One of my all-time favorite movies is Gladiator. It’s about a Roman general named Maximus who is loved by his army as well as the emperor. And Maximus has a dream — he wants to return the power of government to the Roman people. But things go south when the emperor’s son, who is jealous of Maximus’ special relationship with his father, takes over the throne, kills Maximus’ family, and tries to kill the general himself. Fortunately the assassination attempt fails, but Maximus is captured and sold into slavery. Despite doing his best to serve his country faithfully, Maximus draws the short straw.
Many people would have given up at that point. What’s the point of trying when the most powerful man in the world is against you? But as a slave he becomes a gladiator and is such a skilled fighter that he quickly rises through the ranks until he has the opportunity to fight in the Coliseum in Rome.
The emperor, once he recognizes Maximus, makes sure the general-turned-slave is faced with impossible odds, hoping one of the other warriors will kill him on the field of battle, but time and time again Maximus perseveres. Finally the emperor, a skilled swordsman, decides to fight Maximus himself, but he rigs the match by stabbing Maximus before the fight even begins.
In the end (spoiler alert!), the two dual on the Coliseum floor and Maximus kills the emperor. As a result, the wounded Maximus orders that power be returned to the Roman people — and sees his dream fulfilled — just before he dies.
Gladiator is a powerful story of perseverance in the face of everything that’s “not fair.” It’s been said that 90 percent of our problems are self-inflicted, and we expect life to be difficult to some extent, but when we’re doing our best and our plans still seem to keep falling through, that’s when we really want to give up. When the system is working against us. When we feel our boss is incompetent. When we get passed up for a promotion. When we see other people getting special treatment. When people are out to get us. When we’ve been faithful to God but things still aren’t going our way. These are the times when perseverance matters most.
Perseverance is like a fire extinguisher: It’s something we hope we never have to use, but we need to keep it around just in case. We need to ready our hearts and minds to deal with the speed bumps that slow us from reaching our God-honoring dreams.
For a long time I’ve felt the story of Maximus was just a knockoff of the story of Joseph. Joseph was a guy who had everything going for him until his brothers’ jealousy caused them to do something terrible to him — sell him into slavery. Over and over again Joseph got the short end of the stick, but despite the unfairness he experienced he persevered faithfully until God took him to a place of authority and used him in a way he could have never imagined.
Joseph couldn’t have anticipated the path he would take to becoming a ruler of Egypt. He couldn’t have guessed his brothers would betray him. He couldn’t have known he would become another man’s property. He couldn’t have predicted he would be falsely accused of attempted rape and thrown into prison. He couldn’t have foreseen that, even after miraculously interpreting the chief cupbearer’s dream, he would be forgotten for another two years before finally ascending to authority in Egypt. No matter how unfair things seemed, Joseph always stayed faithful to God, and God showed his faithfulness to Joseph.
Joseph seems to have understood something we need to learn for ourselves: developing perseverance requires us to identify obstacles as opportunities to recognize God’s faithfulness and prove our own. We have to keep life in perspective and remember that going through hard times doesn’t mean God is done with us, it just means he’s building our character and testing our faithfulness.
Not all obstacles in life are dead ends. Sometimes they’re just toll booths where God wants us to pay our dues so he can prepare us for what’s ahead! Don’t lose heart, and don’t quit. Stay faithful, and persevere!