The Power of Plodding

An Amazing Fact: If you want to know approximately how long an animal is going to live, determine how fast its heart beats. Most creatures get about 800 million heartbeats per life, so animals with a rapid heart rate will reach the 800 million average sooner than those with a very slow metabolism.

For instance, a mouse's heart beats about 700 times per minute, and they live less than three years. The hummingbird's heart beats up to 1,260 times per minute during the day, but it actually slows to 50 beats per minute at night, and they live twice as long as mice. But an elephant's heart plods along at about 35 beats per minute, and they have been known to live more than 80 years.

"Plodding." It's not generally thought of as a pretty word. It conjures up images of a person trudging along with their legs knee deep in mud or crossing sandy dunes in a blistering desert. Plodding means "to work or to act perseveringly or monotonously; to drudge; the act of moving or walking heavily and slowly making laborious progress."

We can sometimes get discouraged when we're plodding, because we aren't seeing results soon enough. Our dreams don't quickly materialize, so we consider throwing in the towel. But many times, if we would just plod on a little longer, we'd reach our goals.
Christians likewise must often plod our way to the kingdom. We need to adjust to the idea that being a Christian is not always a dazzling mountaintop experience, but involves plodding through the lowly valleys. And sometimes these spells of plodding may even last years.

That's why I believe God loves the plodders. The Christian life is not so much of a sprint as it is a marathon, and it's better to have a good finish than a quick start. Many people have had very bad starts, but if you are to be in the kingdom, what matters most is a good finish, and that is often determined by how you recognize the power of plodding.

Destination Unlimited
It's a new year. We need to have goals. If we're plodding, we might as well plod toward something worthwhile.
Thomas Edison, one of my plodding heroes, set very ambitious goals. He planned to come up with a major new invention every six months, and a minor one every 10 days. That might sound like a crazy goal, but by the time he died, he had 1,092 U.S. patents and more than 2,000 foreign patents. He knew that by setting goals for himself and relentlessly striving to reach them, he was bound to increase his output.

Edison was the embodiment of a plodder. One time, he challenged his scientists and chemists to find a solution that dissolved rubber, which at the time was still a new invention. So his chemical crew got out their pencils and paper and started calculating their formulas. After many fruitless days, Edison got frustrated at their lack of progress.

But instead of giving up, he took a strip of rubber and went to a well-stocked chemical warehouse and began going from jar to jar. He would open a jar, stick in the rubber, and pull it out and watch what happened. If it remained intact, he went to the next jar. Finally, after a week of plodding through the huge chemical stockpile, he found the solution that would dissolve rubber. When he got back to his lab, the scientists were still working on their formulas.

That's a practical explanation of plodding, and that's how you achieve what you want. With determination you can find a needle in a haystack, but you have to persistently pull the haystack apart - one straw at a time.

The Peril of Impatience
Are you impatient with reaching your goals? If so, you're not alone. I think Americans are more chronically impatient than anyone else. We get irritated at the drive-through if our fast food isn't fast enough. "I've been here five minutes," we groan. "I'm starving!" But you go to Russia, and they'll stand in line all day just for basic needs.

This chronic impatience also means we're quickly impatient with ourselves and even with God. So many give up on the Christian life because they don't see rapid progress. You're tempted to quit because you want to be like Christ overnight, but it seems as though it's taking forever. You say to yourself, "I'm not getting anywhere. I'm a failure." What's the answer?

God's plodders must have patience. Like Joseph, for instance. He has these fantastic dreams that God has big plans for his life, but they aren't being realized because his brothers sell him into slavery. Where did his dreams go when he's sweeping a pagan's house? Then things go from bad to worse when he is falsely accused of adultery and is tossed into a gloomy jail. For 13 years of his life, he was a prisoner or a slave - and none of that by his own fault. Would you be discouraged? Would you think your dreams are over? We know Joseph's answer by his actions. Though he doesn't know why God is allowing it, he decides to plod along by being the very best he could be at what God gave him.

And one day everything changed: Joseph went from the prison to the palace.
Joseph is a great example for you and me to not lose patience or give up. Romans 2:6, 7 says God "will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life" (emphasis added). I've got big dreams, just like Joseph. I want to live and reign alongside Jesus. Do you know how I am going to get there? By patient continuance; in other words, patiently plodding.

