The body of George Mallory was found on Mount Everest in 1999. It had lain undiscovered since he died in 1924. Mallory died on his third attempt to climb Mount Everest. He and his climbing partner, Andrew Irvine, died during the last leg of the climb near the top. It is not known whether they made it to the summit, but had they done so, they would have been the first.
Mallory left behind a young widow and three small children. Most all who die leave loved ones to mourn the loss. One wonders why people take such great risks when they have such great responsibilities. Grand and noble words are often written about such adventure seekers, but few will accuse them of not knowing when to quit. Any person with family responsibilities ought to know that there is a time to abandon dangerous activities.
Lessons from a political figure
One of the most famous speeches of the "British Bulldog," Winston Churchill, was delivered to a group of soon-to-be college graduates. The introduction to this illustrious speaker was grand, colorful, long, and very complimentary. He came to the microphone in measured strides, looked directly at his audience and said, "Never quit! Never, never, never quit!" and walked off the stage. He left to thunderous applause. It is obvious that the record of Winston Churchill's life and work spoke volumes about his speech. He was not called the “British Bulldog” because he had no teeth or could not hold fast to a chosen course. He was one of the great men of the 20th Century.
Tenacity is a good character trait. The Bible tells us to "take firm hold of instruction” (Proverbs 4:13) and to "hold fast" so no one takes your crown, which represents a place in God’s Kingdom (Revelation 3:11). To be strong-willed and determined is vital for a Christian. Success in almost anything usually results from long hours of hard work and persistence. However, the determination never to quit also requires some logical thinking. There are things that we ought to be willing to die for, but they ought not to be foolish things. A goal that is questionable and poorly thought out or planned can make a person seem foolish, reckless, and pathetic.
None of us lives alone in this world—we all have strangers and loved ones who are hurt by our folly. Some inner drives need to be controlled and curbed. We need to know when to say “no” or “that’s far enough.”
Lessons from the Bible
I believe that knowing when to quit and doing so takes every bit as much courage and quality of character as it does to never quit. The book of Proverbs is full of words of wisdom. God wants us to set personal goals, but in a responsible and thoughtful, caring manner. Tenacity, drive, and strong will are necessary. Wisdom helps a person admit they need a course change rather than just plunging headlong into any attempt.
Jacob was blessed because he would not stop wrestling with God (Genesis 32:26). We need to remember, though, that the same “British Bulldog” who said "never quit" was the one who ordered the retreat from Dunkirk in WWII and the same one who came to the USA and said "give us the tools and we will finish the job." He understood the need for great determination not to quit and also the need for wisdom to retreat and fight another day.
Quitting goes against the grain for some. It is not wrong that a person finds it hard to do. I do not want to imply or suggest that anyone should quit a task too easily. In all likelihood, most people who quit their marriages, educations, businesses, or new experiences do so far too quickly. The Bible tells us God is not pleased with a spiritual quitter. Jesus stated that in Luke 9:62. He said, "No one having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." This verse can mean to look back longingly as Lot's wife did (Genesis 19:26), but it also implies regret for the path chosen. Israel did this when the people wanted to return to their old lives in Egypt (Exodus 16:3; Acts 7:39).
The Bible shows us that God is not pleased with those who give up on the God-ordained goals of life, including Jesus’ command to “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). He admonishes us to persist and to exercise our will. In Revelation 2 and 3 Jesus Christ promises to give eternal life and gifts to those who overcome. An overcomer is a person who persists in wrestling or struggling with a personal problem or until he has solved it.
The Pharaoh of Egypt would have been better off if he had known when to quit. He never stopped pursuing Israel. Israel also suffered mightily because it would not quit worshipping false gods (I Kings 18:21; Ezekiel 20:8). The nation came under the wrath of God because the Israelites did not abandon evil acts even after being warned. Humans need to know that the pursuit of false gods brings death. We need to fix our eyes on the truth of the one and only God and follow Him. The result is eternal life.
It takes personal courage to fight the good fight (1 Timothy 6:12). Pride and vanity need to be abandoned in the service of the true God. People need to learn to quit fighting against Him and submit to His will instead. When some people in the First Century realized that they had been following the wrong path, they changed their course and sought a new direction (Acts 2:37-40). We need to "gird up our loins" (1 Peter 1:13) and be sure our chosen direction is right, which we know is the case if it lines up with God’s word. Jesus said we ought to be willing to lay our lives down for others (John 15:13). Jesus also said that we need to love God more than our own lives (Matthew 10:39).
God expects us to find balance
There are many areas of life that require a balance in our thinking process. Knowing when and what to quit is one of those areas. In Matthew 10:23, we know that Jesus admonished His followers to flee to another city if they were being persecuted in one city. It is not cowardice to flee; it is good sense. Yet, there were times in the biblical record when there was nowhere to run, and when that happened, God expected the person to die if need be rather than quit by denying Him and Jesus Christ. This is not a foolish and selfish death; it is the result of a mind that has counted the cost and weighed things in the balance, and the decision is made rationally and calmly. People like that will find their names written into a book similar in content to Hebrews 11—the chapter that records some of the faithful followers of God. True followers of God know when to persevere and when not to persevere with each course of action. They would not try to climb Mount Everest in a storm unless God bade them come.