What stubbornness won't do
In our earlier lives Harriet and I were both bulldogs. She attended Atlantic Christian College in Wilson, North Carolina (now Barton College) and cheered for their Bulldogs. My college days, if you can call them that, were at The Citadel where I joined the rest of the Corps harassing the opponents of our Bulldog sports teams. We've laughed at the puzzle of two bulldogs from such different backgrounds hooking up for the past forty-six years. Then again, it's not such a mystery. We're both bulldogs in spirit. There's this stubborn thing we both share. And, over the years, as these bulldog ways have marked our lives, we've found some truth about life and faith that has moved us beyond the comic relief of two hard-headed people doing life together.
You know, when the Bible talks about stubbornness it isn't good. Most references depict stubbornness as resistance to God, the heart of stone that manifests itself in an immovable mind. While our culture typically applauds people with this kind of focus and admires their resolve, stubbornness in Scripture is a vice rather than a virtue. It is a dysfunction of pride, a self-absorbed stringency that supposedly elevates our character as we collide with the walls of life. Stubborn people just keep hitting that wall over and over again. The destination we're seeking beyond that barrier is often lost in our determination to knock it down. Genuinely stubborn people will second their goals, ambitions, aspirations, purpose, and mission to tearing down that wall. And, being stubborn usually won't get it done.
The word in Scripture is steadfast, or the discipline of steadfastness. As mentioned Monday, Job wasn't really patient or stubborn as our urban legends about him suggest. He was steadfast. Four Greek words are translated into the derivatives of "steadfast" in the New Testament. They all are word pictures of firmness, immovability, lasting endurance. In the broadest way steadfastness is reliance on God's provision when we encounter the walls of life. It is theocentric rather than egocentric. In the Bible, steadfastness is always a spiritual virtue. It involves the firmness of knowing what we believe and therefore achieving our purpose and mission because of it. Steadfast isn't really concerned with walls or tearing them down. More, it is the strength of character to move around or through walls with the provision of God.
The Apostle Paul wrote about steadfastness in many of his Epistles.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in
the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:58, ESV
If indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the
hope of the gospel that you heard.
Colossians 1:23, ESV
Practical James also wrote about the grace of steadfastness.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know
that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have
its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1:2-4, ESV
That's a strong concept, to "let steadfastness have its full effect". It's the simple point that those walls in life help us realize steadfastness in us so that we can "be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing". Steadfastness helps us endure those walls, or, as Paul mentioned in 1 Cor. 15:58, give us the personal character of "abounding in the work of the Lord", perhaps moving past the wall that stubbornness won't move.
We all know about hitting the wall(s). Some of us spend our most precious resources hitting those same walls over and over again, stubborn to the bone. Simon Peter, perhaps our most identifiable blood brother, wrote this---
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue,and
virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with
steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly
affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and
are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the
knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:5-8, ESV
Stubbornness won't move that wall. Sure it will keep you firmly in place pounding on it time after time, day after day. And, if pounding walls is your thing, then you're set for life. As Paul reminds us, however, steadfastness will result in our being effective and fruitful, even when a wall is in the way.