Over the last decade, I’ve had the privilege of hearing story after story from DMin students and graduates serving in the front-lines of ministry that accentuate an unforgettable quote hanging on the kitchen wall of a beloved mentor.
Life is tough. But God is good.
When life gets tough—and it does—how do some ministry leaders find remarkable strength and renewal through seemingly impossible circumstances?
I want to suggest that these servant leaders have developed growing confidence in the sovereign care of a good God over and above their particular circumstances. These leaders echo Paul’s words penned in the classic passage of Romans 8:28.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Perhaps it was this conviction that fueled Paul’s resilient faith in the Lord. Talk about unimaginable hardship, and if anyone found unusual strength through impossible situations, it was the apostle Paul.
By God’s grace, if you and I are going to cultivate personal leadership resilience, we must learn to trust God no matter the circumstance. Romans 8:28 provides a critical lesson for us. Let’s unpack this treasured biblical text as we reflect on cultivating resilience for even greater ministry effectiveness.
Note here that Paul doesn’t say, “we hypothesize,” or, “we think,” or “it might be the case.” He says, “And we know…” In other words, the truth he is about to introduce is absolutely true—solid as a rock.
Then he further sets the stage for his readers, “And we know that in all things…” Not just “some things,” or “small things,” or “easy things,” but in all things. So this truth that Paul is introducing is not only absolute; it is comprehensive. It is an all-encompassing truth applicable to every sphere of our lives.
So the conflict with the board member, the uncertainty of the future, the wayward son or daughter, the doctor’s diagnosis, that significant loss, the financial setback, the difficult decision before you, all of it and more is covered in the truth Paul introduces.
And we know that in all things God works for the good.
Don’t you love that statement? You and I can rest assured that God is at work, whatever the turn of events. This truth is Paul’s main point. The good and sovereign Lord is actively laboring for your very best.
My wife and I have three children. They keep growing too fast. While I certainly advocate for them, my wife, Debbie, labors for their good in the most incredible ways. Her service is full of sacrificial love, unceasing prayer, and unending care. She has their very best interests at heart for today, tomorrow, and their future.
Think about someone you love. Everyone knows how much you treasure this person in light of your tireless support for their success. Imagine how much more God, in His perfect love, pursues his children and labors for their good.
When you’re deep in anxiety, go ahead and take a deep breath. There hasn’t been a coup in heaven. God is still on his throne and in complete control.
According to His Purpose
What is even more amazing is that God’s work in and through us is never random. While we don’t always understand His ways, everything is orchestrated in accordance to His sovereign plan and glorious purposes, as Paul expounds, “God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Several years ago, we undertook a major home renovation project. We went through countless napkin-sketches and architectural blueprint revisions. The design included everything from exterior materials to the interior floor plan, to the details of which direction the doors would open, all with specificity and purpose.
What a comforting truth that God is never haphazard or accidental in how He directs our path.
Last year, Dr. Charles Stanley spoke a powerful truth during a DTS chapel, “Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him.” Dr. Stanley—then 86 years of age—described several leadership situations that had ensued over the years and how the Lord remained faithful to see him through each time. It didn’t matter how impossible the situation seemed, or what the critics said. He sought only to please the Lord in obedience. Dr. Stanley learned how to be God-focused rather than problem-focused. He learned how to trust God regardless of the storms around him.
We, too, can find personal resilience where we release our burdens to the Lord, rather than cling to them in fear and insecurity. Life’s difficulties are not for us to carry alone—they serve as a foil to the greatness and goodness of our sovereign, loving Lord.
Resilient leaders learn to trust God, no matter the circumstance. Whether it is life’s daily grind or getting broadsided by a significant crisis, these leaders learn to receive trials with “pure joy” (James 1:2), knowing that this temporary testing is God’s refining fire for His glory and their good.
Paul certainly learned to trust God no matter the circumstance as he ministered the gospel. It was Jesus who Paul imitated and called us to emulate as the ultimate example of a life of enduring faith and obedience to the will of the Father (1 Cor 11:1).
How did our Savior, Jesus Christ—who was fully God and also fully human—find strength and renewal as he was about to give his life as a sacrifice for our sins?
While Jesus was without sin or fault, he was preparing to die a criminal’s death on a Roman cross—one of the most brutal forms of punishment of the time. But this torture paled in comparison to the anguish of Jesus as he bore the sin of the whole world (Matt 27:46).
Jesus, the suffering servant, found strength and resilience to endure the cross through his abiding relationship with the Father.
Overwhelmed by sorrow, Jesus withdrew to the garden of Gethsemane to pray, “‘Abba,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will’” (Mark 14:36).
What a vivid portrait of Jesus coming before the Father, trusting Him, despite His circumstances— it was in this place where God exalted him with resilient, resurrection power to fulfill his ministry of sacrificial love.
This past spring, the kids and I planted a small envelope of mixed flower seeds. The seeds were tiny. Some of the seeds were long and thin; others were tiny and round. We took a garden spade and dug into the soil. We placed the seeds and packed the dirt carefully over each seed. In time, we watched the miracle of life as the buried seeds died and resurrected into beautiful flowers—full of a myriad of colors, shapes, sizes as they broke through the ground into a new life.
Like a seed in the ground, Jesus died and was buried. He rose again as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords over all sin and death (John 12:24).
Jesus, our master-teacher, demonstrates profound resilience rooted in his humble trust in his Father.
It is true, like that quote on the kitchen wall of Dr. John Reed’s old Lake Highlands home:
Life is tough. But God is good.
As fellow servants of Christ, when life gets tough, we can remember Romans 8:28 and the sovereign care of our good God. And in those dark moments and lonely places, we will find personal leadership resilience as we learn to trust God no matter the circumstance.
About the Contributors
Dr. Barfoot aspires to equip and empower global executive, pastoral, and educational ministry leaders who impact the next generation for the cause of Christ. Having served in a variety of pastoral leadership capacities in rural Canadian and suburban Asian and American churches in Canada and the United States since 1992, he has a special heart for leadership development in the local church.
His most recent research surveyed pastors to assess their views on local church ministry in the midst of the global pandemic. He and his wife, Debbie, have three children, David, Joel, and Karissa.