Resilience in the Gospel
By Ian McIntosh, first published in Compass Winter issue 2022
What do you think about when you hear the word resilience? TV interviews with disaster victims or soldiers fighting a David and Goliath battle? Relational conflict? People battling their personal demons relating to themselves, others and God? Or just wanting to feel okay?
Resilience is inbuilt whether we are a believer or not, but the ability to endure and spring back with hope and optimism from a difficult situation over which we have little or no control can be a struggle and feel impossible without Christ.
In the New Testament we are encouraged to be confident, to endure, to stand up under hardship, to be bold and to trust as God works to bring maturity, completeness and a hope in us.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything.” James 1:3-4
Confidence is built through facing difficult times, surviving, and springing back. Military training teaches resilience. Soldiers crawl under barbed wire while live rounds are shot over the top of them. This prepares them for combat so that on the battlefield, they already know what it’s like. They have been there before. This is all about resilience-building.
The apostle Paul’s life demonstrates great resilience-building the source of his ability to spring back. In 2 Corinthians 11:21-33 we read how he was beaten to a pulp, relentlessly abused, often sleep-deprived, hungry and much more, yet had a remarkable ability to spring back with joy and a relentless desire to advance the gospel. We also read about the ongoing affliction he experienced, “a thorn in the flesh”, which was given to him to keep him humble in 2 Corinthians 12:9.
What gave him the ability to face these trials and from them endure hardship, and grow in his passion for the Lord Jesus and love for those he served?
First, he had been through so many beatings and hardships that he knew “what it is to be in need, and … what it is to have plenty.” (Philippians 4:12a) And he learned the secret of being content no matter the situation. The difference for Paul, as a believer, was verse 13. “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” It was not just his familiarity with hardship but experiencing the Lord’s strength to help him stand amidst it.
Second, Paul learned the depth of his sin against God and people. He owned it and repented.
His encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus brought him face to face with the Lord in His glory. For three days he was blind, he did not eat or drink anything. He only prayed. I wonder what he prayed about before Ananias came to lay hands on him to restore his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit? (Acts 9:17)
I suspect meeting Jesus revealed the very depths of his shame, guilt, regret, and he repented of his rebellion against God and the atrocities he had committed against believers. It would have been here that he experienced the profound impact of the gospel, repented of his sin, and received forgiveness and grace from Jesus. God poured out His love into Paul’s heart. He accepted the call to carry the name of Jesus far and wide and suffer much for the sake of Jesus’ name. Then he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus was the Son of God.
“We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:3-5
We see how the good news of Jesus and the maturing process that comes through suffering taught Paul to spring back with endurance, hope, optimism and confidence. We see how his suffering wasn’t a deterrent to preaching the gospel but helped him live it out.
Our call is the same, and through our response to the gospel and the indwelling Spirit we can, with confidence, face trials of many kinds, rejoice in suffering, contently stand up under hardship with the Lord’s strength and mature in the ability to spring back with hope and optimism so that we are not lacking anything. We can advance the gospel in the midst of hardship because His love is in our hearts.