“Poverty around the world is plummeting; half the world is now middle class; and illiteracy, disease and deadly violence are receding.” So reports the Wall Street Journal, probably to the surprise of many.
We might wonder if optimists are reading the same news as the rest of us. The stock market plunged yesterday after Apple warned it would miss its quarterly sales forecast due to weakening growth in China. The standoff over the partial government shutdown continues, with few predicting that today’s talks will make significant progress.
It even turns out that, according to The Smithsonian, the world’s oldest woman might have been her daughter masquerading as her mother.
Was George Washington a failure?
But, as Rick Newman points out in his book, Rebounders, the key to success is not a lack of failure but our response to it. Examples:
- George Washington “lost more battles than he won during the Revolutionary War.”
- Norman Vincent Peale’s wife rescued the manuscript of The Power of Positive Thinking from the trash after it had been rejected repeatedly by New York publishers; it became an all-time bestseller.
- A 1914 fire destroyed Thomas Edison’s manufacturing operations, but the sixty-seven-year-old rebuilt and modernized factories that revolutionized technology.
According to Newman, “A whole body of scientific research has shown that overcoming setbacks can make people stronger, smarter, and more durable.”
If you’re like most of us, you’re facing significant challenges today. So, let’s ask a practical question: What’s the key to becoming a “rebounder”?
The value of a positive attitude
In a recent Daily Briefing, Dr. Nick Pitts cited a Yale University study of people carrying a gene linked to dementia. Those with positive attitudes about aging were 50 percent less likely to develop the disorder than less positive people.
Dr. Pitts also reported that positive thinking has been shown to reduce anxiety and improve overall health. In the latter study, Harvard researchers especially noted the value of “being good at ‘self-regulation,’ i.e., bouncing back from stressful challenges and knowing that things will eventually look up again.”
Clearly, positive thinking is a beneficial exercise. Positive thinking about negative experiences is even more valuable.
But there’s more to the story.
The future is not defined by the present
The Bible could be renamed “God’s Reclamation Projects.” The first humans were also the first sinners. Their firstborn son became the first murderer when he killed their secondborn son.
Noah’s drunkenness embarrassed his family. Abraham lied about his wife and, at her request, had children with her maid. His grandson, Jacob (meaning “Deceiver”), lived up–or down–to his name. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. And that’s just the first book of the Bible.
Their stories, and all the stories of failure that follow them, illustrate this fact: the future is not defined by the present.
“You, O Lord, are a shield about me”
When Jewish exiles returned from captivity in Babylon, they began rebuilding their destroyed temple in Jerusalem. Those old enough to remember the glories of Solomon’s earlier temple wept with sorrow over its inferior successor (Ezra 3:12).
However, they ignored God’s promise that “the latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former” (Haggai 2:9). When King Herod expanded what the exiles began into a magnificent structure of “wonderful stones” and “wonderful buildings” (Mark 13:1), God’s promise was fulfilled.
When David prayed, “You, O Lord, are a shield about me” (Psalm 3:3), he was running for his life from his son Absalom. But he knew that the future is not defined by the present.
What’s your problem?
Our culture measures success in the now. Nearly half of the head coaches whose teams did not make this year’s NFL playoffs were fired. The rest are on thin ice.
A better approach to facing setbacks and challenges today is to trust them to the God who plans to redeem them tomorrow. Name your problem, then consider three steps:
One: Examine yourself.
It is not at all true that all problems are our fault–remember the innocent sufferings of Job and Jesus. However, some problems are.
Ask the Holy Spirit to show you anything for which you need to repent, then confess any sins that come to your thoughts. If necessary, make amends to others when it is in their best interest to do so (Matthew 5:23-24).
Two: Learn all you can.
Joseph’s imprisonment taught him the humility that glorified God before Pharaoh (Genesis 41:16). Peter’s experience with God’s forgiving grace (John 21:15-19) gave him the assurance to offer divine grace to thousands at Pentecost (Acts 2:38).
Charles Spurgeon testified, “I am certain that I never did grow in grace one-half so much anywhere as I have upon the bed of pain.”
Three: Pay it forward.
Someone you know needs what you know. When our older son was diagnosed with cancer, the people who helped us most were those who had faced cancer. “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16).
It’s been said that God never wastes a hurt. Let’s join him.