How do you maintain your joy in circumstances that are less-than-ideal?
It’s a relevant question for many of us right now. Over the last few weeks, coronavirus has altered the pattern of normal life for many, whether we’ve been directly affected or not. Event cancellations, encouragement to limit social contact, toilet roll shortages, and the relentless media reports that only seem to fuel the panic – all of these things can take their toll.
Where better to look than Paul’s letter to the Philippians?
His circumstances may be very different, but, as he sat in prison, there were a lot of similar things going on: his plans had been disrupted, he was cut off from loved ones, he was having to deal with the consequences of others’ selfish behaviour, and the outcome of his situation was uncertain.
And yet he was joyful. How did he do it?
You may remember I began a series on Philippians about four weeks ago. Well here, finally, is part two! Our verses for today are Philippians 1:12-26. Why not take a few minutes to read them before you continue?
As we journey through Paul’s letter, we are looking at the theme: What Really Matters, and it seems to be by holding on to what really matters that Paul finds strength to deal with his situation.
No matter what is happening, what really matters to him is Jesus.
He may be in prison – but he’s having the opportunity to tell lots of people, including the palace guards, about Jesus!
He may not be able to preach the Gospel where he planned – but many of the other believers have gained confidence, and they are speaking boldly about Jesus!
Some others are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry, using his situation to get at him – but, whatever their motives, they’re still telling people about Jesus!
He doesn’t know whether he is going to live or die – but if he lives, he gets to live for Jesus, and if he dies, he gets to go and be with Jesus!
It is this focus that keeps him going.
In some ways though, Paul is fortunate, because he is able to see some of what God is doing, but what about when you can’t see any good in a bad situation? That’s often our reality no matter how hard we might try to see it.
I think that’s where faith comes in, or, as I once heard it described: giving God the benefit of the doubt.
Just because we can’t see him working good doesn’t mean he isn’t!
Six years ago, I went through one of the most difficult times I’ve ever experienced. A close friend was dealing with severe mental health issues and attempted suicide on multiple occasions. Trying to support her took its toll on me physically, emotionally and spiritually, and it is an experience I’d never like to repeat.
While I have always been grateful to God for the fact that my friend survived that horrible summer and got to a healthier place, as well as for the way he intervened to get me back on track, I had never been able to see any good in the experience itself. It all just seemed unnecessary…
…Until last week.
As I attempted to provide support to someone else who was struggling, I began to feel that familiar sense of being weighed down by someone else’s suffering. But then I remembered that experience with my friend, and I realised I had learned some things that helped me deal with it differently this time around. After a long walk and some time talking to God, I felt much, much better.
And for the first time, I also felt grateful for that experience six years ago. I know that as I move forward with Journey To Heal mentoring in my church, I am going to hear difficult stories, and I need to be able to deal with them well – to help others carry their burdens as God is asking me to, but not to become overburdened myself.
For the first time I could see that in a situation where I struggled to see any good, God was at work, teaching me and preparing me for what was ahead.
It’s hard to see much good when it comes to coronavirus, but I think we’d do well to follow Paul’s example.
Hold onto the fact that God is still sovereign, and he can work good in unexpected ways in unlikely places.
Take the opportunities we have to witness to others – surely, Christians should be leading by example in speaking words of hope and peace into a situation of fear and panic.
Look to bless others, even when our circumstances are not ideal. It’s at times like this when we all need to pull together and help one another out where we can.
Remember that when it comes down to it, we have Jesus, and that’s what really matters. However this thing turns out, nothing can separate us from his love. We are secure in him.