I had, and we got across the line right on the 60 seconds.
Five minutes later we formed up into a body and set off on the 15 kilometre forced march. I’d done 15 kilometre runs a couple of times before, but never in boots and carrying a load, and I’d certainly never started a run when I was physically exhausted. Consequently, I began to fall behind the main body until they were a good 50 metres ahead of me.
It was then that Des, our chief clerk and a devout Roman Catholic, dropped back and said to me: Come on, Padre; show’em what an ‘expletive’Protestant can do.’ And he stuck with me until we eventually caught up with the main body and crossed the finish line right on time.
I’ve never forgotten that experience. The soldiers that I was there to instruct in the principles of life actually ended up teaching me one of life’s most important lessons - that if you have the support of others who understand, and if you refuse to give up, you can find a strength inside to keep on going even when you feel things are hopeless.
Well, I don’t know what it is that you may be battling with at present, and what it is that may be tempting you to give-up on your hopes and dreams. Whatever it is, if that hope is for something that you are convinced is God’s will for you to strive for, then, as Churchill said to the boys at Harrow; never, never, never give up.
The Apostle Paul finished his letter to the Galatian Christians with the words: ‘Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.’ And Jesus, speaking of those things we give and do that nobody knows or cares about, said: Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.’
God knows, God understands, God cares, and God will reward you.So, never, never, never give up!