In our journey of faith, rarely a day goes by that each one of us doesn’t need some sort of encouragement to help us maintain our spiritual momentum and Kingdom focus.
It’s not an overstatement to acknowledge that the enormous benefits and blessings of living in a free, open and abundantly blessed nation is an indescribable gift for every one of us.
(It’s not to say that there aren’t many other wonderful and even desirable nations in the world, but who can argue against the premise that this nation has been blessed by God in unimaginable ways that are admired and desired by countless millions around the planet.)
That being said, if you’re at all like me, every day seems to confront us with another type of challenge. In fact, if there are no challenges or risks in your life; if every day is just simply another opportunity to indulge yourself, then you’re not living anywhere near your God-appointed destiny. Make no mistake that God does have a plan for your life and the experience of that plan will require some measure of risk taking, sacrifice and surrender to put you in a position to receive the grace of God that’s appropriate for reaching your potential.
To that end, we are all greatly helped by finding others on this same faith journey who serve as models or examples to us. If time and space allowed, I could share detailed descriptions of different individuals who have served to model a godly life and thereby influenced me to move forward in directions and opportunities that I would have completely missed otherwise.
The Apostle Paul is pretty candid about this. He says to the church in Corinth in his epistle to those same Corinthians in chapter 11:1
“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”
By any account, that is a very bold statement! I don’t know many people who feel confident enough about their spiritual mettle to extend such an open invitation. On the contrary, I would expect that a number of us would be concerned that there would be parts of our lives we would not want people to see let alone model in their own lives.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked and yet inspiring illustrations of Paul’s example of Christ honoring obedience occurs in the opening chapter of his epistle to the Philippians.
Philippians is knownn as the “epistle of joy” because of the number of times that Paul mentions joy and rejoicing in these four short chapters. One would surmise that Paul was joyful because he’s now nearing the end of his earthly ministry and is probably enjoying the fruits of his years of labor and the many blessings that come with such a great resume’ as he had, let alone his personal and intimate relationship with Jesus. Surely Paul was on an island somewhere enjoying his retirement years!
In fact, the circumstances could not be more radically different for the beloved apostle. And yes, he is nearing the end of his ministry and yes, he has had enormous influence and a great number of followers; but he’s not on an island somewhere enjoying a peaceful life of ease. Rather, he finds himself in the bowels of a Roman prison, widely understood as one of the more foul and miserable places to which anyone might be confined. However, Paul was not just in a lonely jail cell; he was chained to a Roman guard so he did not even have the dignity of being able to eat, sleep or take care of himself with any privacy.
One would think that in such a desperate situation that Paul might be laboring with God and trying to understand what he had done to deserve being left in such circumstances. One would understand if Paul was feeling abandoned by God and forgotten despite all that he had accomplished in his many years of service.
However, it’s very significant to recognize that in the midst of such deplorable circumstances and personal suffering and persecution, Paul cannot stop rejoicing! In fact, Paul begins the letter by extolling his love for believers in Philippi and says “I always prays with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now…” And then on and on he goes.
And in the next post I want to elaborate on some of the specific and very powerful examples Paul gives us in just the first chapter of this book.
For today, however, I want to close with a bit of a challenge for all of you who might be reading this particular post. Would you take some time to simply take note of and acknowledge in specific the details of your current circumstances and what you find most challenging, most difficult, and perhaps most contrary to what you had hoped God would do in your life.
See it’s vitally important to be clear about the context of Paul’s clear and profound exhortations and the only way this will be of significant influence to you as it’s been to me is to be open and candid with yourself about the condition you are in. It is very easy to generalize and sometimes even deny the details of your circumstances. Some of us have been taught that even acknowledging that we are hurting is a sign of weakness or lack of faith.
However, the opposite is true. It is only when we are willing to look at our lives as they really are that we can begin to allow the powerful and penetrating light of the hope of the gospel to invade our circumstance.
When you do take these moments, why not write down a brief summary of what you want to present to the Lord and then see how He may speak to you about those things as we study the example of Paul and his incredible mature and inspiring life of faith.
Get ready to be really blessed!
Walking with you in real life…