Have you ever had one of those days. The ones where everything goes wrong. The ones when, from the moment you get up in morning to when you eventually get to bed, anything that can possibly go contrary to your plans, does. You want more than anything to either go in you room and hide under the covers in hopes that tomorrow will be better, or climb up on the roof top and scream at the top of you lungs, “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME!”
Now imagine it is more than a day. Imagine it continues for days, weeks, months, even years. What are you supposed to do with that? How do you keep going on? You have plans for your life, what you think you should be doing, but your life seems to be sending you in an entirely different direction. Where do you go from there?
This is the situation that Paul find’s himself in as he is writing his letter to the Philippians. Paul was on track to become a leading member of the Jewish community. Christ himself reached out to Paul. He called him to reach the gentile world, and Paul embraced his new mission. He had turned his whole life over to proclaiming God’s word. But in the midst of his preaching he has found himself thrown into jail and brought up on charges before the courts. How could things have possibly gone so far astray? He did nothing to find himself in this place but preach the gospel, yet here he was.
If this wasn’t enough, there were those who claimed to have the same goal of preaching the gospel, yet they seemed to be taking advantage of his situation. They were actually preaching the gospel that he had set out to proclaim in order to spite him. They knew he was incarcerated, unable to go around preaching, and they wanted to rub his nose in it. It was as if they were saying, “See you’re not so important, we can preach the gospel just as well without you.”
Talk about Murphy’s law. It certainly seemed that everything that could go wrong, was. Yet while most of us would find out selves throwing a pity-party, saying “It’s not fair”, this was not Paul’s response. Instead Paul writes, “But What does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” Even in the midst of all these trouble, Paul did not get caught up in what was going wrong in his life, but kept his focus on the proclamation of the Gospel. He saw all that he was going through not as problems for him, but opportunities for God’s word to be proclaimed. In his book, “Invitation to Philippians” Dr. Donald Sunukjian puts it this way. “His concern was not ‘Is it fair?’ but ‘Is it accomplishing anything for God? Is what’s happening to me being useful to God in some way? Is it furthering his purposes in the world?'”
Paul could see beyond his situation to what was important. Those who wanted to stick it to him by showing that he was not that important and that the gospel could still be preached without him had missed the point. This was Paul’s mindset all along. All that mattered was that the gospel was preached. He lived the words of John the Baptist as found in John 3:30, “He must become greater; I must become less.”
But Paul did not stop with joy that the gospel was still preached. Even in his situation, he continued to preach. He shared the gospel with the guards who watch over him. He did it with the understanding that he was simply a link in a greater chain. For those he shared the gospel with, even in his setting, could then bring the gospel to those they came in contact with, on they in turn could take it even further. In Paul’s case, it was the Imperial Guard of Rome who watched over him and, in turn, they could take the gospel to the very halls of the emperor’s palace. So Paul declared in Philippians 1:12 – 13 “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.”
But that of course was Paul, what about us today. Allow me to share a short story from my life. I worked in university security for 20 years. During that time I worked my way up from part-time to being the Director. During my time I built a department that was respected and year after year increased in student satisfaction. After nine years, the rug was pulled out from under me. I was called into the Vice President’s office and told that due to financial situations, I was being let go. I spent the next six months unemployed, followed by 4 1/2 years split between four part-time jobs. I could easily have been caught up in looking for pity for my situation, and admittedly there were low moments, but I saw things differently.
When I was laid off, I didn’t complain. I voluntarily came in for several days to wrap things up and make an easier transition for the person taking over my responsibilities. I wrote an open letter to those who knew me to let them know of my situation and asking them for their prayers for the university and those left to pick up the slack. I took opportunities to preach at churches. When I finally got a part-time job I found new opportunities to speak to people about their faith. I invested more time into volunteering with organizations. I began regularly preaching at a hospital chapel service. I took on an internship with my church. I found that being bogged down in self-pity would do no one any good, but as I embraced the opportunities that had been set before me, I found more and more opportunities to be involved in people lives. I found opportunities to share my faith with others. I found that I grew in my faith. I can only imagine what secondary impacts may have come from those I had contact with.
Even with all of these experiences, I still have to remind myself that it doesn’t matter that things seem unfair, all that matters is that God is glorified. So I ask you, as much as myself, what is your attitude in life? What is your reaction to the trials you face? Do you feel sorry for yourself? Do you become jealous of others who are out proclaiming the gospel, with opportunities that you think you should have? Do you find yourself unable to continue filled with self-pity, preventing you from making the best of your situation? Do you see situations as a hinderance, or as an opportunity?
We need to understand that if we find ourselves caught up in the unfairness of life, we will miss the opportunities God sets before us. If we are so caught up in things not going the way we have planned, we will miss that God has a far greater plan for us. But when our focus is on how God can use us, wherever we are, we will see a whole new world of opportunities open up for us. When we understand that even if we only impact one person we are brought into contact with, we may start a chain of events that could have a huge impact on the world down the road. When we realize that our focus should be on God’s glory and not our own recognition, we can join with Paul, when we see others proclaim the gospel, declaring that we “will continue to rejoice.” (Phil 1:18)