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What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger
by Belinda Tigell

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

“…We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”  Romans 5:3-5

 

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Kelly Clarkson’s song with this lyric was playing in my head recently, causing me to ponder the question: “But stronger in what?” The original quote is attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher from some time in the 1880s.

This idea sounds good, but glibly tell that to someone who is experiencing or recovering from trauma, and it may not seem so very reassuring or helpful. In the midst of pain, all we think of is making it stop, making it go away, and for some, making ourselves go away.

Unfortunately ‘stronger’ can evidence itself through both positive and negative expressions. The way in which we respond in, how we respond to, and how we recover from pain, challenge and disappointment carries great consequence, affecting the way in which we progress from that pain point into the rest of our lives.

My original question keeps me pondering: Stronger in what? Unforgiveness, bitterness, cynicism, suspicion, obstinacy, alienation, greed, a get-them-before-they-get-me mentality? We probably know people (ourselves included!) who have have grown strong in one of these areas as a result of pain. So, what if the thing we develop strength in isn’t positive? What if it is hard-headedness, obnoxiousness and selfishness that develops instead of resilience, faith and courage?

There is a difference between our own strong-arming it through difficulties, and that of God gracing us through them. I like what the Lord says in Isaiah 41:10-12:

“I will strengthen and harden you to difficulties…yes, I will help you.”

So, how do we endure difficulties? Do we seek to be tough — to be impervious and unshakeable — in ourselves? Or do we rely on a strength that is truly tough and impervious, finding strength in the One Who is wholly unshakeable? Is it God-strength that I seek and rely on, or do I rely on my own white-knuckling it to see me through times of suffering? Erecting walls in an attempt to be kept from pain causes their own walls. Living in bitterness and suspicion keeps us separated and isolated, forming a prison, rather than a fortress.

 

The development of destructive strength — Pharaoh (Exodus 8 and 9)

When Moses went to Pharaoh with God’s message: “Let My people go”, Pharaoh hardened his heart. Scripture records Pharaoh responding this way more than seven times, and each time he would become more obstinate, ‘stiff-necked’ and resistant. He would, at times, relent, seemingly repent, only to change his mind and become more stubborn. And each time, he brought more trouble on himself and on his people, ultimately causing the death of hundreds.

 

The development of constructive strength — Abraham and Joseph

The development of fortitude and resilience is a good result of going through difficult and painful times, as is the growth of compassion, patience, wisdom and faith — just to name a few. While the process is a painful one, in time we find that we can take some meaning from it, and additionally, find good fruit flourishing in our lives as a result.

Abraham certainly had his challenges. He was given a grand promise by the Lord whom he trusted, yet years went by without evidence of that promise ever coming into being. Abraham was not without his faults, like any true human-being, however, it is said of him that “he grew strong and was empowered by faith as he grave praise and glory to God, fully satisfied and assured that God was able and mighty to keep His word…” (Rom 4:20-21) Oh that this would be the strength we develop and the testimony that is given of us!

Joseph had destiny written on his heart and soul. God had revealed it to him in a dream. He, however, went from one devastating experience to another: sold into slavery by his brothers, accused of rape by his boss’s wife, thrown into prison, forgotten by the man whom he helped in prison — falsely traded, badly treated, falsely accused, badly forgotten. But! But God had not forgotten him. No matter what he faced, Joseph chose to not let these experiences make him bitter. Instead, he sought to honour and worship God in his thoughts, attitudes and choices, remaining focussed on the promises, the love and the truths of God and His word.

When God brought Joseph out of prison, he was indeed strong — strong in humility, strong in wisdom, strong in compassion, strong in dependancy upon God and strong in righteous leadership. And his faith-filled declaration to the very brothers who betrayed him was: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20) Wow! Joseph saw that the strength which was developed in him not only carried him through his tough times, but also blessed and delivered others.

So, I leave you with a variation of my original question: What kind of ‘stronger' are you allowing to grow during your trials? And whose strength are you relying on and clinging to — your own, or God’s?

 “I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is.” Ephesians 3:16-18


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Belinda Tigell is an Australian singer-songwriter, speaker, teacher, worship leader and author. Find her regular blogs on belindatigellministries.com. 
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