I found myself listening to a fascinating discussion on 'resilience' the other day. It was based on the underlying assumption that people today, especially the younger age group, find it much harder to handle the pressures of life when compared to those of an earlier generation.
I can understand that sentiment. I have enjoyed an infinitely easier life than my parents and my grandparents. My dad, for example, was an enlisted soldier at the age of 14 and both my grandfathers were miners who worked in the most appalling conditions.
As the discussion continued, I found myself reflecting on the Greek word 'hypomone'. That was not surprising I suppose because I am currently preparing a series of Bible studies on the Book of Revelation where this word is used in several key places.
Take this example from chapter one, where it Is translated as 'patient endurance': "I, John, am your brother and your partner in suffering and in God's Kingdom and in the patient endurance to which Jesus calls us. I was exiled to the island of Patmos for preaching the word of God and for my testimony about Jesus."
The apostle John certainly knew the meaning of pressure. When he wrote the book in the last decade of the first century, he was living as an exile on the barren, rocky island known as Patmos. The Emperor Domitian was on the throne in Rome and Christians were a despised, hated minority and treated as criminals.
Banishment would have involved hard labour in the quarries and according to one authority, he would have been flogged and placed in a dark prison where he would have to sleep on the bare ground, constantly threatened by the lash of his military overseers.
The churches he wrote to knew all about pressure, too. One church, for example, in the bustling and beautiful city of Smyrna (modern-day Izmir) was continually slandered and persecuted. In addition to this, the church members were desperately poor.
And yet, in spite of all these pressures, these early Christians displayed 'hypomone'. I love that word because it has no negative associations whatsoever. The Biblical scholar William Barclay puts it this way: "'Hypomone' does not describe the patience which sits down with folded hands and bowed head and simply submits to the tide of events; 'hypomone' describes the spirit of courage and conquest which begets gallantry and transmutes even suffering into glory."
So what was their secret? The answer is quite simple. They truly believed that God is always in control, even when things seem to go pear-shaped. More than that, they turned to Him for strength, too. But most importantly of all, they were convinced that the day would dawn when God's people would not need to pray 'Your Kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven'. And that would make it all worthwhile.
It's no different today. I never cease to be amazed at the resilience or - better still - the 'hypomone' that Christians display in times of suffering. Many Iranian Christians, for example, attend 'persecution preparedness meetings' to share knowledge and learn about the practical and psychological ways that would help them deal with the regular raids on their house churches. And I still marvel at a good friend who responded to an MS diagnosis with, "Praise the Lord. I now have a new mission field: the local MS society."
The last year in particular has proved a testing time for us all and so as we prepare to celebrate Pentecost again, let's not forget that God wants to pour out His Spirit so that we can stand out as a remarkably resilient people.
Rob James is a Baptist minister, writer and church and media consultant to the Evangelical Alliance Wales. He is the author of Little Thoughts About a Big God.