This week someone disinterestedly dropped a CD on my desk from the Willow Creek Association. I like to plug these in for ‘a listen’ as I’m driving around the City. This one didn’t take long to get my attention because it was an interview with Gordon MacDonald and Bill Hybels on the subject of Resilience. MacDonald, now about 67 years old, and retired pastor of Grace Chapel in Lexington, MA, is well suited to address the matter of resilience since he knows what it is to be tested while in minstry, to fail, and to come back and continue on strong. Hybels says resilience is something he thinks about a lot as he grows older because he doesn’t want to end his life and ministry in a way that is disappointing to himself and others. Both agree that resilence is more challenging in the second half of one’s life and ministry. This is due to the fact that it is harder to maintain physical strength and cultural relevance as one grows older. This is especially true for those who are in ministry. Besides having to deal with all the ordinary challenges of life, a pastor also has to often carry the large personal burdens of people in the church as well as the management of the ministry.
I was really taken with this theme and the way in which MacDonald (and Hybels) developed it in this interview because of its relevance to my own life situation. As I listened God was using this message to speak very directly into my life. Because here I was at the very point in life that these men were talking about. During the second half of my fifties, after years of very satisying ministry, I came to experience what Hybels describes as a kind of “crash” — of hitting the wall. By the actions of a few I became disenfranchised in ministry. Not surprisingly the effect has been rather unsettling — professionally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially too. It’s been a rough ride, lasting now — several years.
But resilience, according to these brothers, is the ability to bounce back, to recover steam, to get back on track, after having taken a hit. In the context of growing older, resilience is the ability to finish strong, to make the second half of our lives even more fruitful and satisfying than the first years. It is the opposite of becoming discouraged, disheartened, cynical, negative and just quitting. It is about perseverance in the midst of the storm, of continuing to believe God and to experience His grace in new and amazingly fruitful ways even though life has thrown some curves, some hurtful punches, some mean tricks. MacDonald refers to the Book of Hebrews as a message of encouragment to resilience. There the writer is urging his readers to continue on because of the testimony of others who are now watching us and cheering us on, and because of the stellar example of Jesus Himself in regard to perseverance (or resilence).
The message of resilience in this interview is very encouraging because it gives hope of being fruitful in ministry well into the eighties of one’s existence. But it will not come without paying close attention to an attitude of faith and discipline. As MacDonald points out, in order for a Christian leader or follower of Jesus to be successful in finishing well, he or she must begin each day with a deep sense of resolve to believe God, to experience His love and truth, and to determine to make the most out of the gifts and calling that God has given. How we approach each day or each situation in our lives has a lot to do with the development or expression of one’s character. And character is the framework on which our lives are built and out of which the gifts of the Spirit operate.
By God’s grace, I want to be the kind of person that finishes well. This interview gave me fuel for thought; but it did more than that. It made me realize in a new way that God has given me all the resources I need in order to live each day of my future with a sense of anticipation and wisdom, even though life becomes more challenging as it unfolds. May God enable me to come before Him each day with a heart of full of awe at the wonder of His greatness, and expectation at what He is going to do as I continue to trust Him!