There are many things in life that are completely counter-intuitive. That is, the most natural and obvious thing to do is sometimes exactly what you shouldn’t do. I saw a dramatic example of this on Air Crash Investigations where a plane inexplicably nose-dived and crash-landed killing all on board. After examining the flight recorder, the investigators found that the pilots had reacted to the plane’s slight drop in altitude by pulling the plane’s nose up to correct it. But due to an anomaly in weather conditions, the plane didn’t respond as expected and continued to lose altitude. So the pilots pulled back on their control columns even harder to quickly correct the drop in altitude. This action, however, caused the even greater loss of altitude which resulted in the tragedy. Investigators concluded that in such conditions, the pilots should have responded counter-intuitively by pointing the nose down to regain control of the aircraft before attempting to increase its altitude. Another counter-intuitive example came from Dr. Fazale Rana, a biochemist, who presented at Legana several years ago and shared how a dam had been built in South America which flooded a valley and formed several islands. The native wildlife managed to take refuge on these islands but conservationists were concerned that on one of the islands predators also took refuge and would soon wipe out the other animals whom they preyed on. Counter-intuitively though, the island with no predators soon saw its wildlife die out, whereas the island with predators saw its wildlife flourish! Adversity may well be one of the most counter-intuitive factors operating in our world for our good!
WHAT IT MEANS TO FLOURISH
History bears witness that most people do not handle ease, comfort, and times of plenty, very well. Conversely, history bears witness that in times of adversity, heroes emerge who display selfless courage, extraordinary bravery, and ingenious innovation. In times of adversity we look for answers to problems because we must — not merely because we are curious. In times of adversity time becomes more precious and cannot be wasted on frivolous amusements because lives are on the line.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10
Christian psychologist, Dr. Archibald Hart, and his clinical psychologist daughter, Dr. Sylvia Hart-Frejd, are the co-authors of The Digital Invasion – How Technology Is Shaping You and Your Relationships. They wrote their book before COVID-19 drove us all to go deeper into the online world. While their book deals with the highly addictive nature of the digital world, and the dangers of “spending more time in the virtual world than the real world”, they have some great suggestions for how people can flourish — especially during times of adversity. It’s during such times that we either retreat and become self absorbed, or advance by dealing head on with the challenges that adversity brings. In their book they cite another family member (who is also a psychologist), Catherine Hart Weber, who defines what flourishing looks like-
Dr. Weber goes on to explain flourishing this way: “You flourish when your life has meaning and purpose and you routinely experience emotion virtues such as love, joy, gratitude, peace, and hope. We have meaning when we know we are making a positive impact on the lives of others around us through our work and legacy.” Hart, Dr. Archibald D.. The Digital Invasion (p. 152). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, citing: Catherine Hart Weber, Flourish (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010).
THE COUNTER-INTUITIVE RESULTS OF ADVERSITY
According to Dr. Archibald Hart, Dr. Sylvia Hart, and Dr. Catherine Hart, flourishing occurs when our life has meaning and purpose and we cultivate love, joy, gratitude, peace and hope. This, they argue, happens when we make “a positive impact on the lives of others.” This advice sounds like a paraphrase of something the Apostle Paul (a man very acquainted with adversity) wrote to the Galatians –
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23
While adversity can make some people bitter and resentful, it can also make those who rely on God to become better and thankful. I have seen this happen to both kinds of people throughout this COVID19 crisis. Some people have seen opportunities that didn’t exist before and have innovated to take advantage of them. Other people have retreated into self-absorption and have inevitably become melancholic. Here’s five things we can all do to flourish through such adverse time –
Be transparent with God in your prayers. If you’re struggling, pray about your struggles to God.
Ask God to use you to be a blessing to someone else.
“Do the hard thing!” Heroes step up in times of adversity by taking the first step in doing the thing that seems too hard. The second step always looks more obvious and easier after you’ve taken the first step. Remember Isaiah 41:10 and ask God to help you to do the hard thing.
Think ahead and begin sow into your future. Would you like to learn to play an instrument? Buy that instrument, pay for lessons, make time to practise. Do you want to earn a degree? Enrol in your first subject. Do you want to be able to run a marathon? Start by running as far as you can today. Then do it again tomorrow. Then do it again the next day, and so on. Do you want to learn a new language? Take a course and start learning it.
