For a hundred years, Noah built a boat. Think about that. Just him and his three sons. "What are we going to do today, Dad?" "Build the boat." It would get tedious after the first 20 years. People came to see this "do-it-yourself" project. When they mocked him, he preached back at them. You have to be pretty tough to work on a project for 100 years, endure abuse along the way and see the project to the end.
When word reached Abraham that his nephew had been taken as a prisoner of war, he instantly converted from a shepherd-businessman to a warrior. He set out after the raiding party, boldly attacked them at night and got back his nephew and most of the other ill-gotten gains. You have to be pretty tough to take on the armies of four kings.
Moses went back to Egypt, back to the courts of Pharaoh where he was raised, and laid down God's demand: "Let my people go." It would have been so easy for him to be intimidated. But he wasn't. He had a backbone stiffened by the promises of God. Moses kept pushing against Pharaoh's stubbornness, never backing down, never giving up. You have to be pretty tough to stand and speak truth to power.
When Sisera, leader of Israel's enemy, showed up at Jael's tent, she lured him in with refreshments. Then she waited until he was asleep, picked up a hammer and a tent peg and drove it through his temple. Jael was one tough woman. She saw an opportunity, and she took it. You have to be pretty tough to hold a hammer and peg over a man who would think nothing of killing you, and then drive your point home.
The Israelite army was pinned by its enemies, the Philistines. Jonathan, son of the king, was tired of inaction. So, he went with his armor-bearer out to a Philistine outpost on a cliff. He prayed if God wanted him to attack the outpost, then the Philistines would invite him up to battle. Against all military logic, the Philistines invited him to climb the cliff. He did, and he and his armor-bearer wiped out 20 Philistines in one battle. You have to be pretty tough to fight in a battle where the odds are 10 to 1.
Nathan knew, like everyone else, that the math didn't work for David's new son. His mom, the widow of Uriah, had married David after a period of mourning for her husband. At the wedding, people weren't sure if she had put on weight or if that bump meant something else. Six months into the marriage, a big baby boy was born. After the boy was about a year old, God spoke to Nathan and told him to confront David about his sin. Nathan did, knowing the king could drive him from the city or have him killed. You have to be pretty tough to tell the king he sinned, and God isn't happy.
Daniel was always the guy who stood out. He worked for the government, but the government was often hostile to his faith. Jealousy caused other government officials to set him up. He was thrown into the lions' den to become a snack between meals. Instead, it turned into a sleepover. You have to be pretty tough to keep your faith when your life is in danger. You have be even tougher to spend the night with the lions.
Jesus was tough. His work demanded it. First, he was a carpenter. Jesus did hard physical labor. Then he had to deal with crowds of people who wanted miracles or food, depending on the day. Being "on" is exhausting. But the toughest thing Jesus did was absorb the weight of sin on the cross. This defies description. The load of guilt both felt and not felt by every human being would drive most of us mad. But Jesus was tough enough to take it, to add the weight of the world's transgressions to his soul. You have to be the toughest person who ever lived to let the sin of the world rest on you.
We live in tough days. It is tempting to want to check out, to blame other people, to respond to every critic. We may want to say, "This battle is not worth fighting." When it is our turn to speak truth to power, or to confront someone with hard realities, it is tempting to just keep our mouth shut. We might assess a situation and decide the price is too high to get involved.
This is a time for tough people. Not heartless or callous people. Tough people. Tough people who do what needs to be done, who stand for something, who take action, who speak up about right and wrong.
All of these people in the Bible had something in common. They believed they had a mission from God, and they believed God would give them all the toughness they needed for their mission.
Being tough does not begin in the gym. It begins in your soul. It begins with asking God for strength, for courage. It begins with you embracing whatever God-mission God gives you and doing it. True toughness never forgets "Greater is he who is in you, than he who is in the world."
The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
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