Three biblical strategies for cultivating resilience
Published on: 05-28-2021
Balls bounce. That’s what makes them so fun. But the fun is grounded in science.
A ball is designed to absorb energy upon impact and then transfer that energy in the opposite direction. As the ball hits the ground, it “deforms temporarily and shoots back up. The air in the ball acts like a spring—it gets compressed and expands again.”¹
This phenomenon is called resilience, which can be defined as the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress.
Not only do balls bounce upon impact—people do as well. At least they should, because if they don’t cultivate the ability to bounce back from the impact of adverse experiences, they will break.
No matter who you are or where you live in the world, one thing is certain: right now you either just came through a difficult experience, you are in the midst of a difficult experience, or you are about to enter into yet another difficult experience.
Life can be difficult.
Jesus plainly stated, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33, NIV).
Not “you may have trouble,” but rather “you will have trouble.”
Peter said, “Do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you” (1 Peter 4:12, NKJV).
It is an absolute certainty of life that we will face troubles and trials, perplexities and problems. The question is never “Will my life be impacted by difficulties?” but rather “How can I be so resilient that I will bounce back from the difficulties that will inevitably come my way?” We need to cultivate the ability to absorb the energy of life’s blows and bounce back without being crushed.
Here are three biblical strategies for cultivating resilience in a world that often hits us with trouble:
1. CENTER YOUR DEPENDENCE IN CHRIST
Certainly you have noticed that Christianity has become the domain of religious celebrities. But when we cultivate starstruck dependence on “rock star” megachurch pastors or charismatic evangelists, we are vulnerable to devastation if and when they fall. We may even turn away from Jesus because of our disappointment with someone who claimed to speak for Him: a pastor or an elder, a father or a mother, a friend in whom we placed a high level of confidence. The recent scandal regarding Ravi Zacharias presents to us a case study in the folly of trusting in any human being, no matter how apparently righteous, talented, intelligent, or charismatic.
The weakest form of gospel witness is an orator on a stage, and it is easy to fake. Literally anybody with a good brain-mouth connection can pull it off, no matter what their motive happens to be. By contrast, the strongest gospel witness is a loving family and a loving local church, in which there is transparency, accountability, and a constant redemptive process of truth-telling and grace. When the primary witness to the gospel is a loving community of truth-telling, grace-giving people, if the man with the mic turns out to be a predator or a shyster, nobody’s faith need be devastated, because it was never about the person on the stage anyway.
The follower of Jesus is called upon to cultivate the habit of “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2, NKJV). If we lock our eyes upon Jesus, we will find ourselves bouncing back with resilience from the disappointment we experience when someone we look up to fails us. That brings us to the second strategy for cultivating resilience.
2. REMAIN IN COMMUNITY
Our world is designed to divide people while creating an illusion of connection. Perhaps the most colossal misnomer of our time is the use of the word “friends” to describe those who follow us on social media. As followers of Jesus, we are called upon to live our lives in genuine “fellowship” with one another in order to cross-pollinate our knowledge of Jesus and the “joy” we derive from “fellowship” with Him (1 John 1:1-4).
As tempting as it may be simply to stay home and watch online sermons and call that your “church,” it is vital to our spiritual health to be an active member of a local church body. People need people. When the troubles of life pounce upon us, our likelihood of bouncing back with resilience will be significantly increased when we are surrounded by people who love us.
3. LIVE TO GIVE
The best remedy for bouncing back from any difficulty is to channel the negative energy of our pain into the positive pursuit of serving others. When tragedy strikes, we can move in one of two directions: inward or outward. The energy generated by any adverse event has to go somewhere. If I channel my energy toward myself by obsessing over my problems and pains, they will tend to be magnified and take up more and more emotional space inside of me. But if I channel my energy into serving the needs of others, I will tend to lose sight of my troubles in the joy that is always the byproduct of giving. “Give,” Jesus admonished, “and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back” (Luke 6:38, NLT).²
As followers of Jesus, we are called upon to bear the fruit of “self-control” (Gal. 5:23; 2 Peter 1:6), to cultivate the habit of telling ourselves no. But self-control isn’t a negative discipline. It is, in fact, a positive discipline, because saying no to myself allows me to say yes to the needs of others. John Wesley’s old financial admonition is still brilliant: “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” The Christian is, by definition, a channel of benevolence to the world. Cultivating the habit of self-control is the precursor to benevolence. We say no to our indulgent wants, so we can say yes to other people’s legitimate needs. Givers are resilient because their focus is outward rather than inward. They bounce back from the setbacks of life by helping others overcome their setbacks.