Tag Archives: Philippians 1:12

Why Me? – Another perspective

 

Why me? Have you ever asked this question when some calamity came upon you? It’s a common question to all of us. We want to know why something happened, thinking that knowing the answer would somehow help lessen the pain and suffering or help us out of that dark place. If you research the topic of suffering in the bible you will find a number of reasons there is suffering, even undeserved suffering in this world.

Sometimes we suffer because of the mistakes we make. We control our own choices, but not the consequences of those choices. Be it drinking, smoking, drug abuse, financial squandering, wasted time, or relational abuse, we reap what we sow – just as God said.

Sometimes our suffering comes as a result of the poor choices others make, reminding us that the decisions don’t just affect us. I think of the little child who was instantly killed a couple hundred feet from where we lived in Australia, when a young man struck her while traveling too fast over a hill.

Most often we suffer as a result of a fallen world. What God created as good, man has destroyed. In his perfect Eden, people and animals and plants flourished. In our present world, everything, including cancer, progresses toward decay and suffering.

In all of this God promises to work good for those who love him and are called according to his name. In the middle of Paul’s significant struggles he proclaimed, “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” Philippians 1:12  In other words, there is meaning and purpose in suffering.

God doesn’t waste pain.

God uses pain and sorrow and suffering to draw us closer to himself, to make us more tender toward one another, to teach us important life lessons, and shape into who we were meant to be.

But while we ask “Why me?” and search for answers to our suffering, I wonder if we might explore another aspect of the question”Why me?” (Thanks to brother Bruce for this perspective.)

“Why Lord, have you heaped impossible mountains of blessings upon me?

  • Life itself, consciousness beyond our chemical composition -yikes, what did I do to deserve THAT?
  • A beautiful world, nestled in a wondrous universe. Frontiers to explore with gifts of muscle and brain.
  • Creatures galore, and human creatures too, allowing an infinite variety and depth of relationships, Free will, opportunity and challenge”

Indeed, Why Me? Why have I been so blessed by the gift of friends and family? How did I come to deserve such a devoted and loving wife? Why am I allowed to live in the land named “luxury” by most everyone else in the world. Why have you made my heart tender and receptive to your love and chosen me for an eternity of undeserved joy?

Wherever we find suffering, there is blessing to be discovered also, blessing that is fueled by a thankful heart and perpetuated by sharing that same blessing with others.

We are blessed in order to bless others.

The Psalmist says:

“May God be gracious to us and bless us
    and make his face shine on us.” Psalm 67 v 1

Why? Why is God gracious to us and bless us? 

“so that your ways may be known on earth,
    your salvation among all nations. ” Psalm 67 v 2

We are blessed so that others may know God’s ways, that his salvation may be among all nations. In what ways are you blessed today – in order to bless those around you with the great love of God?

I should love…WHO?!

 

We love those who’ve been kind, who’ve stuck with us through tough times, and forgiven our past wrongs. We love those who agree with us, who support a common cause, those we admire.

 

Jesus says that if we truly love Him we will do what He says. We will love our neighbors as ourselves. We will ‘feed His sheep.’ Okay, got that, right? Wait a minute. He’s saying something else. Let’s listen:

 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbors and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:43-45

 

What?!! Loving my enemies and praying for those who persecute me is a condition of being a child of God? You gotta be kidding, right? Pray for ISIS followers who are killing Christians? We’d rather plea with God to destroy our enemies! And let’s not get started about praying for someone with a different political preference. We don’t even want to pray for people in our path who are just a bit disagreeable or unlovable.

 

But Jesus who turned the tables of the temple ‘thieves’ seeks to turn the tables of our own selfish ambitions too. He wants to deepen our love for Him – and for others. Loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us is one of the deepest expressions of love. The bible says we were enemies with God and yet He so loved us that He gave His Son Jesus so we could be saved. How can we say we love Jesus, and not do as he says…love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us?

 

But HOW should we pray for our enemies?

 

Pray for their salvation, for saving faith so they will receive Christ and trust only in Him. (Romans 10:9, Ephesians 2:8-9, John 1:12, John 14:6, Acts 4:12) Pray they will embrace true wisdom revealed by Almighty God. (Ephesians 1:17) Impossible? Consider one of the world’s most ardent persecutors of Christians, the man we know as the apostle Paul whose life was completely transformed by the power of God. Consider Daniel Shayestah, who was a faithful member of Iran’s ruthless Red Guard, but responded immediately to follow Jesus after being warned in a dream. God is still in the transformation business.

