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24 April 2018

The Last Word: Developing resilience

The Last Word: Developing resilience

It has been a wonderful privilege over the years to become close friends with some amazing men and women of God. I have made it a habit to observe their lives and learn as much as I possibly can.

I not only study how they go about their work or ministry, but how they conduct themselves behind the scenes, at home with their families and when out and about with people they meet in everyday life. I have learnt a lot, been challenged and indeed encouraged by their example. 

I confess, however, that there have been other relationships which I now look back on with great sadness and pain—friends who have lost faith and fallen away, some disastrously. It's as if they pressed a self-destruct button, walking away from their marriages, families and their faith. For others it was slower, a gradual erosion of their passion for God, their relationship with God's people, and their sense of God's calling on their lives. These were people with whom I had worked, prayed, planned, planted churches, and seen people come to Christ. Yet today, they are far from the faith and no longer with their marriage partners or children.

I've often asked myself the questions, what went wrong? and, was there more that I could have done? The answers are never simple, but as I reflect back, I find myself returning to one word, 'resilience'. The writer to the Hebrews spoke to Christians who were under pressure. Some had been imprisoned, others had lost social status, and others their property and relationships. Some were in danger of losing their faith. The writer wanted to encourage and strengthen them. Hebrews 12:1, using the imagery of a race, exhorts us to "run with perseverance the race marked out for us". The word 'perseverance' is very close to the word 'resilience'. 

I thank God that there is a race marked out for us. God has a purpose for every one of our lives, but it's possible to get off track and lose sight of the race. The resilient Christian life means putting in place the necessary habit patterns – the ways of thinking, behaving and relating – which mean we don't just survive, but we flourish. Resilience means that when issues come our way, we have the ability to face them, to surmount them, and to continue the race. As I have observed lives lived with resilience, I've noticed how such lives result in healthy families, healthy relationships, healthy businesses and healthy churches. 

As Christians living in 21st century UK, it seems there is an increasing need for us to develop and indeed strengthen our resilience. Let's not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the pervading narrative of a media dominated by the secular humanist narrative. Let's remain strong in our faith and confident to tell our stories and share our convictions. After all, we are convinced we are the bringers of the greatest good news story anyone could ever hear. We are the followers of Jesus.

Finally, by way of encouragement, I had the privilege of attending the funeral of Billy Graham who died on 21 February 2018 at the age of 99. From very humble beginnings, born on a dairy farm in Charlotte North Carolina, he was to preach the gospel to nearly 250 million people across six continents. At his funeral, leaders gathered from around the world and heard reports of a race well run, a life which remained faithful until the end. For me, the most moving part of his funeral were the personal accounts of family members. As Franklin, his son, made clear, his dad was the same man off the platform as he was on it. Billy lived a resilient life both publicly and privately.

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