‘Resilience: The power or ability to return to the original form, or position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; the ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like.’ (Dictionary.com)
You have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what is promised . . . We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. . . We can do all things through Him who strengthens us. . . So be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. . . Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him . . .
So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith. And do not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
(2 Cor. 4:8-9; Phil. 4:13; Eph. 6:10; Jas. 1:12. Gal. 6:9 TM; Cf Rom. 5:1-5)
From Covid wards to urban and rural deprivation to mission fields of all kinds, countless people are facing the most tremendous challenges at this time. It feels right, therefore, to ponder the theme of resilience – a quality Lyndall Bywater* describes as the power to “withstand shock without it causing permanent damage or rupture.” God has designed us to be intensely resilient, and has given us amazing protective mechanisms to help us recover from immense pain – whether it be of physical, emotional or spiritual origin, or a combination of all three.
From the powerful examples we read about in the Hebrew Testament, and then in the New, when the authorities banned the apostles from mentioning the name of Jesus, the people of God have always been in great need of resilience. As the pressure increased against the fledgling Church, it could so easily have lost its way. “It’s no good, Jesus,” they might have protested. “We’ve done our best, but it’s not the same without You being around; we can’t do this anymore – especially with maniacs like Saul putting us all to the sword!” David could have said the same of another Saul, even as Elijah’s normally immaculate resilience dipped sharply in the aftermath of his victory on Mt. Carmel, when he saw that Jezebel and Ahab were still firmly on their thrones.
I love the way the disciples demonstrated such tremendous ability to return to their ‘original position,’ despite the pressure they were under. Rather than giving up, or putting on a brave face and pretending that everything was okay, we see them determined to seek the Lord for great breakthroughs, refusing to mistake strenuous opposition for a sign that they had failed. (Acts 4:18-31, 5:27-42)
Those who are wary of the work of the Spirit are always inclined to cramp and criticise prophets and pioneers, or to water down their suggestions to make them ‘safer,’ but there is nothing “safe” about being led by the Spirit. When the going gets tough, and certain prayers appear as yet to remain unanswered, we are to pray rather that the Lord will give us the resilience we need to endure, and not to hold back or to deviate from the agenda He has set for us. How infinitely more faith-filled and pleasing to the Lord that than forming “A Committee to Minimize Risk in Times of Pressure! (ACME)”
Fifteen years ago, Pete Greig of 24/7 prayer renown, wrote a book about unanswered prayer, God on Mute (published by David C Cook) which has become a much-loved classic. During lockdown last year he updated it and added in a forty-day journey of prayer which he called God Un-mute, in which he encourages us daily to Pause, Reflect, Ask and Yield. I love the way this pattern helps us to gather our ‘scattered senses’ to centre on the Lord; it is as we dwell in His presence that we strengthen our resilience.
Such was the apostles’ strength of spirit, and their awareness that Jesus had promised them that they would face great difficulties, that they refused to allow the pressures to deter them from getting on with the work of proclaiming the Kingdom. Calling on the Lord for boldness, they cried out, “Stretch out Your hand to heal, Lord,” and promptly went out and did the very thing they had been forbidden to do. So far as they were concerned, the only thing that mattered was that they did what the Lord had told them to.
This is not to suggest the early Church was glib about their trials, any more than we can afford to be about our own – or those of other people. They knew full well that it is only with the Lord’s help that they could cope with them, but right there, in the middle of their ordeals and hardships, they were able to experience the joy of the Lord.
‘Rejoice when you face fiery trials,’ Peter urges, ‘because they make you partners with Christ in his suffering.’ (1 Pet. 4:13) ‘Count it all joy,’ James echoes, ‘because the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. Let steadfastness have its full effect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (Jas. 1:2-4)
What James is effectively saying is, when evaluating your troubles, to reckon on the ‘joy’ side of the balance sheet. That is quite some challenge! Do you remember the article we posted concerning the testimony of Helen Roseveare, who bore great fruit despite tremendous suffering? Shortly before she passed to Heaven, Helen penned a short book called Count it All Joy, in which she meditated on her many trials in the light of that command, in which she challenges herself and her readers to do this not only as we look back on tough times, but during them too.
Such an attitude requires resilient faith! None of us enjoys being tested at the time, but as Stephen Altrogge points out, this ‘staggering command means that when we face trials, we are NOT supposed to complain . . . doubt . . . fear. . . be angry . . . be discontented.**
How good are we at refraining from complaining, doubting, fearing, raging and seething when we are ‘undergoing trials of various kinds?’ I am well aware of how far from perfect my own response is! As to how we are doing when it comes to recovering readily are we more like buoyant bobbing corks, or lumps of heavy lead? With my decreased mobility, I cannot bob around any longer outwardly, but in spirit it can be a different matter.
Our resilience is strengthened by. . .
1) Grasping hold of Heaven’s perspective
We are all familiar with the image of a tapestry: we see the underside with all the crossing threads and knots, while Heaven looks at the right side, from where it all makes sense. The more we are able to discern the Lord’s purpose in our trials, the easier it is to bear them. However severe and long-drawn out they may be, God is watching, leading and overseeing them all. He guards us on our way, watches and is more attentive than even the most diligent artist in taking great care of their creation.
Look at how Paul viewed his accumulated troubles:
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is forever worthy of praise, knows that I am not lying. (2 Cor. 11: 24-32)
Many things happen, Paul insists, to keep us from relying on ourselves, and to bring us to the point where our boast is in our weakness, as he explained earlier in the same letter to the Corinthians:
We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, deep inside we felt as though that we had received the sentence of death. But this happened to stop us relying on ourselves, but rather on God who raises the dead. (2 Cor.1:8-9)
His own testimony is one of quite remarkable ‘bounce-back-ability:’
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open sea.
