Tough and Resilient

In the first century B.C., the Roman poet Virgil wrote, “Come what may, all bad fortune is to be conquered by endurance.”

But where does such endurance come from? Because it certainly doesn’t seem to come easy, does it!? Is it only through repeated exposure to adverse conditions that we can develop endurance? Or is there another — perhaps even better — way to build endurance?

The prophet Isaiah gives us his answer. Speaking around 700 years before Christ, he describes Jesus so clearly it’s astounding. In fact, in Luke chapter 4, Jesus himself told the people of his own home town that he was the fulfillment of words spoken by Isaiah, words that we find in Isaiah 61.

What a beautiful portrait Isaiah paints of Jesus! He is the Chosen One, sent to proclaim good news to the poor. He is the one sent to heal broken hearts, to release people from their captivity to sin, guilt and shame. He is on a mission to bring comfort to all who grieve and mourn. He restores hope and praise to the lips of those who are hopeless and in despair.

Then Isaiah gives us insight into his view of what creates endurance, toughness and resilience. And this is so important for us to hear. Because life can sometimes knock the stuffing right out of us. And getting back up afterwards, after a fall or a failure, is is never easy. But Isaiah tells us that it’s Jesus who helps us do that. Faith in Jesus will drastically increase our endurance capability.

Isaiah likes to put it in more picturesque terms. He says that Jesus turns us into “oak trees.” And that’s a good metaphor. Oak trees have a tap root that sinks deep into the soil. They also have an extensive root system that spreads horizontally underneath the soil in a network that goes as far as four to seven times the diameter of the tree’s crown.

This makes oak trees very durable and able to withstand strong storms. They are tough and resilient.

Even when an oak tree is cut down for lumber, the wood itself is extremely strong. The U.S.S. Constitution reportedly received its nickname “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812 because of its oak hull. The hull was so tough that the cannon balls of the British war ships literally bounced off it.

So, if you would like to be more tough and resilient, if you would like to build endurance for this very tough race we call life, going through adverse conditions can no doubt help. But true endurance builds when we, by faith, are in the hands of our everlasting (and everlastingly kind and powerful) Savior, Jesus.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:1-3, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, September 25, is Isaiah 60:1 – 62:12, Ephesians 4:1-16 and Proverbs 23:19-28.

Lord Jesus, you are my everlasting Savior and my Lord. Send me your Holy Spirit to strengthen my heart and mind, and make me resilient, tough and enduring by faith in you.

Header image based on "Oak Tree" by Marilyn Peddle, CC By 2.0

Stay Sharp!

Life is often full of constant activity, consistent pain, and confusing issues. And frankly, there’s quite a bit of pressure that goes along with all these situations.

If nothing else, we can simply end up feeling “busy, busy, busy!” on a constant basis. All of this is why it’s so important to have a place of spiritual retreat and rest, a time of recovery and restoring the soul’s batteries.

God gave us such a place. It’s called church.

God gave us the time, too. It’s known as worship time.

We just need to make sure that we don’t allow ourselves to feel so pressured, or become so “busy, busy, busy”, that we lose track of our need for recovery and restoration.

Remember, Jesus came to be our rest. When we find him and focus on him in our worship life, we benefit from that rest. He brings forgiveness, grace, mercy, peace and joy to our restless souls. He relieves us of the relentless pressures, the tiresome troubles, and the constant dull ache of our guilt and shame. He carries away the taxing burden of our sins.

As one famous author put it about a quarter of a century ago, we can be the “saw blade” that just keeps on cutting and cutting and cutting, but never gets sharpened. Eventually that saw gets dull and it becomes difficult to be productive with it.

Or we can, as God hopes we will, find time to sharpen the saw. The Psalmist points out that those people who take time for spiritual recovery will be “blessed, blessed, blessed.” He promises that they will find their strength in God, and go “from strength to strength.”

They stay sharp. They remain resilient.

1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
    for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
    Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
    they are ever praising you.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
    they make it a place of springs;
    the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
    till each appears before God in Zion (Psalm 84:1-7, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Sunday, July 12, is 2 Kings 23:1 – 24:7, Romans 1:1-17 and Psalm 84:1-7.

Lord, I love my worship time each week when I attend church. I love my daily worship time when I sit with my Bible in prayer and listen to your voice. These are key times for me to rest and restore my spiritual batteries. Help me to repent of the temptation I sometimes have to forgo these times. Help me by your Spirit’s power to know the blessing of worship, and grant me the resilience you promise when I plug into your word and sacraments to get recharged.

Header image based on "Portrait of a Saw Blade" by Christopher Sessums, CC By-SA 2.0

Resilience Begins with an R (and R)

We all need R and R occasionally. Rest and recovery.

These two are essential to our ability to be resilient in a very tough world. My definition of a resilient Christ-follower is this: “I’m not easily damaged when hit, stretched, or squeezed. I will bounce back to my God-designed shape.”

Let’s be honest. Life is constantly trying to beat us up, stretch us beyond recognition, or squeeze the life-blood out of us. That’s just being real.

Do we want to merely survive, or do we want to thrive? The ability to bounce back under tough conditions is not only critical to surviving, it’s even more critical to actually thriving in life. Stress will be present almost every day. But stress cannot do any lasting damage to us if we are careful to get spiritual rest and recovery.

Jesus tells us how to obtain this, and Matthew, a former tax-collector (imagine the stresses and pressures he had once endured) reports Jesus’ words to us. Spiritual R and R happens when we come to him. Jesus will provide us with rest for our souls. And what rest or recovery could be more important than that?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV).

Jesus, help me to follow you with resilience. Remind me in the midst of many stresses and pressures–when I’m being beaten up, squeezed and stressed–to run to you for recovery. Thank you for promising to give me rest. Thank you for your gentle, humble heart toward me.

Our reading for Wednesday, January 14, is Genesis 29:1 – 30:43, Matthew 11:16-30 and Psalm 9:7-12.

Header image based on "Shepherd Takes Knee" by U.S. Army, CC by 2.0