Crossing Galilee
In John 6, Jesus orders His disciples to voyage across the sea as He withdraws into the wilderness to pray.
"Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, got into the boat, and went over the sea toward Capernaum" (vs. 16, 17 NKJV). As the disciples are rowing, it's very dark and cold. Then quickly, "The sea arose because a great wind was blowing." By this time, the disciples had paddled three or four miles, so they're actually in the middle of the Sea of Galilee.
Would you be able to row? It's one thing to paddle around lazily in a swimming pool, and quite another to row across an ocean with the wind against you. The monotony of one stroke after another, hour by hour, must have worn the disciples down, yet the Bible says they were doing what Jesus had commanded. They were in the dark, going against wind to do God's will, and that's when the Lord came to them.

Don't miss this! I believe it is a profound point: Christ came to them as they were rowing, not when they were simply sailing or drifting. He came to them as they plodded, stroke after stroke, in the midst of tribulation. When the disciples first see Jesus, they are afraid because they don't recognize Him. But when Jesus identifies Himself, "they willingly received Him into the boat." Then miraculously, "immediately the boat was at the land where they were going." The author specifically lets us know the distance, because only a miracle could have taken them so quickly from the middle of the sea to the shore. I don't know if it was angels or if God simply "beamed" them to the beach, but they were suddenly at their destination.

What really conveyed them there? The disciples' rowing? No. By receiving Jesus into their boat, they were brought to shore. But when did He come? While they were rowing, doing what they could to fulfill His will.

This is a very important spiritual truth! When at those times you are doing everything you can, and it seems as though you're getting nowhere and the wind and waves are beating you back, Jesus will pick up the slack and carry you forward. He'll take you the rest of the way. But I'm not sure He'll get in that boat if you're not rowing or at least willing to row. You need to do what you can, because God calls the plodders in life.

Remember that the Lord calls people when they're busy plodding. God called the apostles when they were busy fishing for one more cast of the net, Moses was patiently watching his father-in-law's sheep. Gideon was threshing wheat, Elisha was plowing, and Matthew was counting. Jesus calls those who are at it!

Naomi and Ruth
Naomi had plenty of reasons to be discouraged. First, her family was experiencing a famine, which is by itself a horribly dispiriting trauma. Next she was forced to move from her home into a foreign land with a foreign language. She also loses her husband, and still yet more discouragement, her sons too begin to die. At the end of all this, she has no husband, no house, her sons have died, and all she has left are pagan daughters-in-law.

Would you be discouraged? She was so distraught that she says, "Call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me." But God, having mercy, gives her a gift in Ruth. Although Naomi tells Ruth to go away, Ruth answers, "Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me" (Ruth 1:16, 17).

But what could Ruth do? The only work she could find was picking up sheaves that reapers left behind. How many of us would do that today - not work as a farmer, but as a beggar to farmers, picking up the scraps of grain not considered worth the trouble? Yet Ruth never complains, not even one gripe nor moan escapes her lips. She keeps going because she made a commitment - doing what's close at hand until God opened another door.

And what a door that was! The land owner, a prince in Israel, takes her as his wife, and she receives a great inheritance. Later we see that she is not only an ancestor of the great King David, but she is also an ancestor of Jesus!
Ruth was a plodder. She did not give up. Many of us may have jobs where we feel, "Lord, is this really my lot in life? I have greater gifts!" But even Moses watched sheep for 40 years, until God opened another door. Keep plodding.

The Ultimate Plodder
If you want to be a Christian, you're following someone who refused to be discouraged. A prophecy in Isaiah 42, about Jesus, proclaims, "Behold my servant, whom I uphold; ... He shall not fail nor be discouraged" (vs. 1, 4, emphasis added).
Jesus is a plodder. He refuses to be discouraged. Did He have reason to get discouraged? Plenty! Once Jesus watched a crowd turn their backs on Him because they didn't understand His words. He was also betrayed and forsaken by His own friends. It looked to others like He was a total failure, but He did not give up.

Paul says, "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). God's people are a determined people, and we should be as determined to be saved as Christ is to save us. So how determined is Jesus to save you? He is desperate. He wants to do everything He can; He died a horrible death for you.

