Columnists > Judgment Calls

Perseverance pays

Taking the wisdom of Woody to a new level

Issue: "Homeland insecurity," Nov. 10, 2001

Ninety percent of life is just showing up," I heard a woman say in church one Sunday. That thought, expressed many years ago by Woody Allen, was so helpful that I found myself repeating it like a mantra throughout the week.

"Jump before you're pushed" is the motto I used to live by. But as a newly recruited member of the demographic of single parenthood, I can no longer afford the luxury of pandering to my natural diffidence. Four kids want to eat. Might even entertain the crazy notion of going to college.

Scratch a good secular saying and you'll find a Bible verse underneath. In a few minutes' time I was tracing the church lady's words back to the source-the source of all wisdom that's heard "crying aloud in the street" (Proverbs 1:20).

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Abraham showed up-and not by Greyhound either. All around the fertile crescent, and not a square foot of land to call his own at the end of it. Then he showed up at Mt. Moriah too. And what did he find? God is good. God is faithful. God doesn't give us more than we can bear.

Moses didn't want to show up: too ineloquent, too old. But God said, I am with you; you will do. He told the same to Israel: Do not be afraid of the Anakites, those giants in your life. The Lord your God, who is going up before you, will fight for you (Deuteronomy 1:30).

And there were times when they literally just had to show up! In Jericho they walked around a wall seven times and the city was theirs (Joshua 6). In Jehoshaphat's day, the king cried out to the Lord, "We have no power to face this vast army attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you." Then God rolled up his sleeves and said, "You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you" (2 Chronicles 20:17).

Jesus showed up, and so you are saved.

I noticed in the book of Acts that God steers an agent as he's moving, not as he's standing still, so I tried it out: "Lord, I'll fill in the applications, you get me the job." Then I showed up to teach 5th and 6th graders at Elkins Park Middle School, and they chewed me up and spit me out. Turns out there's a whole range of traits on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory Test that I'm missing. That's OK. A door closes, a door opens. And the failed experiment is thrown into the hopper, recycled, and used by God later down the road.

Reasons for not showing up include laziness and fear (Matthew 25), or bad theology ("I'm waiting for the Spirit to make me want to get a job"). But God has parsed reality into two parts: the things you're responsible for and the things He's responsible for (Deuteronomy 29:29). Our job: "Trust in the Lord, and do good" (Psalm 37:3).

Showing up means not smudging the Creator/creature distinction. Showing up means there's no conflict between hard work and God's sovereignty. It means casting your bread upon the water and waiting. It means faithfulness is more important than giftedness. It means your mother was right about the tortoise and the hare, and Solomon about the ant: Perseverance pays off.

Showing up means that, when you find out you are a little toe in the body of Christ and not an eye or ear, you go out and be the best little toe you can be. For with the Lord "the gift is acceptable according to what one has and not according to what he does not have" (2 Corinthians 8:12).

I am persuaded that from here on in, as the Lord tarries, things are going to get so bad out there that you will be able to achieve success just by "showing up"-being faithful in the small things, doing right, living healthy, turning off the TV.

Of course, you can't prejudge too narrowly what "success" will look like. Peter and John were locked up for showing up to preach (Acts 5)-and counted it success! An early missionary to Korea was beheaded with Bible in hand the minute he stepped off the boat in Pyongyang. A most successful enterprise: See, somebody papered his walls with Scripture parchment, somebody else read it and was saved, and today Korea sends out missionaries.

And so the woman on Sunday morning got me thinking in this vein. Maybe she was a bit uncomfortable speaking before the congregation. Maybe the elders had to nudge her, I don't know. But the lady showed up, she did, and it's made all the difference.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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