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How To Bend Without Breaking In Life

Philippians 4:10-13

True story. You’ll love it. It’s a riot! It actually happened in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

A rather well-to-do older woman, driving a big Mercedes, had been circling through a crowded mall parking lot, waiting for a parking space to open up. Finally, up ahead she saw a man headed for his car carrying a load of packages. She pulled up, switched on her blinker, and waited while the man put the packages in his trunk, climbed into his car, and backed out of the slot. But before the woman in the Mercedes could drive into the parking space, a young man in a shiny, new Corvette convertible zipped around her and pulled right into that parking space. He hopped out of his car and started to walk away. The woman in the Mercedes rolled down her window and called out: “Hey! I was waiting on that space.” The college-ager responded: “Tough, lady, but that’s how it is when you’re young and quick.” At that instant this older woman threw her Mercedes in gear, floorboarded it, and slammed headlong into that flashy red Corvette, shattering the whole rear end. The young man was jumping up and down, screaming: “What are you doing?” The lady in the Mercedes leaned out of her window and said: “Tough, buddy, but that’s how it is when you’re old and rich!”

Now I believe that there’s a sermon in that and here it is. It’s a sermon on one of the most valuable and helpful qualities we can possess. I am talking about resilience, the strength to bend without breaking. Resilience is a big word for an even bigger spirit. The dictionary defines resilience as the ability to spring back or to bounce back when bent or compressed. It means buoyancy. It means the capacity to recover quickly from setbacks, illness, depression or adversity. It means the power to withstand shocks without permanent damage.

We see the quality of resilience hilariously and outrageously underscored by that lady in the Mercedes and we see it touchingly, powerfully underscored in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. They betrayed Him, denied Him, deserted Him, mocked Him, beat Him, cursed Him, spat upon Him, and then nailed Him to a cross—but they could not break Him! In recent years, psychologists have come to understand what Jesus taught us long ago: that as we face the storms of life we need to develop a resiliency of spirit that will bend, as the reed bends with the wind but does not break. We need to cultivate that ability to take the hard knocks of life and then bounce back.

Dale Carnegie once reminded us that the manufacturers of automobile tires tried at first to make tires which would resist the shock of the road. That tire was soon cut to pieces and torn to shreds. Then they started making tires that would give a little and absorb the shocks. Those tires are with us still. They are enduring because they are resilient. They give, they bend, they absorb, and then they bounce back.

As Christians, we need to confront the hard times of life not with resentment but with resilience, not with bitterness, but with bend-ability, not with self-pity but with shock-absorption. The storms of life do blow. The hard times do come. Therefore, a spirit of Christian resilience can serve us well in the stressful times. Paul is describing this Christian resilience in his Philippian letter when
he writes: “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content. I know how to be abased and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.” In other words, faith in Jesus Christ gives us the strength to bend without breaking in life. Let me show you what I mean…

Through Jesus Christ we can bend without breaking in our circumstances in life.

Disappointment is a fact of life. Heartache does come to all of us. No one ever wins all of the time. Wallace Hamilton said: “Every person’s life is a diary in which he or she means to write one story and is forced by circumstances to write yet another.”

When I was a boy, I used to love to crawl up into my grandfather’s lap and have him read to me. He frequently would read to me from Aesop’s Fables. I remember that one of those fables tells of a Mighty Oak Tree and a Humble Reed growing side by side at the edge of a river. The Mighty Oak considered himself to be far superior to the Humble Reed. In fact, the oak would say to the reed: “Look at you. You have no pride, you bend and bow before every little breeze. You should stand proud and erect like I do. No wind can make me stoop. ” Just then a fierce storm blew up with winds raging at gale force. The Mighty Oak’s stiffness became his undoing. The wind broke his branches and toppled him into the river. Meanwhile, the reed swayed and bent with the wind, but did not break—and when the storm passed, it was still standing. That fable points to the spirit of resilience in the face of life’s stormy times.

Remember, please, that Milton went blind, Beethoven lost his hearing; Sir Walter Scott was lame, as was Lord Byron; Elizabeth Barrett Browning spent most of her life as an invalid; Pasteur became a paralytic; Steinmetz was crippled; Helen Keller was deaf, blind and unable to speak; the Apostle Paul wanted to take the Gospel to Spain but landed instead in a prison cell in Rome; and Jesus got a cross. But were they defeated by these circumstances? Absolutely not! They bounced back and turned their disappointments into victories. They did not look backward in resentment. Nor did they look inward in self-pity. Instead they looked forward in faith—and they went on to overcome the obstacles which were theirs.