 

Pray for evil to be restrained. Pray that the God-offending ways of our enemies will be thwarted and frustrated at every turn in their path. Pray for the protection of believers and testimonies that boldly confront the lies of their persecutors and actually advance the gospel. (Philippians 1:12)

 

Pray for God’s will to be done. We know what vengeance we would unleash on our enemies, but God warns: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19) Military action may be needed to curtail the wrath of destruction of our enemies. But our role is to pray for God’s divine will be done – to save or destroy, according to His purpose.

 

We who were once enemies with God need to obey Jesus and pray for those who still remain His enemies. Pray for their salvation, for protection from evil, and for God’s will be done. If they are converted, that’s God’s choice. If they refuse to repent of evil ways, they will receive their just punishment. As for you and me, let’s pray.

 

Who have you written off as hopeless and beyond salvation? Who is it, that the very thought of them creates a bitterness in your soul? Who have you marginalized through your apathy to their views and existence? These are the enemies Jesus called us to love. If you’re thinking this is beyond your ability, you are absolutely right. So let Jesus-in-you do the loving, on His terms, not yours. And watch how your world changes as your spirit cooperates with His.

 

Don’t waste your suffering

 

 

John Piper wrote a great little book called Don’t Waste Your Life, followed later by Don’t Waste Your Cancer. Both books spoke to me – before and during my experience with cancer. The premise is simple. Life is short so live it intentionally and live it well. Oh I know, when your journey is filled with suffering of all kinds, life seems to move slowly, like it may never end. A year and a half after achieving remission from cancer and after my stem cell transplant, I’m still asking my doctors, “When will I get stronger?” But even in the midst of all kinds of trials, life really is short compared to the eternity of time that awaits us. So, how do we respond?

 

“Don’t waste your suffering.”

 

Suffering seems to be wasteful in itself; it robs us of comfort, patience, strength, productivity, and so much more. Suffering leads us to experience indignities that we are sure are unnecessary to the human challenge. But suffering also is a worker, accomplishing in us that which we cannot accomplish ourselves. Consider Paul’s story:

 

Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.”  2 Corinthians 11:24-27

 

Whipped, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, threatened by robbers and countrymen, surrounded by danger all around, sleepless, hungry, cold, and naked… I think you will agree that Paul knew suffering.  If anyone had reason to complain, it was him. But how did he perceive this tremendous distress?

 

” For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:17

 

He considers his trials light and momentary, insignificant compared to what? Compared to what they are achieving right now for eternal glory. Our sufferings are at work to purify us and build us up, even as we are sure they are only working to tear us down. And they are working also to build others up too:

 

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” Philippians 1:12

 

None of us like to suffer and we don’t like watching others suffer. But in the midst of these, we are called to pray (for ourselves and others) and to stand firm. Don’t waste your suffering, knowing that our loving God will not waste an ounce of the pain you give to Him.

 

 

Bad news or good news?

A Chinese farmer gets a horse, which soon runs away. A neighbor says, “That’s bad news.” The farmer replies, “Good news, bad news, who can say?”

The horse comes back and brings another horse with him. Good news, you might say. The farmer gives the second horse to his son, who rides it, then is thrown and badly breaks his leg.

“So sorry for your bad news,” says the concerned neighbor. “Good news, bad news, who can say?” the farmer replies.

In a week or so, the emperor’s men come and take every able-bodied young man to fight in a war. The farmer’s son is spared.
Good news, of course.

This Chinese parable illustrates a basic truth we’ve discussed before: light overcomes darkness. Blessings sometimes travel in disguise, even embedded in trials. The path to peace and contentment sometimes winds through a valley of discontent. The apostle Paul revealed that the “bad news” of his imprisonment and suffering actually served to advance the “good news” of the gospel. (Philippians 1:12)

Disciplining your mind to habituate to a positive “good news” attitude will help you see problems as opportunities. This is an ongoing challenge that requires daily focus to maintain this perspective consistently. For sure, this life view will rescue you from the paralysis of inward focus to find the freedom of focusing on what God intends to reveal.

There was a cartoon of a turtle on its back; with clear view of the sky, he concluded, “I’m flying!” Hilarious as the image was, his delusion about flying offered absolutely no help to overcome the fact that he was in fact STUCK on his back. Positive thinking helps us to FEEL better about our ‘bad news’ and to temporarily escape the pain of our circumstance, but eventually we have to come back to the reality of how to actually deal with the problem.

The really ‘good news’ is that God knows us – and our ‘bad news’ situation – perfectly. Furthermore, he cares deeply about us. He offers his perfect perspective and counsel by providing his Spirit, grace, strength, and power to rise above our circumstance…to become victorious over them. Now THAT’s good news indeed!