Refer to the person who serves you in the supermarket (or any shop/café/business) by their first name and engage them in courteous conversation. Kindness, consideration, and empathy are core traits of those who flourish.
Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor. Proverbs 21:21
In years to come, you will look back on these times as one of the greatest seasons of your life – despite it being a time of adversity – you remember this season as a time where you flourished.
¶ The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. Psalm 92:12-13
Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we just all along? Try as hard as we might though, and despite even highly trained and experienced foreign diplomats struggling to navigate international relations with other highly trained and experienced diplomats, is it any wonder that the average person finds getting along with people one of the greatest challenges they have to deal with? We now live in a world where highly-paid specialist mediators help people to sort out their disagreements, and some legal firms now specialise their businesses on the fact that people just can’t get along and need lawyers to help! If you’re thinking that this is a rather expensive way to do life, you’re right. So the following advice might well save you hundreds (and maybe even thousands) of dollars (you can thank me later).
“However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” Matthew 17:27
There were times when Jesus expressed His disagreement with others, and other times when He chose not to.
When those collecting the Temple tax approached Peter and asked him whetherJesus would pay the two-drachma Temple Tax, Peter assured them that He would. Even before Peter had time to raise the matter with Jesus, Christ asked him whether kings tax their children or from others? (Matthew 17:25). Peter responded, “From others.” And since the Temple Tax was deigned to help with the upkeep of House of God, Christ’s Heavenly Father, Jesus said, “Then the sons are free” which was a way of saying that if anyone was exempt from paying the Temple tax, it was certainly the Christ. But Jesus gave this amazing insight are this declaration-
“However, not to give offence to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for Me and for yourself.” Matthew 17:27
WHAT WE LEARN FROM CHRIST ABOUT GETTING ALONG WITH OTHERS
1. DON’T POKE THE BEAR!
I find this both remarkable and tremendously insightful. It illustrates what I heard a visiting pastor say when I was a teenager sitting in church at Life Centre Geelong: You can be right and die, or die to your rights and live. This pastor wasn’t talking about human rights or particularly weighty matters. He was referring to most of the everyday squabbles that people find themselves arguing about with others. Jesus could have protested that He, above all people, should not be expected to pay the Temple Tax. But He didn’t. In fact, He stressed to Peter that He didn’t want to give offence to these Temple Tax collectors. Jesus was prepared to go toe-to-toe with Israel’s religious leaders over matters of eternal significance, but when it came to a relatively small Temple Tax, He simply paid it.
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Romans 12:18
2. DIFFERENCES DO NOT HAVE TO MEAN HATE
Jesus chose twelve eclectic (different from each other) men to be His disciples. Not only did each of these men have a difference of opinion with Jesus about what the Messiah was going to do, they each wildly disagreed with each other about how to respond to their Roman occupation (Matthew was a tax-collector and Simon was a Zealot, Mark 3:18). This highlights that differences don’t have to mean hostility. Over time, these 12 diverse men at least came to agree about the thing that mattered most: the divine identity of the Christ. This point of agreement was enough to enable these men to overlook their other differences.
¶ Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another,agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Second Corinthians 13:11
A healthy relationship will never be free from disagreement—in fact, learning how to disagree is one of the hallmark’s of a healthy relationship.
3. WHAT CAN BUG YOU, CAN BECOME A BUG ON YOUR ‘WINDSCREEN OF LIFE’
Jesus chose twelve eclectic (different from each other) men to be His disciples. Not only did each of these men have a difference of opinion with Jesus about what the Messiah was going to do, they each wildly disagreed with each other about how to respond to their Roman occupation (Matthew was a tax-collector and Simon was a Zealot, Mark 3:18). This highlights that differences don’t have to mean hostility. Over time, these 12 diverse men at least came to agree about the thing that mattered most: the divine identity of Jesus as the Christ. This point of agreement was enough to enable these men to overlook their other differences. But when we choose to focus on our lesser important points of disagreement it tends to cause us to see problems and disagreements everywhere! When someone is repeatedly getting annoyed with you about relatively minor things, its an indication that there is a “bug” on their “life-windscreen” through which they are now letting everything bug them. Sometimes you just have to ask, “What’s really going on? Is everything OK?” You might find that things are not going well at home/work/school. It might then help to ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Sometimes you might find that what originally looked like annoyance with you was actually frustration with someone else.
