Invitation to Rest

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Developing Spiritual Resilience

When you think of the word resilience, what is the first thing that comes to mind? For me, the first thing that comes to mind is a little child.

I always like to find an excuse to share a picture of my granddaughter, and in this picture you can see her example of resilience in not being discouraged by her fork and using another alternative for eating the cake!  Kids in general, can show resilience.  How often do they run and play and then they might fall and hurt themselves, but a moment later they are able to get right back up and keep going

If it were only that easy!  Life is full of challenges and trials and after a while we may find it hard to bounce back and stay hopeful. How can we more easily bounce back from the stresses and strains of life? In this post, we will explore the idea of developing spiritual resilience.

What is Resilence?

I love to look at definitions of words.  It helps me gain a greater perspective on things so lets start with a couple of definitions for resilience.

  • the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
  • the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

I like the idea of the first definition.  When things get tough, I don’t want to be taken down, I want to bounce back and enjoy life.  The second definition though really intrigues me. If we think of this definition in personal terms, resilience is the ability for us to spring back into shape. The question is, what is the shape to which we are springing back?

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;

Genesis 1:26​

See what I mean about definitions?  Until I really read the definition, I hadn’t fully grasped the impact of resiliency.  But wow, spiritual resiliency is the ability to spring back into our God-given shape as image bearers quickly even while we are enduring trying and difficult times. We return to our right shape as beloved children of God and out of that position of love and grace we reflect God’s image to others.

A Biblical Example

So what might this look like? Let start with a biblical example of resilience. One of the most resilent people in the Bible is the Apostle Paul. He endured a level of hardship that is hard to fathom.  Paul gives us a description of what he endured:

…been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death’s door time after time. I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather.

2 Corinthians 11:25-28

If anyone had a good reason for giving up it was Paul. I feel like such a wimp when I think what I complain about and how I can let my minor challenges set me back at times. And yet through these overwhelming circumstances, Paul could display incredible resilience.  Let’s look in on his state of mind and how he was coping…

Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

                My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
                My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

That is an incredible statement.  To take limitation in stride, to appreciate his circumstances as a gift, and with good cheer.  Talk about bouncing back and returning to his God-given shape.  Its incredible to think how someone could endure what he did and maintain this attitude and the Bible is filled with examples of how this resiliency lived out in Paul’s life.  One example is described in Acts 16 where after enduring one of his beatings and being thrown into prison, Paul and Silas were praying and singing praises to God.  Who does that?  How often does prayer and praise flow through me in the midst of a trial?

When I read Paul’s example, I can easily start to rationalize my own responses by saying that Paul was just special.  He had this sense of resiliency built within him and had a special “super-saint” status that few of us can attain to so that’s how he could do what he did.  But Paul would beg to differ. In all of his writings, he implored his readers that they too could attain this sense of peace and joy. I think he would agree with this statement: 

Resilience is a process, not a character trait

I think some personalities probably set up more naturally to demonstate a level of resiliency, but character traits could never take Paul to the place where he was.  It is a process.

Paul's Process of Resilience

So Paul, how do you do it? What can you tell us about your secret to resiliency that we can learn from and apply to our own lives? Imagine, you are sitting with Paul and he shares these words of wisdom with you.  What is the message you are hearing from him?

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:1-4

Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:5

What is Paul telling us? There really is so much to unpack here, but three things stick out to me

  1. Focus on Heavenly Things: Paul tells us to set our hearts and minds on things above. It is easy to maintain a “worldly” perspective. Paul encourages us to focus on our heavenly position in Jesus. When I think of it, I am amazed at the percentage of time my mind and heart are set on this world and its challenges.
  2. Commit to the Process: Paul talks of the process of transformation and renewal. As long as we live on this earth, we are in the process of being transformed into God’s image. Like we mentioned earlier, resilience is a process. We need to stay the course and daily working to set our sights on things above.
  3. Every Thought Matters: To varying degrees, all of us have thoughts racing through our heads throughout the day. Left unimpeded, it can feel overwhelming and fearful. Paul advises us to begin to notice and even capture thoughts that are going through our heads and bringing them to Jesus. We then can examine to see if these are things of God or things of this world or even things from the enemy. This is an on-going, renewing, and transformational process.

When Paul says things like “pray without ceasing” and “in everything give thanks” he is expressing that walking with Jesus is a minute-by-minute life.  We are to carry this example of setting out hearts and minds as we go through each and every day and not just those few moments that we carve out time for prayer and study. There is good news in this reality.  Sometimes we can feel discouraged like we have no time to spend with God and we have that feeling when we look at time with God a specific moment of time.  Paul encourages us to begin the process of setting our hearts and minds on Jesus as often as we can, even while we are carrying out our earthly duties and responsibilities of life.

So when we ask Paul how could you respond to beatings and prison with prayer and praise, he would tell us that has become his habit in all situations.  If he can do it, we can do it too!

Practice

In the next post, we will discuss some more practical ways to developing resilience. But we gain a lot of perspective from meditating on what Paul said. As you go back and read what Paul’s says in the passages above, is there a key point or word that stands out that God might be encouraging you to consider? A word, a phrase, a thought that is helpful in bouncing back from whatever you might be going through today or in this season of life?

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