When we read through the letters of Paul in the New Testament, it’s easy to gloss over the lists of names at the ends of each book, names like Aristarchus, Tychicus, Sosipater, Timothy, Phoebe, Silas, Lucius, and Jason. We shouldn’t. Each name had a face. Each name carried a story. Each name marked a human being who struggled and probably died serving the same Jesus we serve. One of the reasons I think God left these seemingly insignificant endnotes in the Bible was to remind us of the power of seasoned Christian mentors.
Paul poured his life into these men and women. Everything they went through, Paul beat them to the punch. Imprisoned? Been there. Beaten? Paul had the scars on his face. Discouraged? Lonely? Impoverished? Paul had experienced it all. When Paul spoke about suffering and God’s presence and the miracle we experience when we persevere, it meant something; it carried weight. Paul’s words brought life. His presence brought calm to anxious hearts, and his perseverance made people believe that they could persevere too. Do you have someone like that in your life? If not, don’t rest until you find someone. The lessons you’ll learn and the strength you’ll gain will be crucial to experiencing a miracle of perseverance.
Someone who was Paul to me was a man named Ray. I met him when we lived in Ohio. Ray had just retired as a pastor from an area church and I begged him to come and be on my staff. He was looking forward to retirement, but he and his wonderful wife, Mary Helen, agreed to work on our staff free of charge for one year. I thought the reason God made this happen was so we would have more hands to start the church. Looking back, I think the reason God crossed our paths was to teach me how to pray.
One day Ray and Mary Helen invited our family over for lunch and said, “When we’re done, we can pray for the church.” Sure enough, after lunch we put a video on for the children and went back to Ray’s office to sit in a circle and pray. Five minutes later I lifted my head, thinking we were done, but Ray and Mary Helen continued praying. I couldn’t believe it. I put my head back down and prayed some more, picking my head up fifteen minutes later to look at the clock. They were still praying. I lowered my head again, but this time as Ray and Mary Helen prayed, I began to lose track of time. The power and urgency of their words gripped me, my heart slowed down, and I became conscious of my breathing. It felt like Jesus was sitting in the empty chair in our circle, nodding every time Ray or Mary Helen asked him to help someone in need. Over an hour later, as if emerging from a restful sleep, we all lifted our heads and sat silently. For the first time I understood what the disciples must have felt when they listened to Jesus pray and why they cried, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
A few years after we moved to Philadelphia, we received word that Mary Helen had a stroke that left her partially paralyzed and unable to walk. Ray rebuilt their bathroom and purchased an electric cart so Mary Helen could travel outside. Unfortunately, her condition worsened over the next few years, and complications eventually took Mary Helen’s life.
The time I spent with Ray changed my life. Whenever I’m struggling under the heavy weight of a burden, I always think of the last Christmas letter I received from Ray and Mary Helen before she passed away. Ray wrote the entire letter himself, unlike previous years. He mentioned Mary Helen’s complications and the things she was unable to do—she wasn’t able to garden; she couldn’t go on walks with Ray; they couldn’t joke and carry on meaningful conversations as they had. Then he wrote something that made me catch my breath: “Even though Mary Helen can’t speak anymore, we still pray together every day.”
That’s perseverance. It’s miraculous.
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