A couple of weeks back I attended a pastors’ retreat near the Able Tasman in the South Island. It was a great opportunity to get away with a bunch of guys who are facing the same issues and sharing the same gains and pains, wins and losses, and successes and failures that attend pastoral life.
During one of the sessions our guest speaker, Jason Williams spoke about the subject of resilience. Resilience, according to the dictionary definition means:
- The power or ability to return to the original form or shape after being bent, compressed or stretched
- The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, adversity or the like
Interesting. He had my full attention before he even began. He then gave an example of someone who showed resilience in the Bible: Caleb. Caleb was one of the 12 spies that Moses sent into Canaan to scout out the land that God had given to the Israelites. 10 of those spies came back and gave a bad report, telling the people that it was too difficult and too dangerous – the place was full of giants. Joshua and Caleb were the only ones with any valour – “We must go up and take possession of the land because we can certainly conquer it!” (Numbers 13:30)
Later in the book of Joshua, after they had entered the land and taken possession, Caleb looks back on that day and says this:
“Here I am today, 85 years old. I am still as strong today as I was the day Moses sent me out. My strength for battle and for daily tasks is now as it was then.” (Joshua 14:10–11)
Now Caleb might be over-stating things a little here (as with a few elderly people I know with a strong spirit). But even still, this guy had grit. He had vigour. He had strength. He had determination. He had resilience.
Jason then took us to Hebrews 12 – that great chapter that many of us go to whenever we are feeling a little weary and discouraged in our journey of faith. The author launches out with this great charge to the faithful:
“Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us,” (Hebrews 12:1)
He compares the Christian life to running a race – not a fast race; not a 100m sprint. It’s more like a marathon. And with any marathon, if you are going to make it to the finish line, you need endurance.
Then Jason coloured this in for us. He starting talking about running. He said, “What happens when you go on a run? Well, you find yourself a pace you can handle, you get yourself into a rhythm and then you try to stay there.” Then he said this, “But oftentimes the terrain doesn’t stay the same. Sooner or later you are going to come to a hill. So what do you do then? You lean in. You put your head down, and you push hard. You work against the resistance. If you don’t, you will never make it to the top.”
So far so good. I’m a runner. I’m tracking with him.
“Then, when you get to the top what do you do? Your head goes up again, you take the foot off the gas and you get to breathe easy again.”
I run where there are a lot of hills. I’m visualizing the whole thing.
“Now going downhill, runners often make the mistake of working too hard. You don’t want to work hard going downhill. Gravity will get you down – so relax, breathe in the air, and celebrate the occasion.”
I didn’t need to ask myself where he was going with this. I already knew. This is a description of the Christian life. This is the journey of faith – it has up-hills and down-hills. And often it has flat stretches.
- Sometimes the Christian life is an uphill battle. Things get hard. You experience opposition. You go through a trial or experience personal suffering. You need to lean in, put your head down and push your way through.
- Then you come out the other side – that’s the top of the hill. Your head comes back up and you catch your breath. You look around, and you realize you actually made it.
- Then there’s the downhill. You experience God’s goodness. Prayer is wonderfully answered. You enjoy a season of success.
- Sooner or later the ground will level out and you’re back on the flat stretches. We have to be careful here – there’s no challenge. We tend to coast. That’s a big mistake. We need to re-establish the healthy rhythms and disciplines that prepare us for the next challenge (or hill). Here is an opportunity to make good on some of those promises we made to people but never followed up with.
Jason then asked us all to spend some time on our own and think about where we might be on our race of faith. I didn’t need time thinking about it – I already knew. During the past 12 months, my wife and I went through one of the most difficult trials of our lives. Our eldest son was involved in a serious motorcycle accident in the U.S. that took off his left leg above the knee and left his right leg mangled beyond recognition. That was just the beginning. Then we had to get him home and help him through the rehabilitation. All this while I was trying to establish my leadership as Lead Pastor in a new church. It wasn’t a hill climb. It was scaling a cliff face.
But by God’s grace, here we are – still sane, still in the race and feeling like we can see the horizon again. We are at the top of the hill – just.
How about you? Where are you on the trail?
- Are you facing an uphill battle? Are things tough for you spiritually right now?
- Or do you feel like you’ve just surfacing – you’ve coming out some difficulty. You are the top of the hill, so to speak.
- Or perhaps you’re in a season of success. You see some wins. Prayer is being answered. People are coming to know the Lord. You are on the downhill run.
- Or perhaps you are on a flat stretch. You are not experiencing great difficulty, but neither are you celebrating any wins. It’s time to re-establish those healthy rhythms and spiritual disciplines.
Where ever you are in your journey of faith, know that God is working in you to build resilience. He wants you strong. He wants you to be like Caleb – still fighting fit and ready for another battle at 85 years of age. If you are lacking stamina; if you are feeling a little weary, think about where it all ends. According to my bible, it’s looking pretty good.
So fix your eyes on Jesus – the author and finisher of your faith. He’s waiting for you at the finish line.