God’s Training Ground: Becoming and Staying Resilient
Cheryl Ann Beals
This article originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of FOCUS.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening — it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong. – Hebrews 12
As medical and dental professionals, we can get caught up in the idea that we are running this race alone. We have had to learn skills of self-reliance for our work and mission, and that can skew our ability to endure the adversity and stress of running the race. However, the 10 training tips below work best in the context of a community of believers. Having fellow believers support you and help you stay accountable will help keep you on the right path. CMDS Canada has a built-in support system through the Chapters and the many growth and fellowship opportunities. Find other people with whom you can train for the race so that you can encourage each other and keep each other on track.
Following are 10 things that can help us in our service and our leadership as we become who He has called us to be and do what He has called us to do. These reflections are all drawn from the lessons from Chapter 12 of Paul’s letter to the Hebrews. I chose to frame this as training in the context of a race, because Paul uses the language of us running the good race. We ourselves know that life itself is the marathon God is calling us to run and it makes a difference how we run that race.
Let Us Strip Off
Taking off or stripping off has to do with relinquishing. As leaders, we need to reflect on what God is calling us to relinquish. Sometimes they are the very things that have been most useful or helpful to us or even things we’ve enjoyed the most, but now are things that get in the way of our relationship with God, our ability to rely on God, or of what God wants to accomplish in and through us. When we take our self-inventory, one of the things we should reflect on is what God want us to relinquish, let go, strip off so that we can draw closer to Him. What are the strengths you depend on all the time? Your dependence on those strengths can get in the way of your depending on God. That doesn’t mean you won’t still have or use those strengths, but it means you will strip off your dependence on those strengths so that you can rely more on God. Another area of reflection is whether there are ideas, attitudes or habits you are being called to strip off. Anything that interferes with your ability to draw closer to God and creates a barrier to that relationship can be stripped off.
Let Us Run with Endurance
Angela Duckworth wrote a book called Grit. In her book she talked about grit as being the ability to endure while working towards a long-term goal. I think the writer of Hebrews is describing a sort of Holy Grit, a grit that allows us to continue to follow the vision and call that God has placed over our lives. “Grit is living life like it’s a marathon and not a sprint.” (Angela Duckwork, Grit) As Christians and as leaders, how are you living and leading in a way that your life is a marathon and not a sprint? What does it look like to be so committed to what God has called you to? As you reflect, it is likely clear what the areas are where God is calling you to have perseverance and holy grit in living out and following through on His calling in your life.
Keeping Our Eyes on Jesus
Our ability to endure is tied into our focus. I like to think of a compass pointed due north. It’s important to develop and implement personal strategies to help you stay focused on Christ. Something as simple as little alarms on your phone to remind you to center yourself in Christ and remind you of God’s loving presence in your life. There need to be intentional ways that we keep our eyes on Christ. Each of us can find sustainable ways to keep our inward compass pointed due north, to Christ.
Think of All the Hostility He Endured
We don’t tend to want to talk about how life as a devoted Christian and a Christian leader is hard and involves adversity. The reality is that there is a lot of adversity for us. We need to think about how Jesus’ mission on our behalf wasn’t an easy one and He faced a lot of adversity and hostility. How do we have resilience? How do we cope with and grow from our adversities in such a way that we get stronger? When Jesus was speaking to his disciples, he said “I’m telling you all of this so that you will not stumble.” (John 16:1) Jesus then goes on to talk about the various trials and adversity the disciples will face. In John 15, where Jesus talks about abiding in the vine, He is giving them lessons on how to endure, how to persevere, how to be resilient. First, we have to be prepared for and acknowledge that there is adversity and know how we are going to deal with it. The literature on resilience, a bit part of what help us to endure and be resilient are having a good network where we can both give and receive support. Another reinforcement for our resilience is being self-aware and reflective in how we respond to adversity. We can choose to develop the skills that help us become and remain resilient.
Don’t Give Up When He Corrects You
The writer of Hebrews tells us that God is going to discipline us because He loves us. It can be a hard thing to accept at face value, because none of us like being discipline. How do we get to a place where we welcome God’s discipline? In scriptural times, discipline was learning the ways of the master. A disciple is a student of the discipline of the master. Discipline is difficult, but that doesn’t necessarily mean punishment (although it can). It means mastering or training to do something, like a racer trains for a marathon. This process can be painful, difficult and challenging. Just like training for a marathon, learning the disciplines of Jesus can be very difficult. A significant part of this is knowing how to receive God’s correction. That ability comes with discernment, in teachings ourselves to hear God’s voice as a loving sound even when He’s correcting us. Discernment is about being so in tune with God that we move with the Spirit. When God corrects us, it is because He wants us to be in tune with His will and in tune with the movement of His Spirit. My first reaction when God is correcting me is that I don’t like it and I don’t want to do it. Then I remind myself that God loves me and He wants me to grow and become all that I can be in Him. I ask God for the grace to accept and receive His correction. When that happens, it’s usually something that helps me to grow, become more aware, and deepen my relationship with God. What began as something painful, then becomes something transformative.
Endure His Divine Discipline
After we learn to discern and accept God’s discipline, then we enter into that discipline. God disciplining us and training us is His formation. It’s like we’re clay and He is the potter forming and molding us. Every experience we have in our lives, whether positive or negative, is an opportunity for God to train us and the Spirit to work in our lives. If we have the attitude of seeing every situation in this light, we become more capable to enduring and working in and through this discipline.
Share in His Holiness
The Scriptures talk about sharing in God’s holiness. That’s really a call to deeper relationship. To share in God’s holiness is to share in His character, His blessing, for His life to flow in us, for us to be a reflection of His son Jesus Christ. To share in God’s holiness is a wonderful opportunity and invitation to maturity and to be fruitful. We are invited to be fruitful in the fruit of the Spirit in our lives and mature in being Christ-like. When we allow ourselves to be changed and transformed by God to share in His holiness we also reflect God. We become His presence when we walk into situations. We reflect His wisdom when we talk to people. We discern His presence more deeply and become His instruments in the places we find ourselves. When we engage in this training, “it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)
Take a New Grip
Once you’ve listened and accepted the discipline and endured it, God tells us we’re going to be able to take a new grip on His presence and our relationship with Him. “Take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees.” When we go through this process, we find new strength from our renewed and deepened relationship with God. As Christian leaders, we all need to focus more on getting a grip on God’s presence. We’ve been so focused on doing for God that we’ve forgotten the most important thing that He’s called us to, which is to be in His presence, to know him and to rest in Him. When we allow God to mold us and speak into our lives, we get a powerful new grip on His presence and our relationship with Him.
Strengthen your Weak Knees
We begin to stand firmer in who we are in God. There’s a confidence, strength and courage that comes forth. We may have entered this processed feeling burned out and isolated. We may have come in hoping just to endure with what little strength we had on our own, but by going through this process with God, He’s given us new strength, a second win, so that we can keep running the race with even greater zeal.
Mark out a Straight Path
Once we follow this process, we’re now able not only to lead ourselves, but also to guide others behind us. We are marking out a straight path that leads to God. When that happens, it’s not just me, but others who follow behind us so that they too can find their way deeper into relationship with God. I can model a life of what it looks like to lead in Christ for them to follow. “Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” (Hebrews 12:13) We can look ahead of us on the path and see other people, a cloud of witnesses, who have been a model of living in Christ. We can join them and by making a path for our own feet, make a path for those behind us.