Disclaimer: I don’t really view myself as a very resilient person. ‘Why then have you chosen to write an advice article on it?’ would be a legitimate next question. Well, I too am a fellow struggler seeking to build resilience in the midst of trying times. I have received some valuable wisdom from some much wiser Christians which I hope will spur you on to grow in resilience and in particular, grow in gospel resilience.
I wonder why you have decided to click on this article. Maybe it’s feelings of exhaustion in the wake of Covid-19, mental health problems that just won’t seem to shift, fear for the climate or just struggling to find a reason to continue in activism when nothing seems to be making any difference. Covid-19 shook all of our foundations and many of us found ourselves falling.
‘Resilience is the ability to anticipate, withstand and bounce back from external pressures and shocks’. Or more poetically put ‘resilience is the human heart’s ability to suffer greatly and grow from it’. I think we all want that, but for many, myself included, it seems out of reach, we just haven’t been able to nail that bounce-back technique. Well, you’ll be pleased to know that resilience can be learnt and built. You’ll be less pleased, but probably not surprised, that actually we need adversity to grow resilience. The pandemic has provided us with plenty of adversity so now is the chance to grow in resilience.
There have been many useful secular books written on resilience over the past few years, which offer a lot of wisdom and advice. Brené Brown in ‘Rising Strong’ encourages us to create a new ending to our story. But for now I want to focus on how God’s word encourages us to build resilience in trying times. After all, ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom’ (Proverbs 9:10).
The call to ‘be strong and courageous’ comes numerous times in the Bible, along with the similar command to ‘fear not’. However, interwoven are God’s reasons why to fear not. The most common promise is that He will be with us (John 16:33). Jesus encourages resilience in his disciples ahead of Jesus’s death: ‘in this world, you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world’. Jesus is saying the world may push you down and scatter you, but I have conquered that, and nothing can keep you down. What a call to be resilient.
Proverbs 24:16 also paints a vivid picture of this gospel-based resilience: ‘for the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity’. Through Christ, we have been made righteous, which means when we fall, we will rise again! Or as King David puts it ‘though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand’ (Psalm 27:24).
RESILIENT SAINTS: ESTHER
The Bible is full of examples of resilient people. The story of Esther is a high stakes story. The people of Israel, including herself and her cousin Mordecai are under a death sentence – trying times to say the least. Her cousin comes to her and begs her to do something ‘for if you will keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish’ (Esther 4:4). Mordecai sees that God will deliver, but he also sees that Esther has a part to play in it. Esther withstands this external pressure, declaring ‘I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish’ (Esther 4:16). Esther’s fear is tangible. But God uses one woman’s readiness to stand up and walk out in faith, even in the midst of fear.
RESILIENT SAINTS: PAUL
The apostle Paul is a New Testament example of an incredibly resilient person. Paul spends 2 Corinthians 11:24-27 outlining the physical trials and endurances he has been through including beatings, shipwrecks, exposure to danger and verse 26 alone mentions danger eight times. To top it all off Paul talks about ‘the daily pressure on me of my anxiety
for all the churches’ (v.28). Paul sounds like a man about to cave. But in Chapter 12, Paul makes the incredible statement ‘I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities’. Paul says ‘for the sake of Christ… for when I am weak, then I am strong’ (2 Corinthians 12:9-11). True and lasting resilience can only be built on and around Jesus.
JESUS BUILDS RESILIENCE
Hebrews 12:3 encourages believers to ‘consider him [Jesus] who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted’. The writer of Hebrews makes this link to beholding Jesus and building resilience. Jesus is more than just our saviour, he is also our role model, and our hero because he lived the ultimately resilient life. Picture his resilience, in the garden of Gethsemane, knowing all that was ahead, yet being able to declare ‘not my will, but yours’ (Luke 22:42). Hebrews 5:7-9 tells us how Jesus learned resilience through his suffering. When you are battling for resilience, go to Jesus because he knows exactly how hard it is. Jesus also gives us a reason to bounce back and persevere.
It is important to note though that weariness and weakness are not the same thing. Weakness is not inherently bad. Even in the Garden of Eden, humans were made with weakness so that we would depend on God. But with the fall, our weakness met adversity and we became vulnerable. In Christ we are called to resilient weakness, to courageously depend on Christ that draws us to him and allows us to persevere.
BE HONEST ABOUT THE HARDSHIP
Building resilience, however, comes through being real about our pressures and struggles. If we refuse to acknowledge our struggles to ourselves and others, we will not allow our hearts to see God moving through the suffering, and strengthening us. Secular thought would encourage us to manage and validate our emotions, but we as Christians are called to go further. We can pour out our emotions to God and grow our confidence in Christ’s competence in our lives.
Resilience is the ability to trust God with the things we don’t know and keep living in the light of what we do know about God. It is easy to let pain change our view of God. Resilience is about letting God change our view of pain.
7 PRACTICAL TIPS
To finish I’d like to pass on seven ways to grow in resilience that Neil Powell, a church planter in Birmingham, suggested in a seminar on growing in gospel resilience. I hope that amidst embracing challenges and looking after ourselves, they can help you build resilience that will last, even in the midst of trying times.
- When everything feels out of control, trust that a sovereign God is for us and working for our good.
- When we feel overwhelmed, know that our loving Lord is not only for us but with us.
- When we’re trying to understand God’s purpose in our pain, believe that God grows us in and through our suffering.
- When we feel conquered by our circumstances, believe that contentment really can be ours in any situation.
- When we think our situation will never change, recognise that there are seasons of life and change our pace with our seasons.
- When we are not sure we can keep going, live in daily dependence on God, who calls us to take one day at a time.
- When we feel alone, bear one another’s burdens and allow others to live life alongside you and speak Christ into your heart.
Whatever trying time you are going through, know that Jesus has overcome it, and you have the Holy Spirit at work in you. Be real about the pain, but hold on to the future. Consider Jesus who built incredible resilience as he walked this earth.
Consider that the present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that he has won for us. One day creation will be restored and every tear wiped away. That is our hope and our ultimate reason for resilience. Jesus loved us to the end (Matt 28:20) and he enabled us to continue until the end.