We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 2 Corinthians 4:8-10
In preparing for a recent Institute session for MentorLink , we were asked to find adjectives that described Paul’s character based on the passage of 2 Corinthians 4:5-18. We came up with more than 20 or so adjectives. Some were obvious like undeterred, servant or humble. The one, however, that resonated with me was “resiliency” – Paul’s uncanny ability to plow through all kinds of adversity, obstacles and setbacks, yet never lose his focus on Jesus. As Viktor Frankl, a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, a Nazi concentration camp in World War II, said “Man can survive almost anything if he knows the “why” of his existence. Resiliency is defined as the ability “to recover quickly from misfortune; able to return to original form after being bent, compressed, or stretched out of shape”. Paul knew the “why” of his existence was Jesus which permitted him to bounce back after every adverse circumstance. He was truly resilient.
I came to faith at age 38. I had this misconception rolling around in the back of my mind that my life would be better. Not only that, but that my faith would eliminate all of the bumps, setbacks and circumstances that afflicted other non-believers. Well, part of the misconception was true – my life was better with a new-found faith in Jesus. But my problems didn’t go away. In fact, a few years later, my financial life worsened for me to the point of owing more money than I could ever pay back. Bankruptcy, in layman’s terms, means that your debts or financial obligations exceed your assets. I was there in spades – I had been a general partner on twenty-seven real estate projects which, due to a tax law change in 1986, suddenly became problems. As a general partner, I was liable to the banks that lent money on the various projects – to the tune of some $55 million. My financial partners, save one, all stopped paying their share of liabilities, so the result was a series of foreclosures and forced sales resulting in little or no proceeds to be able to pay other banks. It took me about 9 years to work my way through it.
During this time, I had two children at a boarding school and then in college so I was having to keep up with their tuition expenses. Meeting their educational obligation came first to me. I also struggled to keep my emotional life in balance, and in fact, burned out to a point that I had to take time off to recover – not once but twice. It was not a pretty sight, and it was definitely not what I would call a “better” life. Yes, I had Jesus, but He doesn’t just take us out of our difficulties; instead, He wants to walk with you through them. I would have preferred it if He had miraculously solved all of them instantly, but His way is not our way.
At my lowest point in 1992, I had a watershed conversation with my wife. We were sitting down at our breakfast table, and she asked me “how bad is our situation?” Well, I replied, “we could lose everything we own – our house, our cars, what little assets we have left. Everything.” Without pausing, she said “No, that’s not everything, and certainly it’s not everything that is important. We have our relationship with God, we have each other, our children and our friends. What else matters? They cannot take those away from us.” Wow! I don’t know about you, but that was pretty powerful. From that point on, it shaped my attitude to something positive. It built resiliency in me – a strength to take on the daily battles and ups and downs and put them in a spiritual context so that no matter what happened to me financially, it didn’t matter because I will still have everything that’s important. All of a sudden, “stuff” was not important. Relationships, family and friends were. It also helped me regain my sense of humor which had been battered by circumstances that were very un-funny.
I look back on those days as a turning point moment in my spiritual life. I realized, for the first time, that I was totally dependent on God, and when I finally let go trying to do it on my own, He intervened, sometimes in miraculous ways by providing surprising resources to pay obligations that were beyond my reach at the time. The silver lining, I learned later, was that my financial distress actually was an unseen blessing. Had I not gone through those difficult days financially, I am sure I may have over-indulged my children to their detriment. Instead, I was only able to meet their basic needs so they didn’t learn to live in an extravagant way. It has shaped all three of them to this day.
My challenge to you is “see” your adverse circumstances the way God sees them – as a way of building your character. Instead of praying for Him to remove you from adversity, you might consider praying for Him to take you through those circumstances. Learn to be a Paul who never took his eyes off Jesus, even in the worst of adversity. You will be surprised at the resiliency that comes from that kind of dependency on God. In fact, you might even get your sense of humor back once you realize that dependency on God means you can find humor in what would otherwise be dire times. It will bless you beyond imagination.
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WORSHIP: Listen to Amy Grant sing Better than a Hallelujah which describes how God sees our circumstances as opportunities for growth. The lyrics go:
We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah