In this fifth of seven articles adapted from Andrew Brunson’s “Prepare to Stand” video series, Brunson discusses the importance of perseverance, which proved indispensable during the two years he was imprisoned in Turkey for his Christian faith. Applying the lessons Brunson learned can help us prepare so that when persecution comes, we will stand firm to the end.
When pressure comes, we can throw ourselves into the pursuit of pleasure, which is often an attempt to escape or self-medicate. In fact, medical research has shown that our brains are hardwired to seek distraction when under pressure. When the brain is flooded with the stress hormone cortisol, the reward center of the brain looks for pleasurable stimuli. These can be chemical, like drugs, alcohol or sugar; or behavioral, such as sexual immorality, pornography, entertainment, social media, gambling, shopping—anything that allows us an escape.
Jesus warned believers about this danger: “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap” (Luke 21:34).
I suggest that the pursuit of pleasure and self-fulfillment is, for many people, their controlling value. This basically means we do what makes us feel good. Our feelings and desires determine our path. When we encounter hardship, we retreat to a safe place because part of taking care of ourselves is the avoidance of suffering.
This way of thinking has crept into the church. Many Christians think, God wants me to be happy, but the way of Jesus is very different. He expects us to accept suffering voluntarily for His sake. In fact, He says very clearly that hardship is part of the cost of following Him. We can’t just do what we feel like doing; we have to do what He wants. When we encounter hardship, we need to persevere through it unless the Lord delivers us. Our real safety lies in Heaven.
So, the underlying values of our culture are in opposition to the requirements of Jesus, and this makes the message of perseverance under pressure especially important.
Some years ago, a friend exclaimed, “Andrew, you will be known for perseverance.” And I immediately thought, Oh, no. I would much rather be known for something else—for miracles, for many people coming to Jesus, for whatever, but please, not perseverance, because perseverance by definition means enduring in the midst of difficulties.
Several years later, when I ended up in prison and I started to break, I remembered this word about perseverance, and I started to press into it in prayer. “O God, build perseverance in me,” I prayed, because I really, really needed it.
With the pressures and difficulties that are coming our way, we need a mindset of perseverance so that we can remain faithful.
As I read the Bible in prison, I noticed that Jesus had a lot to say about persevering and enduring. In the Gospels, He tells His disciples, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22). He also says, “By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:19). To the churches of Asia Minor, the seven churches of Revelation, Jesus says that only those who overcome, that is, those who endure, will receive His promises. To the church at Smyrna—and this is where I myself was imprisoned—Jesus said, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
First, understand that perseverance is a decision of the will. Paul encouraged Timothy to have the mentality of a soldier, as he exhorted him to follow his example in being willing to undergo persecution. And this is the mentality that I had to develop in prison.
I think of my first year in prison as one of breaking and the second as a year of rebuilding. The turning point came when I made a decision to fight for my relationship with God because I was very close to failing. I said, “I will run after You, Jesus, and if I can’t run, then I will crawl. I will follow You, no matter what.”
This was not driven by emotions. I had just been transferred to a maximum-security prison. Things did not look good. My feelings were in turmoil. This was a decision driven by my will.
After this initial decision, I was still weak. I still felt beaten down, so I had to persist in this decision day after day. Perseverance is all about making decisions with the will, often in complete contradiction to how we feel. And this requires determination, intentionality, discipline.
But as I flexed the perseverance muscle day after day, this built a determination, and it strengthened me, so that I emerged from prison stronger than when I went in.
And this underlines the second point: Perseverance is not a one-time decision. It’s a decision that needs to be persisted in again and again and again. I am not a highly disciplined person. This really did not come easily to me. I had to work at it. I had to exert myself.
Paul wrote in Philippians that “everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:21, NIV). I thought, What if the interests of Jesus are best served by my remaining in prison? I knew that God wanted me to surrender in this area. So I began a daily battle of surrender. I would wake up in the morning with fear and despair and begin to fight to get to the point where I could say, “I am willing to remain in prison, if it serves Your purposes.” Usually, I’d get to that point by the end of the day and experience a measure of peace. The next morning, I would wake up with the same fear and desperation and start the battle over again.
Third, as I persevered with my will, repeatedly over a period of time, it built something in me. For example, I disciplined myself to worship about a half-hour each day. I often didn’t feel like doing it. But as I persisted in worship, it built a determination in me to worship in all circumstances.
I also forced myself to dance before the Lord every day. I did it as a matter of obedience, and as I persisted, this built a greater determination to obey. This is what finally forced me from my bed after the devastation of learning that the Turkish government wanted to give me three life sentences. And so, I danced—even in my grief. And my obedience grew deeper and stronger and came more easily.
I determined to sing the song I had written for Jesus in prison, and I sang it every day. And as I sang it again and again—that I wanted to live for the day I stand before Him—I actually began to live for that day. Over time, a fear of God and an eternal perspective grew in me.
This is how it works: Make a decision. Stand and persist in that decision. And something actually starts to form inside of you.
What did perseverance produce in me? Toward the end of July 2018, I had already been through three trial sessions in a kangaroo court, and in spite of tremendous U.S. government pressure, I was still sitting in prison. I was not encouraged. In my Bible reading program, I came to John 18:11, where Peter is resisting the arrest of Jesus. And Jesus says to him, “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” Those words echoed in my mind again and again over the next few days.
I wrote to Norine: “This sentence keeps resonating in my mind as I go through the daily—sometimes hourly—struggle of submitting myself—beyond that, of intentionally embracing—whatever God’s plans are that have allowed for ongoing imprisonment. ‘Shall I not drink the cup?’ I want to ‘drink the cup’ faithfully, to the dregs. But then I also say, ‘Lord, I’ve been drinking this cup for close to two years. How much longer?’ But, may I be faithful to the end. May I be willing to drink the cup—continue drinking it. … How could I do otherwise? … I want to be an obedient son.”
This was the last letter I wrote in prison, totally unaware that the very next day I would be released to house arrest.
A little over a year earlier, I had arrived at this maximum-security prison a broken man. But now I was willing to drink the cup of suffering. I didn’t come to this point in a day or two. It was a result of a long perseverance.
How do we learn to persevere? How do we build a persevering mentality?
We build perseverance by doing it.
Start by being faithful in the small things now. This is what prepares us to pay the big cost when it comes. Jesus underlined that the one who is faithful in the small things will be faithful in larger things.
Pray for the grace of endurance. The truth is that underlying all our efforts is God’s faithfulness. We could not endure on our own, and He doesn’t ask us to. Ultimately, He carries us through, and we should rest in this. But let’s not minimize that He expects us to exert ourselves to persevere. ©2022 Andrew Brunson
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. The Scripture quotation marked NIV is taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version.
This article is adapted from the video series “Prepare to Stand,” by Andrew Brunson. To view the videos, visit lp.BillyGraham.org/Prepare-to-Stand.
Brunson serves as special advisor for religious freedom at Family Research Council.