Here’s to seeing the “good news” God intends for you to see and share with others today!

“He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach my good news to all creation.'” (And use words if you have to!) Mark 16:15

Can you really do all things through Christ?

In the 1992 cartoon Aladdin, Alladin tricked the evil Jafar into wishing to be a more powerful genie than Genie himself. Jafar exclaims, “The universe is mine to command, mine to control!” But as the enslaving cufflinks form on his hands, Jafar is sucked into the tiny genie lamp which becomes his prison. Aladdin reflects, “Phenomenal cosmic powers. Itty-bitty living space.” Ah, the price of ‘uncontrollable power.’ 🙂

Perhaps in a strange way this points out how we are sometimes mislead by a simplified approach to achieving success and control over our lives. For example many people quote Philippians 4:13 as if it were a magic genie phrase: “I can do all things through him (Christ) who strengthens me.” It is absolutely true that believers in Jesus do have access to supernatural power, to overcome darkness, to endure suffering with faith, even to participate in God’s demonstration of miracles. But it is not quite the same as super hero powers that bring attention to ourselves.

In fact, whenever you come across a verse that speaks deeply to you, you might consider the context of that verse. Often the ‘secret’ that unlocks the truth of that verse is found just before, or sometimes just after the ‘famous’ verse. In this case, it is found in verses 11 and 12 of chapter four. Paul writes:
11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Do you see it? It is not that he can outrun a speeding bullet or leap over a tall building or other physical feat. Nor does he automatically have the power to escape his painful circumstances. But he has learned to be content in whatever situation he confronts: prison, beatings, humiliation, shipwrecks, being falsely accused, and physical pain. His circumstances don’t control him. So rare is this, he calls it learning a “secret,” one that allows him to bear all things, to do all things, because in this contentment, Christ gives him the strength to do so.

This is not a contentment that says, “Oh well, I guess this is the best I get,” but rather a deep satisfaction that this situation will work for good, because that is God’s design. In fact he earlier proclaims, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” (Philippians 1:12) Bad things sometimes happen so good can be advanced!

I wonder, have you learned the “secret” of being content? It is something you may learn and apply, and then keep learning all your life. In what areas of your life could you be more content, and thereby learn to do all things?

Disappointment or HIS appointment?

Can you remember a time when you were disappointed, either by something that happened you DIDN’T want, or something that didn’t happen you DID want? Most of us could quickly go to our carousel of childhood or teenage memories to pick out any number of examples: rejection by a friend, being told ‘no’ when we wanted ‘yes,’ garage sale clothes, underwear for Christmas. 🙂 These may seem frivolous now, but the memory of other deep disappointments may still have lasting effects on our soul: the loss of a loved one, the memory of abuse, never feeling like you measured up or mattered, making a poor choice that had lasting consequences.

I don’t know anyone who didn’t have to deal with some level of disappointment in their lives, whether momentary or life long. But as common as it is to experience disappointment even in major aspects of our life, there is another side to this coin. Asking God to reveal HIS APPOINTMENT in the situation doesn’t always yield an escape from the circumstances, but it does offer a way out from being trapped by the oppressive weight of disappointment. When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” He spoke not only to an eternal life, but also to our participation in the aspect of eternal life that begins now; the way to be freed from the slavery to our present worries, fears, and sorrows.

Years ago Phil Keaggy wrote a song about this that opened with these lines:
Disappointment – His appointment,
Change one letter, then I see
That the thwarting of my purpose
Is God’s better choice for me.

The apostle Paul knew about sorrow, pain, and suffering. His writings reveal that he quickly turned any potential disappointments over to God and chose to diligently and eagerly pursue God’s purpose IN and through the situation. From his dismal prison cell he wrote:
“Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” Philippians 1:12

In other words, there is not only an escape from the oppression of disappointment, but also purpose to be found in disappointment. It may be to bring us closer to God so we can enjoy His presence or to sensitize and enable us to help someone else along their path.

Are you disappointed today? Tell God. (He already knows but wants to visit with you about it.) Ask him to reveal HIS appointment to you. (Hint: you will likely find it in His Word.) He WANTS you to experience HIS appointment of peace and power even in the middle of your disappointing storm.

Closing with the final words of Keaggy’s song:
Disappointment – His appointment
Lord I take it then as such,
Like the clay in hands of potter
Yielding wholly to Thy touch

All my life’s plan is Thy molding
Not one single choice be mine
Let me answer unrepining,
Father not my will but Thine.