As a child, I often heard my dad repeat one of his favorite quotes, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” A rejoinder to those words might have been “yeah, let’s break this Popsicle stand,” another of my Dad’s favorite one-liners.
As a child, the implication of taking action in John Wayne’s knock ‘em down, drag ‘em out style was thrilling and inspiring. As for Popsicle stands, I still don’t understand that quote, but I was ever enthusiastic about the suggestion of splintering them.
As an adult, however, the idea of getting stuff done by breaking things or throwing them around is not nearly so practicable and not likely to be effective. Yet, there are plenty of Popsicle stands that need breaking and plenty of tough situations.
As an adult, and particularly as a Christian, how does one “get going” to make a change even while being a witness for Christ? Christians certainly don’t need to be weak, but they should keep in mind that power is demonstrated in ways beyond a human understanding or expression of it.
1) Have a core of steel, but an inviting presence.
Another way of saying this is with the famous Teddy Roosevelt quote, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Of course, the idea is that if someone has power, it’s not necessary to flaunt it. The knowledge of “the stick” in hand is enough to grant the ability for decisive action because it promises the strength to back it up.
So, as Christians, we can conduct ourselves without compromise because of assurance in our beliefs given by the authority of God, but we don’t have to be fierce or wrathful. Rather, by “speaking softly” we may offer an opportunity or invitation to those who immediately would be driven away by a harsh exterior. If we have absolute confidence in what we believe, we can afford to “speak softly” without being threatened by the “stick” of another’s beliefs.
Paul took this concept even further than Teddy Roosevelt or I have expressed it, saying:
“Although I am a free man and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. …To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:19, 22, HCSB).
2) Be slow to speak, but quick to take action.
There is another maxim behind this thought: “Actions speak louder than words.” As a writer, I can’t belie the power of words. Still, it is true that words come much easier than actions. Action takes sincere dedication and requires foresight, planning, and time. Action testifies a real commitment to a cause and a desire to see results.
Taking action also requires time, and that is a safeguard. Words can be spoken in a moment on a whim of emotion, misunderstanding, or unfounded opinion. Instead, words should be treasured and weighed out carefully. It is wise not to speak unless prepared to match words with action. Thus, words will be better guarded, and actions might come more often and more quickly.
Of course, the biggest issue with speaking out quickly is words flow the most freely in the heat of anger. It is easy to encounter an event, a practice, or a statement that provokes anger and let the words instantly stream out. On the other hand, taking time for an informed and calm approach is more constructive. Biblically, there are ample admonitions to this effect. To reference one from Proverbs, “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered” (17:27, NIV).
3) Stand out publicly, but do the real work in private.
As John Wesley said, “Prayer is where the action is.” What a Christian believes should be demonstrated publicly, whether by conduct or by actions and causes espoused. But all should have its source in what takes place in private dealings with God. The real work of the Christian begins behind closed doors in prayer.
In the words of Puritan Thomas Hooker, "Prayer is my chief work, and it is by means of it that I carry on the rest."
This is demonstrated scripturally by the disciples who waited in the upper room for 10 days between the Ascension and the Pentecost, when their public ministry began. They spent the time “with one accord in prayer and supplication” (Acts 1:14, NKJV). After that time, they received power from the Holy Spirit that allowed them to go out into all the world for the public work of confessing their faith and, yes, enduring plenty of tough times, with complete victory.