TRIALS & Scientists confirm Hebrews 12:4-11, that setback can, paradoxically, catapult people to becoming “well-trained” and “mature.”

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel:  The author of Hebrews reminds us,

“In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through—all that bloodshed! So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children? My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects. God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.” – Hebrews 12:4-11 MSG

And secular researchers increasingly agree.

In the field of sports, these researchers discovered results that indicate the everyone-wins approach may not develop resilient athletes. Ian Leslie of the BBC summarizes (with traditional British spellings):

the sports scientists Dave Collins and Aine MacNamara criticised the approach of most talent development systems in sport, which put an emphasis on maximising support to young athletes and reducing stress. The authors argued that these well-funded and high-tech coaching systems were making life too easy for young athletes, who needed moments of challenge or trauma in order to develop resilience. It’s the rocky road, not the smoothed path, that leads to greatness.

Here is the cited research.

The rocky road to the top: why talent needs trauma. 

Collins D, et al. Sports Med. 2012. Collins D1, MacNamara A. Sports Med. 2012 Nov 1;42(11):907-14. doi: 10.2165/11635140-000000000-00000.


The increasingly well funded and high-tech world of talent development (TD) represents an important investment for most sports. Reflecting traditional concepts of challenge and focus, the vast majority of such systems expend a great deal of effort maximizing support to the young athletes and trying to counter the impact of naturally occurring life stressors. In this article, we suggest that much of this effort is misdirected; that, in fact, talented potential can often benefit from, or even need, a variety of challenges to facilitate eventual adult performance. Our argument is built on evidence that such challenges are more common in athletes who reach the top, together with a critical consideration of the modus operandi and impact of psychological/character-focused interventions such as mental toughness and resilience. In conclusion, we explore some implications for the design and conduct of optimum academies and TD environments.

We tend to under-estimate the power of setbacks.

Ian Leslie of the BBC continues, “… in general we tend to under-estimate the extent to which some kind of disadvantage or setback can, paradoxically, catapult people into higher achievement. Some people can turn the hurt and anger generated by a setback into a fierce will to succeed. By struggling against whatever forces they find pushing them down, they develop anti-gravity powers which lift them higher later on…

High achievers seem to find a way to perform a kind of mental alchemy, turning loss and disappointment into motivation. The flipside of this is that some who grow up with all their material needs met sometimes lack drive and direction as adults. That’s why some experts in talent development worry that children are not even being given the chance to experience setbacks.

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TRIALS & When I look at Jesus’ life, when I look at Christian history, it is clear that you cannot play it safe & have abundant life. – @BobWhitesel

Recently while preparing a sermon for a client church in Austin, Texas this conclusion came to me:

When I look at Jesus’ life, when I look at Christian history, it is clear that you cannot play it safe and have abundant life. – Bob Whitesel


TRIALS & Reasons bad things might happen to good people by Bob Whitesel, Biblical Leadership Magazine

I am honored that my Austin TX sermon was published by  and titled: “4 biblical ways a leader can respond to difficult circumstances”


One of the most vexing questions for a Christian leader is how to respond when a godly colleague or employee experiences bad things they didn’t appear to deserve.  The Christian leader’s response should be based upon a solid biblical foundation and be practical.  Let me suggest ways to address each of these areas.

BIBLICAL BASIS: Job 2. We see that the message is summed up in the last sentence uttered by Job: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (v. 10).  This phrase isn’t comfortable because we don’t want to think of calamity being “from God.” But, looking closer we see it is theologically clear from this Job 2 story (v. 4-6) that:

    1. God is not the originator of the idea that his people should suffer, Satan is. (v. 4-5)
    2. And, God does not bring about suffering, but Satan does. NOTE: Satan’s power is limited by God and Satan cannot “kill” job (v. 6).  It is also interesting to note that the Hebrew word for Satan is not a name, but rather a description. The Hebrew word means, “‘the’ adversary who accuses” (Baker’s Dictionary of Bible Theology, 1995).

