Resilience has several strands and may be described as:
(1) The ability to bounce back after a setback, disappointment or seeming defeat
(2) The ability to stand firm when under pressure and not give way
(3) The ability to recover from injury or hurt and be stronger as a result
(3) The ability to keep going right to the end.
The human spirit has great natural resilience, but that is never enough. We may be strong in one area but weak in another. We need the help of God to be truly resilient. As the apostle Paul said, ‘I can do everything through him who gives me strength.’ (Philippians 4:13). The key to resilience is to tap into that strength on a daily basis. Consider these examples of resilience.
It must have seemed like the worst day in David’s life. He and his men returned to Ziklag where they were based to find the city has been burned to the ground by raiding Amalekites. Their homes had been destroyed, and the women and children (including David’s two wives) carried away captive. As they surveyed the scene of devastation and loss, David and his men ‘wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep’. The men turned against David in their grief and anger, threatening to stone him, and he was ‘greatly distressed’. David found himself alone and with his world reduced to ashes. What did he do? ‘David found strength in the Lord his God’. He turned aside from the scene of chaos and found a place of solitude.
There, as he had done many times before, he poured his heart out to God, his Rock and his Refuge.
There he reminded himself of the divine promises that he would be king and that God was with him.
There he reached out to take hold of the hand of God in trust and in faith.
There he began to lift his voice in praise and worship, refusing to become embittered or disconsolate.
David encouraged himself in God, and in our moments of despair we must do the same. It is one of the keys to a resilient life. But don’t wait for trouble to come knocking before you turn to God. Make it a daily practise to find your strength in him. Read the complete story in 1 Samuel 30. I guarantee you will be uplifted.
Joseph suffered a great deal in his life. No doubt some of the hostility he faced from his brothers came as a result of his own youthful arrogance, but adversity followed him wherever he went. Yet he became stronger as a result because he had a resilient attitude.
Consider his sufferings: (1) hated by his brothers and thrown into a pit to die; (2) sold into slavery and taken down to Egypt; (3) separated from his family and exiled in a foreign land; (4) tempted to immorality and wrongly accused for resisting; (5) thrown into prison and left there for two years to rot.
How did Joseph prevent himself from becoming bitter and twisted? Because he kept his faith in God. He knew that God was with him and had a purpose for his life. He felt the strengthening of the Holy Spirit (Genesis 41:38). He allowed God to heal his hurt and transform his suffering (Genesis 41:50-52). But supremely he was able to endure because he saw the bigger picture. He had the perspective of heaven and could see the hand of God even in his misfortune.
He could testify to his brothers: ‘It was not you who sent me here, but God (Genesis 45:8).’ And again, ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives (Genesis 50:19).’
He saw that God had sent him ahead of his family into Egypt, and given him a position of influence so that he could save them from famine. He did not blame them or harbour resentment in his heart but allowed God to use his suffering redemptively. He was able to forgive them and did not use his power against them. He chose to let adversity make him a better person.
Resilience comes in large measure from being able to make sense of what happens to us, to find meaning in our life events; and when we understand the providence of God we begin to look for the bigger picture in our own circumstances. This is the great truth of Romans 8:28: ‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ This is a truth to live by, a lens through which to look at all of life.
Sometimes we can best see the hand of God only with hindsight, but for sure it is there. In our triumphs and our tragedies God is working out his perfect plan for us. This is what helps to hold us firm when we are not sure what is happening.
Nehemiah had a strong sense of God’s call to return to Jerusalem and help with the rebuilding of the walls. Assured that God was with him and would meet all his needs, he motivated others to join with him in the difficult task: ‘You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace . . . The God of heaven will give us success (2:17).’
With great people skills and the ability to manage a project, Nehemiah set the people to work, but they experienced much opposition from Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem, three powerful individuals who did not want to see Jerusalem prosper. They harassed and intimated Nehemiah and his workers, ridiculing them and seeking to undermine their efforts. As the work progressed so the hostility increased, but Nehemiah was undeterred. He lifted his heart to God in prayer, the source of his strength: ‘Hear us, O God, for we are despised (4:4).’
When the hostility turned to threats of physical violence and the workers strength was failing, Nehemiah prayed and encouraged his people: ‘Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome (4:14).’ He also organised them so they were working closely together and less vulnerable to enemy attacks. Inevitably, Nehemiah himself became the object of slanderous attacks questioning his motives. He experienced personal threats to his safety and was subject to repeated attempts to dissuade him from continuing the work. In all this his integrity held firm and he found grace to stand his ground. He prayed simply, ‘Now strengthen my hands (6:9).’
Eventually the wall was finished in the amazingly short time of 52 days. Nehemiah’s resilience was based on his deep personal walk with God, his faith in the outworking of God’s promises, and his own dogged determination and courage. The work had been done with the help of God (6:16), and it reminds us that it is never easy to do God’s will or accomplish the task he gives to us. We will experience serious opposition and face many daunting challenges. That is why we too need to discover the same inner reserves of strength and determination that come through faith in the mighty God who has called us to serve him.
If anyone was battered by life’s tribulations it was the apostle Paul. His life reads like a catalogue of disasters (2Corinthians 4:7-12, 6:3-10 and 11:23-29), yet he was never overwhelmed. As one translation puts it, he was knocked down but not knocked out! How did he find such a resilient attitude? Was it simply the result of a dogged personality? Did he share the same DNA as Bear Grylls?
No doubt Paul was above average in his determination and courage, but his endurance cannot be explained in that way. It came about because of his experience of divine grace. When he was suffering severely from what he calls ‘a thorn in the flesh’ and at his wits end, God spoke to him a word of life and imparted to him the secret of resilience: ‘’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness (2Corinthians 12:9).’
Paul began to realise that his weakness was God’s opportunity. He understand that the power of God works best through people who depend on him, and that by turning to God in his need he could receive strength from above that would enable him to come through the most severe of trials. He discovered the greatest spiritual paradox of all, that ‘when I am weak, then I am strong (2Corinthians 12:10).’ Resilient people do not rely on their own strength, they depend on the strength given to them by God.
That same power is available to you and I as we face our own trials. All we need to do is reach out to God and ask for his grace, and it will be given. And that grace will be sufficient to enable us to work through our troubles in a way that glorifies God.
A final word about resilience, and a look at the life of Jesus. He too showed great resilience during his earthly ministry. He was tempted by the devil, opposed by the religious rulers, let down by his disciples, betrayed by his friend and the subject of rough justice. Yet he persevered in doing the will of God, even though it took him to the cross.
No wonder the writer to the Hebrews say: ‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (12:2).’ His example is to be our inspiration: ‘Consider him who endured such hostility from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (12:3).’
In his teaching Jesus gave us a major clue about how to increase our resilience. In the parable of the wise and foolish builders (Matthew 7:24-27) he said the house that withstands the storms of life is the house that is built on the rock, rather than the sand. Resilient people have this in common – their lives have a solid foundation. Jesus is that foundation, and his word gives stability to our lives even in the most testing of circumstances. His promises undergird us no matter what we may go through, and provide the hope we need that in the end we will come through.
Let’s make sure we are building our lives on this firm foundation: ‘The Lord knows those who are his (2Timothy 3:19).’
Resilience is a characteristic that grows and increases over time. Like a muscle, it develops when it meets resistance. This is why God allows adversity to come into our lives. He knows that when we face suffering (in whatever form) it will produce in us perseverance, the foundation of a strong and godly character (Romans 5:3-4). Testing may be unwelcome but it makes us more resilient. And resilient people are those who accomplish the work God has given them to do, and finish well, like the apostle Paul: ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2Timothy 4:7).’