But how determined are you to be saved? He'll get in your boat if you're rowing. If you are doing what you can do, God will perform a miracle of grace and take you to your destination. We are saved by grace, even as we are out in the middle of the sea. But He wants you to be plodding, looking for Him, until He comes. Even if you are the thief on the cross and it looks as though there is no hope for you. He said, "Lord, remember me." At the very last moment of life, that thief had faith to take one more step. Did Jesus save him? Yes, because He wouldn't give up on any soul, even at the end. God wants us to be a people that will plod on persistently.

In Philippians 3:12, 14, Paul says, "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. ... I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (NKJV, emphasis added).

Jesus Endured
Christians can get discouraged during the fierce battles. We are almost always fighting with temptation, as if life was nothing but a series of wars. During World War I, a British soldier fighting in France saw his friends around him dying. Some were killed by mustard gas, and the trenches were full of the sick and dying. He thought, "What is this for?" He decided to give up and desert, so one night he slipped out of his foxhole and headed to a small coastal village. There he would steal a boat and row his way back to England.

On his way he soon came upon a fork in the road, but it was dark and foggy and he didn't know which way to go. The top of the sign was in the dark fog, so he climbed up the pole for a closer look. At the top, he took out a match, struck it, and held it to the sign. The eyes of Jesus were staring back at him. The soldier soon realized he hadn't climbed a sign, but a crucifix, and now he was looking at the pain-filled eyes of Jesus. He thought to himself, "Christ suffered on the cross for the sins of the world, and here I am giving up on my friends and my country." His heart changed, he climbed back down and headed back to the trenches. When we consider how much Jesus suffered, it's a little easier for us to plod through life's challenges even when we fall down. Remember that Jesus not only has scars on His hands, but also on His feet, because He was a plodder.

Psalm 37:23, 24 says, "The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall ..." Stop here for a moment! This is a "good man" who loves God's commandments, and he falls. Can a good man fall going in the right direction? Yes! That's what the Bible says. "Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand." God picks up those who love Him, so would you still rather not take the risk of trying and failing? Thomas Edison said, "He who is afraid to fail is afraid to succeed." So we need to set goals - like reaching God's kingdom. We might fall and suffer, but if we keep plodding, one day we can look back and say, "I've made progress. I'm at least halfway across the Sea of Galilee!"

Shooting for the Stars
There is absolutely no virtue to plodding around in circles - we must have a goal. During the moon shots, NASA didn't tell the public the scary reality that the spaceships were not always under complete control. The spacecrafts would veer off course about every 10 minutes, frequently forcing the crew to make precise corrections. NASA would warn the pilots, "You're drifting off course!" And then the pilots would hit a button to fire small rockets, and they would be on course again. Over and over again, from the earth to the moon and back again, the pilots would make continuous course corrections. Of course, because of those constant corrections, no astronaut was lost in space during the Apollo missions.

For Christians, those little rocket firings are our daily devotions and prayers. If we're going to reach our heavenly destination, we need constant course corrections from His Word.

We also need a little bit of plodding in our own witness. Have you ever felt discouraged and said to yourself, "I'm not bringing anyone to Jesus"? You look back and can't think of anyone you have led to a saving relationship with Him. God has called us to be a witness, and I believe it's important for our own Christian experience.

An insurance salesman might call on 45 people to pitch his product, but only 15 of those calls will even talk to him. Of that remaining 15, maybe only one or two will actually buy some insurance. Yet that's how they make their living. They manage to survive by plodding along, expecting an 80-percent rejection rate, and that's often how it is with witnessing.

Plodding in Prayer
In Luke 18:1-7, Jesus tells us the story of a poor widow being treated unjustly, so she goes to a judge, but the judge is also unjust and ignores her because she doesn't have money to bribe him. He dismisses her, yet she continues to plead, "Please! Appeal on my behalf. My adversary is mistreating me!" And the woman returns, every day. She perseveres, plodding back and forth to the courts each day. Finally the judge reaches his breaking point and realizes he has to deal with her.

Jesus closes the parable by saying that our Father in heaven will answer the cries of those who persistently pray day after day, much more so than a corrupt official trying to be free of annoyance. Do you not think the Father hears the persistent prayers of His people? He does! Don't give up; keep asking.

You also don't ever have to get discouraged in seeking and doing God's will. Galatians 6:9 promises, "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." He wants you to keep plodding. Remember, we will be rewarded only if we do not lose heart - do not faint.

