The Power of Flexibility

By Marjorie F. Eddington

Categories: Guidance, Personal Growth and Progress, Relationships

Flexibility -- the ability to move naturally, change directions easily, and compromise when appropriate -- is a wonderful quality. Think what would happen if an airplane pilot refused to be flexible and change altitude or direction when advised of a dangerous weather system. Or think about what could happen if car drivers refused to let other people merge into their lanes. Or ponder what would happen if no one ever compromised.

It requires flexibility (and grace) to stop or alter a certain course of action, to allow others to merge in front of you, to see a situation from another's perspective. Flexibility may be defined as "capable of being bent, usually without breaking; adaptable, willing to yield; pliable…. Pliant stresses an inherent quality or tendency to bend that does not require force or pressure from the outside" ( So true flexibility isn't forced upon us (though sometimes we learn to be flexible the hard way). Flexibility is a natural quality that comes from within, from our true God-given nature.

It makes much more sense to be flexible -- to "bend" rather than "break." All we need to do is look at which trees survive storms -- the ones that bend. And yet, sometimes we feel so compelled to hold onto our own way of thinking or acting; we are so convinced that our way is the right way; and we refuse to compromise at all. In such moments, we find ourselves at the point of breaking.

Some people even do break … and then they have to figure out how to put back the pieces of their lives (which is totally possible when we yield everything to God). Other people bend at every little thing and never stand up. This isn't good either, for these people aren't expressing the strength and dominion God has given them. They end up feeling deflated or insignificant, even worthless.

How do we avoid breaking in the first place? How do we stand firm and not fold at the slightest hint of conflict? We do it by expressing flexibility. We are willing to yield our own plan of what we should do and, instead, find strength in following God's direction – like Jesus.

As Jesus was walking to Jairus' house to heal his daughter, a woman with an "issue of blood" stopped him (Mark 5:25 KJV). She touched Jesus' garment, yearning to meet him, and immediately experienced healing. Jesus took time to talk to her briefly but compassionately, explaining that her faith had made her whole. Surely Jairus was anxious for Jesus to get to his house. But Jesus was unconcerned by the passing of time or the priority that one patient might have over another. His understanding of God's ceaseless and tender care for each of us empowered him to be flexible -- to respond to every need as it arose. So he didn't need to make a decision regarding whom to heal: he could care for both the woman and Jairus' daughter!

Jesus was continually flexible in the way he met people's needs. He healed the sick and the crippled on the Sabbath, respected women and children, wasn't concerned when his disciples plucked corn on the Sabbath and ate without washing their hands (Matt 12:1,2). In fact, when the Pharisees confronted him about his disciples breaking the rules, Jesus responded, "There is far more at stake here than religion. If you had any idea what this Scripture meant—'I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual'—you wouldn't be nitpicking like this" (The Message, Matt 12:6-7).

But Jesus' ways were too flexible for the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees, who felt that he was disregarding years of tradition, culture, rules, law, and sacred ways of living as a Jew. Jesus' flexibility with the old way of doing things scared them so much that they felt he needed to be destroyed.

While Jesus was flexible in many ways, he was definitely not flexible regarding his mission. While he included the outcasts in his ministry -- healed them, proved how they deserved to be in the kingdom of God, and even first announced himself as the Messiah to the Samaritan woman at the well (who was totally out of the traditional, accepted circle) -- Jesus knew his mission was to the Jews. He was "inflexible" when it came to the cross: he knew he had to take it up, bear it, and rise above it.

The week of his crucifixion, there were Greeks who wanted to see Jesus. But Jesus wouldn't change his course and preach to them. Instead, he told his disciples, "The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12:20-24 KJV).

Had Jesus gone with the Greeks, he never would have been crucified. And had he never been crucified, he would not have resurrected and proved that death could not touch him, that life is indeed eternal. It wasn't until Jesus resurrected that his disciples really understood his teachings. Had they not been charged with the fire of the Holy Spirit, they would not have brought forth "fruit," and we would not have Christianity today.

Jesus' apparent inflexibility to change plans was actually an expression of deep humility and strength. Avoiding the cross must have been much more appealing; it certainly would have been less painful and easier than going through it. But Jesus was unwilling to compromise his complete trust in God by taking the easy way out. He knew he had to follow God's plan -- which was not death but life, not the crucifixion but the resurrection, not the cross but the crown. It took incredible humility and strength to say "…not my will, but thine be done" (Luke 22:42). Jesus knew when to yield, when to change course, and when to stay on course.

How can we know when to be flexible and when to be inflexible? It all has to do with what God is telling us, with our ability to listen and obey God's guidance. Usually, we can follow this simple guideline: if it's an issue regarding people, be flexible; if it's an issue regarding principle, stand firm.

Here are some questions that can help us be flexible:

  • Is this course of action from God?
  • Or, is it just something I really want to do and am not really certain it's God-sanctioned?
  • Am I fighting against God or for God if I think or act a certain way?
  • What will happen if I yield up my own plans or ideas?
  • And, perhaps more poignantly:
    • What will happen if I refuse to be flexible -- refuse to yield, to give up my own view of the situation, my own way of doing things, my own plans and follow God's lead?
    • If nothing else changes (for I can't change others or alter outside circumstances), and if I don't change my course of thought and action, what will the consequences be?

Answering these questions honestly and humbly should give us the desire and impetus to express flexibility. Jesus' life shows us the value and power of flexibility. When we bend, we don't break.

As we think more about Jesus' flexibility, we realize that even when Jesus stood firm with principle, he still bent – but he bent to God's will. Because he bent to God's will, he was not broken. Rather, he rose. When we bend to God's will, we find that we are able to stand strong and rise above situations that may seem to us like a cross. We, too, can claim our own resurrection.