Job’s story depicts Satan as casting accusations about the reason for Job’s piety. The story seeks to clearly depict that it is not God who wishes for ill to befall his people. Rather Satan is the instigator of such calamity; but God may permit it, within bounds.

So if God permits calamity to befall good people at times, what are the reasons? Let me paint four biblical reasons with responses leaders can use to engage those going through such experiences.

WHY 1: Eternity makes a difference.  If one does not believe in the afterlife then their anger is understandable because it is not fair that a limited time here on earth would be subjected to pain and hurt. But the scriptures remind us that eternity makes a difference, i.e. this lifetime is a miniscule portion of our eternal existence. 

John 3:16 states: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (italics added for emphasis).  And 1 John 5:13 says that, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (italics added for emphasis)

Thus, a person who embraces a Biblical theology sees today’s sufferings as paling in comparison to the future bliss in God presence (Romans 8:18).  Historian Michael Corin described how Mary Queen of Scots, minutes before the axe fell upon her neck, said “This is my beginning.” For the Christian with a theology like that of Job and Paul, present sufferings pale in comparison for the eternal life that begins up ahead. 

Leadership Response: The leader should delicately foster a discussion of eternity and the central theme it plays in Scripture. Commentaries, books and personal bible study on the Biblical theme of heaven can give the leader and their colleagues a renewed perspective on heaven as Paul summarized, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).

WHY 2: Sufferings can keep us humble. Paul had many blemishes on his life story. He had been an abuser because of his religious zeal. You might today called him a “religion terrorist” carrying off men and even women into prison, simply because they had converted to Christianity (Acts 8:1-2, 22:1-10) But a transformation began when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. A new life emerged with new fruits (Paul would describe such positive attributes that grew out of his conversion in Gal. 5:22-23 as, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  Such fruit in Paul’s life demonstrated to most people, but not all, that Jesus was changing him. Still there with those that criticized him and accused him publicly in every town he entered (for example Thessalonica in Acts 17:1-9, Bera in Acts 17:10-15, Athens in Acts 17:16-34, Jerusalem in Acts 21:17-40, etc.). Such repetitive and exasperating persecutions and hardships may have been what Paul referred to as “his thorn in the flesh.”   Notice how Paul describes this thorn in 2 Cor. 12:5-10:

I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses…. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Leadership Response: Just like having a thorn in your hand that swells and festers, a leader may encounter a hurt that swells and festers … always painful. But as Paul, the Biblical leader can eventually recognized it as a reminder to be humble. Such experiences can help keep leaders from being proud, self sufficient on in Paul’s words (v. 7): conceited.

WHY 3:  Pain can sometimes give us a deeper sensitivity to those who are suffering. Paul says in 2 Cor. 1:4 (MSG) that “He (the Holy Spirit) comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”

The great Oxford theologian and writer CS Lewis (who left his mark writing wonderfully powerful children’s books such as the Chronicles of Narnia as well as theological books such as the Power of Pain) said “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  

Leadership Response: Sometimes God need get a leader’s attention when success, career, etc. seem to steal her or his time.  Thus, God may allow pain to make us more sensitive to others and their needs.

WHY 4:  Sometimes we just don’t know why.  When I get to heaven one day I’m going to ask God about some of this undeserved hurt people experience. But God’s knowledge and foresight are tremendously beyond our limited human prespective.  Thus, in Isaiah 55:9 (MSG) God states,  “For as the sky soars high above earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think.”  I like to translate the word “sky” in the more magnificent term, “universe.”  So, just as the universe soars high above earth, so the way God works surpasses the way we work, and what we understand.

Leadership Response: Like Job, we often just won’t know the “whys” until later and maybe never intros life.  And thus at many times Christian leaders must rest in the knowledge that there are at least four reasons (above) why bad things can befall good people.  

Yet most importantly the Christian leader recognizes that God wants only the best for His creation. Therefore He has crafted an eternity where His will, will be done.  According to the Bible it is in eternity where our real living will begin.  God has an intention and a future for his children that he describes in Rev. 21:4 as a place where, ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

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