Foundations of Resilience
By Bruce Clarke. First published in Compass, Autumn 2022.
The global pandemic has significantly changed our lives through lockdowns and restrictions affecting employment, relationships, travel, gatherings, sport, etc. We are cut off from so much of what is important to us as creative, social beings. Followers of Jesus are also impacted by changes to fellowship, worship, and ministry. Our faith in God may be challenged as God’s purposes seem to be thwarted or as we experience setbacks to ministry.
In response to these substantial challenges, there has been an emphasis on personal resilience. The word “resilience” and its derivatives are not used in most versions of the Bible, but given the context of the early Christians, it is not surprising that the concept is a major theme of the Epistles. We are encouraged to persevere, be strong, stand firm, be disciplined, remain, press on, and endure. In the early church, resilience was encouraged in the faith challenges of severe persecution, the influence of the surrounding sinful culture and the attacks to distort the Gospel.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we are reminded of Jesus’ humility in the incarnation, His death on the Cross and His exaltation as Lord (Phil. 2:5-11). We have the perspective of citizens of a heavenly kingdom ruled by the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:20-21) and so we “stand firm in the Lord” (Phil. 4:1). Enabled by prayer and the right focus, God’s peace protects our faith (Phil. 4:6-9). Although Paul was in jail, he was still pressing on to know Christ and the power of his resurrection (Phil. 3:10). He was still able to rejoice in the fact that the Gospel was advancing (Phil. 1:12-19) even under circumstances that were far from ideal humanly speaking. Indeed, the many apparent setbacks Paul experienced never reduced his passion for Christ and the spread of the Gospel.
Living in an ever-changing world, we have the unshakable foundations of the eternal, unchangeable LORD and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The uneasiness and uncertainty of change reminds us to shore up these foundations of certain hope. Our confidence is in our God who graciously provides the endurance needed now and in the future.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5
Living in an ever-changing world,
we have the unshakable foundations of
the eternal, unchangeable LORD…
Standing firm in our faith also means maintaining the truths of the unchanging Gospel message in word and deed. We should be careful to ensure that our experiences do not reshape the Gospel truths. For example, it is possible that the pandemic experience has caused a more inward focus which has the danger of reframing the Gospel in personal therapeutic terms. Rather, as the Scriptures frequently remind us, we hold fast to the teachings of the apostles not altering the Gospel because, when we do, we end up destroying the truth we are called upon to preserve.
Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 2 Corinthians 4:1-2
We have a sympathetic Saviour, a certain hope, a sovereign unchanging LORD, and a Holy Spirit that provides all that is needed to live transformed lives for the glory of God. Our resilience is made possible by, and demonstrates the truth of, the redeeming and transforming power of Christ.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, it is noteworthy that he did not dwell on the difficulties of his imprisonment, but saw that it provided new opportunities for the Gospel and for deepening his knowledge of Christ. Considering our current context, how is Paul’s perspective relevant to us? What opportunities for the Gospel does the pandemic open? What Biblical truths does the pandemic highlight that we should dwell on and strive towards? How can the pandemic experience deepen our commitment to advance the Gospel into the nations?