In my frequent journeys, I have been in danger from rivers and from bandits, in danger from my countrymen and from the Gentiles, in danger in the city and in the country, in danger on the sea and [in many ways the worst of all] among false brothers, in labour and toil and often without sleep, in hunger and thirst and often without food, in cold and exposure.
Apart from these external trials, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not burn with grief?
How wonderful that such strong faith can emerge as the result of so many ‘deadening’ experiences! Is not the theme of our life being a journey from death to life a constant refrain of the Gospel message? We died and were buried with Jesus by baptism into death, so that, just as He was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:4)
Think of times when the pressure of hard places has driven you to seek the Lord more. Remember how He not only restored hope and confidence, but also equipped you to make the most of life again. Are there things you learnt then that you can draw from on similar occasions?
Think too of times when you were neither so diligent nor so successful in seeking the Lord but succumbed to a plague of fears, doubts and other oo-nasties! Bearing in mind that the Lord often allows us a sort of ‘rerun’ of occasions when we have not fared so well, are there matters for which you need to ask His forgiveness?
2) Holding both grief and gratitude in our hearts
Many saints have learnt to allow grief and gratitude to expand in their hearts in equal measure. This can be a deeply powerful way to develop resilience. If we allow ourselves only to grieve, we risk allowing the weight of other people’s sorrows to eventually crush us. Too many such griefs can tip our hearts toward cynicism and despair.
Gratitude, by contrast, refreshes our hearts and ‘lubricates’ our ability to maintain the flow of rejoicing in the Lord Jesus as we seek to express His life to others. Even here there is a balance to maintain: those who are always ultra-positive in their outlook can come across as distinctly short of compassion for those who are struggling and suffering – whereas those who are prepared to embrace both grief and gratitude reflect the likeness of Jesus, who is also the Man of Sorrows, and are able to pray for others from the depths of their hearts. (Ps. 130:1)
3) Rehearsing the word of God
Jesus could have fixed the eyes of His heart purely on the painful ordeal that lay ahead of Him. He could have listened to Peter, and the fears of those who were alert enough to know that Jerusalem was not a safe place to go and held back from going there. But He looked instead to the call He knew He had received to press on to Jerusalem. He knew the Scriptures that spoke of what He would accomplish there, and the significance of Jerusalem itself in that process.
We all face seasons of great weariness and stress – and these are the very times when we benefit most of all from rehearsing what God has said, and reminding both Him and our souls of the specific promises and warnings He has directed our way. Why not take some time to do just that over the next few days?
4) Receiving the comfort of God, and trusting that our trials empower us to comfort others
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. (2 Cor. 1:3-7)
These are the treasures that we bring with us as we emerge from the depths, harnessing all we have learned in order to benefit those who are going through deep trials themselves with the experience of sorrows borne, endurance practised and the comfort of the Lord received. Like Job, whose legendary resilience contributed directly to the greater glory of God, and to the defeat of Satan’s intentions in launching his trials in the first place, may our hope, praise and resilience prove powerful!
Why not take some time to meditate on all the ways in which He has come alongside you in difficult periods of your life – and then consider how much more empathetically and effectively you have been able to minister to others precisely because of what you have been through?
5) Thanking God for the new chapter ahead
We will all be familiar with the words of Psalm 37:5 – ‘Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act.’ I particularly love Young’s Literal Translation which reads:
‘Roll on Jehovah thy way, and trust upon Him, and He worketh.’
‘He worketh!’ What a lot there is to ponder in those simple words: Roll, trust and He worketh! It is so good to thank God for the answers to prayer that He has already prepared, even while we labour under the weight of our troubles. Above and beyond the immediately pressing circumstances, ‘this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.’ (2 Cor. 4:17)
He is the covenant-keeping God, and when we place matters in His capable hands, He hears our cry and undertakes to pull us through. These are the times when we dig deep and determine to Trust in the Lord with all our heart, and not depend on our own understanding. (Pr. 3:5)
6) ‘Thou shalt bash on!’
Alex Buchanan invented an eleventh commandment: ‘Thou shalt bash on!’ What areas in your life at the moment do you need courage and resilience for in order to keep on ‘bashing on? Can you identify them? Perhaps you are dealing with not just isolated events, but accumulated stresses and ongoing challenges. In which case, on the one hand, you have the advantage of having seen the Lord rescue you before; on the other, you are weary from having endured so much for so long. The thought of having to persevere yet longer still can seem unutterably demanding. So how about turning it around, and receiving resilience as a gift? Resilience with, and through, and in the Lord is a prospect grounded in faith and full of hope.
O Christ Jesus,
when all is darkness
and we feel our weakness
give us the sense of Your presence,
Your love and Your strength.
Help us to have perfect trust
in Your protecting love
and strengthening power,
so that nothing
may frighten or worry us,
for, living close to You,
we shall see Your hand,
through all things.
* For many years, Lyndall was the National Prayer Coordinator for the Salvation Army. She is the author of Faith in the Making and Prayer in the Making.
** One reader responded to Stephen’s article by suggesting that ‘Trials are one of the ways the sovereign Lord to drain the excess water in our wings to help us soar higher to fulfil our God given mandate on this earth. Just like the bamboo tree, it takes few years to solidify its roots before it rapidly shoots up beautifully. Trials are for our own beautification.’