1 Peter 1.13
“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, and be sober-minded … set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
We are continuing our series on Thinking. I hope you are learning as much about “thinking” as I am. FYI: we aren’t finished with this incredibly important topic. More to come next week.
A few years ago I read a devotional by Oswald Chambers, and he said something that really got my attention. He was the addressing the topic of how Christians respond to adversity.
“Most of us collapse at the first grip of pain,” Chambers wrote. “We sit down at the door of God’s purpose and enter a slow death through self-pity. And all the so-called Christian sympathy of others helps us to our deathbed. But God will not. He comes with the grip of the pierced hand of His Son, as if to say, ‘Enter into fellowship with Me; arise and shine.’”
Wow, that is a serious wake-up call! Every Christian has read or heard the bible verses that tell us to trust God and rejoice in the midst of trials and difficulties. But how many of us actually obey these verses when adversity strikes? How many of us have “collapsed at the grip of pain” and are experiencing “a slow death through self-pity?”
In a fallen world, pain is real and inescapable. So the question isn’t whether you will experience adversity and the inevitable pain that comes with it. The question is: How will you respond when adversity hits you?
The message from God is that he calls his people to be mentally tough. However, it is rare to see "mental toughness" and "Christian" used together. This is unfortunate, because Christians should be the most mentally tough people on the planet.
Let me define I mean by mental toughness. Mental toughness is the ability to do seven things:
- Pay careful attention to what matters and block out distractions (focus).
- Remain calm & confident under pressure (control).
- Give relentless effort for as long as necessary to achieve goals (perseverance).
- Respond to adversity and recover quickly from mistakes & disappointments (resilience).
- Do what needs to be done even if you don't feel like it (motivation).
- Recognize & respond to the emotions of others (empathy).
- Have a positive & productive mindset in response to negative situations (energy and optimism).
No matter what a person's job or role in life, the value of these seven mental attributes is enormous. Leading, coaching, marriage, parenting, teaming, being a student, being an athlete, training, competing, selling, customer service, driving your car, interacting with people at work/home/community/church ... all of these life situations are made better when you are mentally tough.
So how does a Christian build faith-driven mental toughness? How do you build these mental attributes into your life? Here is how:
(1) Know and trust God. The Christian life is a life of faith. It is a life based on trusting the God who created us, redeemed us, and calls us into intimate relationship with him. Our strength -- that is, faith-driven mental toughness-- comes from knowing God deeply and trusting him completely. This is what Paul says in 2 Cor 4.7: "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us."
It is what he prays in Ephesians 3.16: "... that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being."
But there is more. Mental toughness requires active faith. We cannot be passive. Mental toughness does not happen magically because we are Christians, and the Lord doesn't just give it to us. We must build and develop our resilience and emotional strength. Effort is involved. Relentless effort. Again, this is not "self-help." This is an act of faith in response to the Spirit within us and our trust in God's working in our life.
It is of great significance that the final fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5 is "self-control." The Spirit works within us, and we must put forth great effort, to produce self-control. If we passively sit back and ask the Lord to just give us self-discipline, it won't happen. On the other hand, if we ignore the Spirit and attempt to generate self-control out of sheer human effort, we will never experience the fruit of the Spirit.
This kind of self-control (mental toughness) is a combination of the Spirit working in your life and you working on your life in response to the Holy Spirit.
Read the word of God repeatedly and absorb it deeply. Take hold of what it says. Pray diligently, then do what scripture says. Do not wait until you “feel” like obeying. Faith-driven mental toughness is trusting God and doing the word, irrespective of how you feel. The Lord will meet you as you step out in faith.
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)
Next week we will look at additional steps for faith-driven mental toughness.