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Posted: February 25, 2011 12:00 a.m.

About Faith: Perseverance

Caltech recently broke a 26-year, 310-game losing streak by beating Occidental in a Division III basketball game.

I’ll bet even Occidental was rooting for them. We all can appreciate the perseverance it takes to keep playing with a record like that.

Cleaning out my attic, one day, I found an old plastic picture frame, disjointed at the corners and chipped in a couple of places. I was ready to throw it out with other rubbish, when the contents caught my eye.

On water-stained paper there was a faded drawing of a shepherd tending his flock. Beneath it were these words: "Let us not be weary in well doing. Verily, there is reward for the righteous."

Although it would never fetch a dollar in a yard sale, I proudly have it hanging on my office wall.

I say proudly, but my pride is in having it, not living up to it.

At times I have taken the easy path, or failed to take a path at all, when the long journey would have been worth the effort. The faded picture goads me on when I am tempted to quit a task worth doing. It reminds me that the quality of life is often measured not by length of years, nor wealth attained, but by the simple habit of getting up every day and doing the right thing. As Shakespeare wrote, "Perseverance, dear my lord, Keeps honour bright: To have done, is to hang quite out of fashion, like a rusty nail in monumental mockery."

It would be easier to persevere if our accomplishments were more measurable and concrete. We could mark our progress, be encouraged, and move on. At work, perhaps we can count the widgets we have produced or sold, the calls made, the pages typed. It is a good feeling to look back over the new-mown lawn and see the task completed.

But the more important things that give meaning to our lives defy quantification. How much did my company benefit from my labors? How well did I nurture my child or love my spouse? How glad are my friends to see me?

As a pastor, John Wesley’s question constantly hangs over me: Does your work bear fruit?

So much of what I do, certainly the most important things, cannot be measured. I cannot count even souls brought to saving grace, for to do so is to presume to judge what is God’s to judge. And even if I knew, it would not be my accomplishment, but Christ’s. So at the end of the day, my head rests easily on my pillow only because I know I was faithful in the task. I did not grow weary in well-doing.

But counting the fruit is not the only challenge. We must also withstand the discouragement. It has been said that the race is won by him who keeps on running. We spend the time, take the chance, and each time we fall, we dust ourselves off and keep going. When our dreams fall to the floor and shatter, we reach down, pick up a shard, and run with it.

God the blacksmith is pleased with the sword that endures the hammer and anvil, and becomes tempered by fire. Our maker has no use for soft metal that avoided being stressed. But as we persevere, our tribulations change us into something with deep luster and keen edge. As our days come to a close, we strain our ears to hear the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant." Verily, there is reward for the righteous.

Brian Dale is pastor of Allen Memorial Methodist Church in Oxford.

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