Through faith in Jesus Christ we can do the same. I like what Chuck Swindoll says: “God never used anybody greatly until He allowed them to hurt deeply and fail miserably.” That’s why the resilient Christian says with Paul: “In any and all circumstances’ I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Then through Jesus Christ, we can bend without breaking on our service to God.

Our calling in Jesus Christ is to serve God with all we are and with all we have wherever we may be. We can’t always choose the place of our serving, so we need to be resilient and serve God and His Church and His people wherever we happen to be. We can’t all be the Chair of the Board or the President of the Class. We can’t all be the stars or the soloists. We can’t all be governors or poets. Of course, there are no perfect situations anyway. So we need to forget that, bounce back, serve God right where we are.

C. S. Lewis is widely known for what he wrote, but I must tell you that his life has always had a greater impact on me than his writings. You see, though he taught for 30 years at Oxford, he was never granted the rank of full professor by his colleagues on the faculty. In fact, he was openly criticized and despised by many of his peers at Oxford because he spent so much of himself on Christian writing. On top of that were his personal losses: his mother’s death, rejection by his father, the sudden death of his life-long friend, Charles Williams, and the agonizing death by cancer of his beloved wife, Joy. Yet C. S. Lewis, in the midst of criticism and opposition and tragedy, continued in the task to which he felt called by God. He continued to persevere for Jesus Christ.

We have heard it said and we know it’s true. The real key to life is not what happens to us outwardly, but what happens to us within. That’s where the real battles of life are fought and won or lost. We can’t always choose the place where we shall serve God, but we can choose the spirit in which we shall serve Him—and we can know that God will be with us and He will see us through. Here then is the secret of resilience in our service to God: we know that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

Then through Jesus Christ we can bend without breaking in our relationships with others.

Now please don’t misunderstand me when I call us to be resilient in our dealings with other people. I am not talking here about weakness or spinelessness. I am not suggesting for a moment that we become mamby-pamby doormats for other people to walk all over and abuse. We must never let other people dominate, intimidate, or manipulate us in life. Jesus never once called us to be “wet noodle Christians.” No, we belong to Jesus Christ; therefore, we must stand tall and firm for our Christian beliefs and commitments.

That kind of strong, unshakable faith is not what I am referring to here. Rather, I am talking about an arrogant, unbending mind-set which is harsh, unyielding, and sometimes even cruel. I am talking about the kind of narrow close-mindedness which led those first century religious leaders to try to destroy Jesus Christ. So when I plead for resilience in your relationships with others, I am simply asking you to be kind, gracious, and forgiving. In our homes, at church, in school, with our families and our co-workers, in our neighborhoods and even with the people we encounter out in the day-to-day world, we need to be resilient, gracious, and forgiving—not haughty, arrogant and judgmental. We need to live in the strong but gracious pattern of Jesus. Throughout His life and work, He taught grace and love. And throughout his arrest, His trial and His crucifixion, He remained in that spirit, the spirit of graciousness and forgiveness. He wants us to live the same way.

In his book, Love Is Eternal, Irving Stone recounts for us a poignant conversation between Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and a secret service agent named Parker. Parker was in charge of guarding President Lincoln on the night of the assassination. After the tragedy, Mary Todd Lincoln was inconsolable with grief. She called for Secret Service Agent Parker to come to her room and she proceeded to pour out her hurt and her anger upon him. She screamed at him: “Why didn’t you stand at the door to keep the assassin out?” Parker hung his head in shame and said: “I just didn’t believe that anyone would try to kill so good a man in such a public place. That belief made me careless.” Mrs. Lincoln cried out: “You had no business being careless!” She fell back on her pillow and covered her face with her hands. After a time, she said: “Go now, Mr. Parker. It’s not you I can’t forgive. It’s the assassin. I can never forgive him.” At that point, young Tad Lincoln, the President’s son, spoke. He said: “If Pa had lived, he would have forgiven the man who shot him. Pa always forgave everybody.”

My guess is that in those words, Tad Lincoln put his finger on the reason why America has so taken Abraham Lincoln to its heart. It’s because he was so like the One who said: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” But, of course, Lincoln learned that from Jesus Himself. And that’s what it means to be resilient in relationships with others—to be kind and gracious and forgiving…just like Jesus.

Well…

Let me wrap it like this. I cannot eliminate the heaviness of life. Sometimes I experience it myself. But I can assure you that God in Jesus Christ strengthens backs when He does not lighten loads. And I can assure you that Paul’s words are absolutely true:

We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us!

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