dr-rev-joaquin-willis_web.jpgHow many times can you remember failing at something but yet you kept trying, and trying. After repeated failures you were finally victorious. I know this has happened to me more times than I care to recall.

Once there was a widow, whom Jesus used as a parable of persistence. In Luke (18:1), Jesus tells His disciples the parable to teach they must never give up. He went on to say because of her persistence the widow eventually got justice. Jesus quotes the judge who said, “It was so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming.” (Luke 18:5) The most persistent habit we should have is the “habit of prayerful persistence.”

As an IBM salesman in the 1970s, I saw a motivational training film starring the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, titled, Second Effort. The plot centers on a salesman name Ron, who is not a very good salesman. He fumbles ineffectually in his sales pitch to Coach Lombardi, who then takes pity on him and spends the rest of the film teaching poor Ron the Lombardi philosophy of life.

That philosophy was Lombardi’s five principles of a successful football player and he taught Ron how to apply them to life and to succeed.
Lombardi’s philosophy of life is known as “Second Effort,” hence the name of the film. His five principles are: mental toughness, controlling the ball, fatigue makes cowards of us all, operate on Lombardi time (be 15 minutes early) and make the second effort.

To Jesus, the widow was the symbol of second, third and fourth effort. She was persistent and she was also the symbol of all who were poor and defenseless. It is obvious the only weapon she had was persistence. Jesus seems to be saying, “If, in the end, an unjust judge can be made to give in to a widow who sought justice, how much more will God, our loving father, give in to his children’s need?”

Paul in Acts (14:19-20) shows mental toughness: “They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city.” The key point here is  Paul’s courage, determination and mental toughness shown in his second effort, after being stoned and dragged out of town. What does Paul do?  He jumps up in a “Second Effort” and goes right back into that town to preach.

Mental toughness creates a righteous mind, which is a healing mind, one that guards what it thinks, says and does.  A tough mind, in Lombardi’s words, “controls the ball;” in biblical terms the ball is the mouth.  Jesus said of the ball (the mouth), “We will be held accountable for every idle word the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:36). So we must control it and the tongue. In James (3:6) we read, “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire.”

Excellence is an attitude. Vince Lombardi as a coach taught excellence must be pursued and wooed, and that you might not do things right once in a while but you have to do them right all the time.  Moses, for instance, had an excellent attitude as a leader throughout the story of Exodus, until it changed into a negative attitude about the people (Numbers 20:11).  Moses’ negative attitude cost him admission into the Promised Land.  Why? Because Moses struck a rock God had asked him to speak to.  For his fumble in leadership excellence, and for refusing to show growth in faith by using his mouth, Moses was denied admission into the Promised Land. There can be in one’s mouth a sin of omission, as well as a sin of commission.

Finally, Lombardi said, “fatigue makes cowards of us all.”  ‘The Principles of Persistence’ requires we must not quit. If we do feel like quitting, we must remember Jesus’ teaching about the persistent widow and Paul’s teaching in Galatians (6:9), “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we don’t give up.”

“The Principles of Persistence” demand we pursue excellence in our life’s calling, consistently trying over and over again, until we become so mentally tough through our study of ‘The Word’ that we commit, as did the widow, to maintaining the habit of prayerful persistence.

The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door at 6001 NW 8th Ave., Miami.  To contact the church, call 305-759-0373 or e-mail the pastor at pastor@churchoftheopendoormiami.org.