Are you praying for a lost loved one, yet see no progress? Are you going to quit? No! James 5:11 promises, "Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy." Job had to be patient to the end, and his last was better than his beginning. Why? He hung in there. "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13).

Sand Dunes
There was a pile of bones found over a sand dune. Somebody had died in the middle of a blistering desert in Saudi Arabia. Next to the pile of bones lay a note scribbled on tattered parchment. It said, "I can't go on." Evidently, that person made a makeshift shelter and just sat down to die. Where they found him, just on the other side of the dune, there was an oasis. He could have survived if he just kept on plodding a few more feet.

Nothing concerns pastors more than when we see people become discouraged with their Christian experience. They stop coming to church because they don't see the progress they want to see. But I've got good news for you. It doesn't always come in spurts; in fact, almost all of it comes through plodding.

Are you discouraged with a financial situation? Keep on plodding, because you're still here. Are you troubled about a relationship? Keep plodding, because you have one with Jesus. Are you unhappy with your job? Keep plodding, because God will open doors.
Are you discouraged about anything in your life? The answer is to keep on plodding. Set goals, and if you fall short, get up and keep plodding. It will be that much sweeter when you finally make it.

Jesus Forged the Trail
A few years ago, my three older children and I were driving home from visiting relatives during Christmas vacation. It had been a long day - an early morning flight, a three-hour time change, a five-hour drive - and now it was 2:00 in the morning! As we neared our mountain home, we could see that there had recently been a heavy snowstorm. We still had 10 miles of dirt road ahead of us to reach our home - and the last two weren't maintained by the state. I asked the kids, "Are you sure you want to go home? Wouldn't it be better to stay with friends in town tonight? I'm not sure the truck will make it."

But they all pleaded to go home. So we started out. There was a lot of snow on the road, but our 4X4 made it the eight miles to our driveway. However, after driving only a hundred feet of the last two miles, the truck got caught in deep snow. The wheels spun in midair - we were hopelessly stuck!

It was now 3:00 AM. I considered staying in the truck and looking for help after dawn, but we were all very anxious to get home, so we decided to hike the last two miles by moonlight.

As we started out, it seemed like a lot of fun. The kids played in the snow, and each one forged his own trail. It was actually refreshing to plug along through two feet of snow after sitting all day in an airplane and a truck. Yet the adventure quickly wore off as our legs began to give out and the cold set in. After the first quarter mile, with thick frozen snow sticking to their tennis shoes, the children discovered it much easier walking behind me, putting their feet in my footprints.

About halfway home, the depth of the snow increased to three-foot drifts, and it took an enormous amount of energy for each step. I had to lift each leg up to my chest! On top of this, we were underdressed having returned from a vacation in Florida. I was so cold, hungry, and exhausted, I didn't think I could make it home. I felt like just lying down in the snow and going to sleep. But I knew if I did, not only would I freeze to death, but the children would never make it to the house either.

So then, instead of walking, I fell forward to the ground, made an impression in the snow, then another five feet, nine inches ahead, I struggled to my feet, labored forward, then fell forward again. After each "step," I prayed for "one more step!" The children followed close behind in the trail I fought to forge.

After plodding for two hours, we finally made it to the house. I don't remember ever feeling so good to be home - with the glow of a warm fire and my children! In the same way, Jesus came to forge the trail from this world to heaven. Only as we place our feet in His steps will we reach our heavenly home. Plod on!

The Race Before You
Hebrews 12:1 says, "Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (NKJV). As I said earlier, being a Christian is something like running a marathon. My wife once ran in a marathon, and it is a grueling experience even for the most well-trained athlete. While many experienced runners jog the whole way, the average person walks a little bit of the way. They get tired, so they can't keep running, but that doesn't mean they give up. They walk when they have to, but they don't stop until they reach the end. And they aren't carrying a load - maybe a little water, but nothing else. They lay aside every useless weight, just as Christians should lay aside every weight, except for the Water of Life.

Jesus is coming back. The wait is nearly over. So keep your eyes on the Promised Land. Be a plodder. Keep letting your heart beat, your lungs breathe, and take one step at a time. God will give you the victory. "If we endure, We shall also reign with Him" (2 Timothy 2:12 NKJV). That's a promise. A greater reward is coming. Run this race with endurance, looking at our Leader, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

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