Good sense makes one slow to anger,/and it is his glory to overlook an offense. Proverbs 19:11
4. EVERYONE HAS A STORY
We all do it. We pre-judge people. It’s not until we hear someone’s story and take the time to understand what makes them tick that we begin to see them for who they really are. If you really want to get along with someone, invite them to share their story with you. Jesus knew people’s stories. When He asked Simon the Pharisee whether he “saw this woman” who had just wept over Jesus feet with her tears and then dried them with her hair (Luk 7:44), the unspoken answer was “No”. But Jesus did. Jesus saw this woman. He knew her story. Understanding is one of the most attractive forces in the universe. We are all involuntarily drawn to those who understand us. If you want to get along with others, understand them. Jesus did.
If you can implement these four relationship principles, you might find that you’ll be able to get along with more people and in the process save yourself a bucket load of money that would have otherwise been spent on lawyers or mediators.
How different would your life be if God was on your side in everything you did? Would you be permanently happy? Would you ever be sick? Would you be susceptible to dark thoughts? Would you be loved by all? What would a life with God on their side look like? We need not ponder this too long before we look at two clear examples in the Scriptures. Firstly, the young Jeremiah was called by God at one of the darkest times in his nation’s history and was given a dangerous and potentially deadly task. God revealed to him that he would be rejected and hated by his countrymen. But, despite this, and Jeremiah’s traumatic reaction to this divine mandate, God gave him a priceless promise of assurance:
Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 1:8
God’s charge and promise to Jeremiah would later help the young prophet to deal the enormous adversities he would later face (realistic expectations about life’s adversities is one of the best ways to maintain good mental health).
If you had to go through what Jeremiah went through, would you want God’s presence with you or not?
As we read through the Book of Jeremiah, we see that he experienced everything God said he would. But we also see that God sustained him and vindicated him. And as we read through the rest of Scripture we also realise that not everybody was called to do what Jeremiah was called to do, or to endure what Jeremiah had to endure. Perhaps at the end of Jeremiah’s long life he could say what F.W. Boreham would later say as he reflected back on his long life, “Often the things that we fear the most are the things that never happen!”
LIFE IS BETTER WITH GOD ON OUR SIDE EVEN WHEN LIFE IS DIFFICULT
Sometimes when life gets tough, we blame God. Many people who go through adversity have a misplaced expectation that if God was with them then life would go smoothly. But how many of us look to God in dependent trust when everything in our lives is going well? When would you actually most appreciate hearing God promise you, “I will be with you!” — in good times or bad? Our first example of a life lived with God-on-our-side, Jeremiah, didn’t have this choice. God promised him that He would be with him. We might forgive Jeremiah if he thought that had meant that he would successful in everything he undertook for the Lord. After all, this is what David experienced when God promised to be with him –
And David had success in all his undertakings, for the LORD was with him. First Samuel 18:14
But God’s presence doesn’t always mean our success (whatever ‘success’ means). In Jeremiah’s case, God’s presence was going to sustain him not just in the midst of his own personal trials (rejection, slander, and mistreatment), but also during a national series of crises including famine, pestilence, and military invasion! Despite his personal and national trials, God sustained Jeremiah with His presence. In fact, it appears that the Creator is so aware of how difficult it is for people to live in this fallen world that He offers His sustaining strength to those who would accept His offer of adoption. He does this, not because any of us deserve it, but because of His great and unconditional love for each one of us.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”…For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope Romans 8:15, 20
HIS NAME SHALL BE IMMANUEL – ‘GOD WITH US’
Our second example of a God-on-our-side-life is Jesus Christ. When Jesus walked the shores of Galilee, it was the time of the Roman occupation of Israel. This meant it was a time of oppression and fear — and therefore, great anxiety. This puts most of what Christ taught in a completely different light because He was teaching that all people could draw near to God and experience His presence in the midst of tremendous adversity. It was Christ’s assurance of God’s presence that grounded His announcements of His Father’s watchful care for each person. Christ reinforced that His Father created each person to be a child of God, and that their life was His sacred gift to them and came with the promise that He would care for, and be with, them –
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. Matthew 6:31-32
No matter what challenges you are facing, your heavenly Father knows what you need. No matter how dark life seems now, your heavenly Father can get you through it. No matter how lonely you are now, your heavenly Father knows what you’re feeling and loves you unconditionally. In fact, He longs for you. In His eyes, you are not an accident. You are an integral part of His plan and you need to know that He is on your side!
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16