I’ve just come back from a weekend with 30 young men eager to grow in God and extend his kingdom.

What do young men need to hear about? Well, at or near the top of the list is how to persevere. And that’s what I talked about.

One of Paul’s most powerful statements is this: “Forgetting what lies behind, I strain forward.” The last phrase in Greek is a double compound participle. Yikes! What is that? It means an ordinary word intensified, and then intensified again.

In the same passage, where he writes to the Philippians using the terminology of about the Olympic races, he has already talked about pressing on. That’s a running word: “keep running.”

Now he adds to it the picture of the runner at the very end of the race, with his body stretched out at a 45 degree angle, straining forward to get the greatest possible advantage in order to cross the finish line first.

Our culture is built around convenience, not perseverance. We want it, and we want it now. We want to make the minimum investment to gain the maximum benefit. That’s why you see people lining up at the lottery counter and the casino.

That’s why we produce charismatic preachers who explode at 30 but are finished at 40, often by some moral or character failure.

God has a different way of operating. He will take 40, 50 or 60 years of a person’s life just to prepare them for what he wants to do with the rest of it. When he’s refined the gold, he can make something beautiful and lasting out of it.

But how do we get there?

Yup, you got it. Perseverance.

We watch professional athletes, skilled musicians or gifted surgeons, and none of us has any doubt about the incredible amount of hard work it took to get them to where they are.

So why is it we think that we can accelerate the process when it comes to Christian character or leadership?

Don’t trust anyone who hasn’t submitted to training. It is good for a man (or woman) to bear the yoke when they are young. That is the Bible speaking, not me.

When I started running again 9 or 10 years ago, it took me a long time before I really began to make progress. Then one day I went out with a running club in the UK, and to my surprise I found myself near the beginning of the large pack.

When I started to learn Hebrew, for a long time it looked like nothing more than hen scratching. Then one day I began to find myself translating Biblical passages and even reading parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

I’m sure there were many victims of my early years of preaching and counselling. I even counselled people (confidently!) on marriage issues when I was still single. But eventually God was able to use my skills and gifts to help people, though I am still amazed how he does it.

There may be shortcuts to the gym, but there are no shortcuts at the gym.

Likewise, there are no shortcuts to maturity.

It requires perseverance.

If there is such a thing as a guarantee of success in life, it’s perseverance. It will get you further than anything else I know.

And it’s just like a financial investment -- the earlier you start, the better.

Today would be a good time.