This is part 1 of a 5 part series on enduring through suffering by building resilience.
Click here to read the article in its entirety.
Part 2 – Enduring Well: Identity in Christ
Part 3 – Enduring Well: True Perspective
Part 4 – Enduring Well: Faith
Part 5 – Enduring Well: Responsibility
Every Christian goes through sufferings. This is especially true for leaders. Leaders are targets:
…Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered… (Zech. 13:7)
The enemies of the Gospel target leaders because of the impact a leader’s breakdown will have on many people. Anticipating the significantly increased stresses of leadership, not a few people who have genuine callings to lead instead quietly embrace other life directions.
But suffering is not limited to leaders; we all are called by God to endure adversity. This is promised many times in the Bible:
…Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. (Acts 14:21-22)
For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him, (Phil. 1:29)
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, (2 Tim. 3:12)
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Pet. 4:12)
Moreover, this suffering is not only persecution for the sake of the Gospel. We will experience many different kinds of suffering in this life. Peter wrote that we will experience a diversity of adversity:
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (1 Pet. 1:6)
“Trials” are tests of character – tests to see if we can stand up to the pressure and stress. In persecution, for example, the devil entices men to give up their faith for fear of suffering ridicule or physical harm. A temptation is a trial to see if you will choose holiness over sin. Suffering is a trial to see if you will serve God even when things go wrong (cf. Job). False doctrine is a test; it may offer us pride and elitism, or an easier way. Praise can even be a test of our humility (Prov. 27:21).
There are many kinds of trials. They can be related to physical health, marriage and family, relationships, finances, career, and more. Life is full of adversity!
But Peter goes on to say that these trials have a clear purpose:
These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Pet. 1:7)
True faith is tested by trials just as gold (far inferior to faith) is proved by fire. Gold is a precious metal but it can be mixed with impurities that lower its value and spoil its beauty. So it needs to be refined. In the intense heat of fire in a crucible, the impurities rise to the surface of the melted gold and are skimmed off by the goldsmith. In the same way, the heavenly Goldsmith heats the gold (our lives), brings the impurities to the surface and takes them away; and He does this repeatedly – until when He looks into the gold He sees impurities no longer but only His own image.
If gold that perishes must be tried by fire, how much more does our faith, which is being proved for eternity, need to be tried and purified by fire (cf. Dan. 11:35; 12:10; Rev. 3:18)? God is preparing us for eternity.
Thus, our suffering is for a purpose: to transform our lives and to bring God glory.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Cor. 4:7)
But the transformation is not automatic. Sufferings do not automatically change us. It’s how we respond that counts. It is our response to adversity that determines whether it will help us or hurt us. Sadly, probably more often than not, sufferings destroy people because of their bad responses.
Think of people you have known who went through severe suffering but weren’t destroyed by it. How did they respond? How did their responses differ from other people you have known who were destroyed by their suffering?
What is your response to suffering? How do you respond? And, are you, in the end, benefited by your adversity or does it defeat you?
Probably all of us have had times when we did not respond well. Here are some examples of bad responses:
- Self-pity. “Poor me. Why does everything happen to me?”
- Anger, resentment or bitterness toward God and others. “I have a right to be angry because they did this to me!”
- Blaming others or our circumstances. “It’s their fault.”
- Condemning ourselves. “I’m useless. I always fail. It’s always my fault.”
- Fear. “If God has allowed this to happen, what else might He allow? So I’d better not be too aggressive as a Christian, then the devil might leave me alone.”
- Despair. “God has abandoned me and no one understands or wants to help me.”
- Resignation. “I give up. There is nothing I can do.”
Are there other kinds of bad responses that are not named above? What have you experienced in your own life or seen in the lives and responses of others?
None of these responses result in anything good. They lead us into depression, anxiety and defeat. The reality is, in the end, if we’re destroyed it’s not because the adversity destroyed us – it’s because our response destroyed us! The fact is: Satan can’t destroy us. Therefore, he tempts us to respond badly so we destroy ourselves!
But, by God’s grace, we can learn to respond well to suffering. This is resilience: responding well to adversity so that we can withstand it and recover from it.
There are many examples of this in the natural world. The willow tree demonstrates resilience via its flexibility and it is often the last tree left standing in high winds. A rubber band can be stretched to many times its normal length and yet it bounces back. An oak tree loses its leaves in the harsh winter, but its roots go deeper into the ground to survive and when spring comes it flourishes.
For us, this means more than mere endurance; resilience means that we endure well. It’s good to endure sufferings; it’s even better to endure those sufferings well!
To “endure well” means to respond well to suffering and actually to grow through the suffering – to find God in a deeper way; to be more conformed to the image of Christ.
This response is essentially an internal one. How do we think about suffering? In our internal world, how do we respond to suffering?
Reflect on your own life. How have you responded to suffering in the past? What have been your characteristic ways to respond? Look at the list of bad responses above. Which ones do you remember occurring in your own internal life? Share honestly with another person about this and receive their prayer for you to change.
The good news is that by the power of God’s Spirit and through the Truth of His Word, we can grow in our resilience. If we know we won’t be destroyed by the adversity, then we’ll be much more at peace in the midst of the storms. We will also be more comfortable with risk and uncertainty, and will likely be more joyful and effective in our lives and ministries despite the many challenges we will inevitably face.
We can grow in resilience by changing our inward responses; at its heart, this change means to replace lies with truth.
This replacing of lies with truth must happen in four distinct areas:
- Identity in Christ
- True perspective