I had a huge reality check this morning as I read a chapter of the book The Message of Philippians by J.A. Motyer. The apostle Paul was imprisoned when he wrote the book of Philippians. He was suffering unjustly and painfully, simply for believing in Jesus and proclaiming the gospel. He had suffered so much over the years in every area……physically, mentally, spiritually. So here Paul sat in prison and what does he say?
“…so that it has become known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brethren have been made confident in the Lord because of my imprisonment, and are much more bold to speak the word of God without fear.” (Philippians 1:13-14)
Motyer gave the visual then of Paul holding up his chained wrist, but instead of pointing at his chafed wrist he makes us look at what effect those chains are having in his own life and especially on the work of Christ in others. The guards are hearing the gospel…….others are hearing the gospel……..the brethren are gaining confidence……….believers are becoming bold.
And I thought about myself, and the puny little trials that I have gone through. What do I often do when I hold my chained wrist up? I know me, and I’ll tell you what I find it so easy to say and do. I point to my bleeding wrist and I talk about my pain. I wonder about why this or that happened, even when I know God is in charge. I concentrate on the pain that my chains are inflicting on me. I focus on the injustice and the ones who are responsible. In other words, I so often do everything but what God wants me to do.
God wants me to look through the links of that chain into His eyes, and to trust Him totally. He wants me to see Him instead of the chain. And more importantly, He wants me to point others to what I see as I look at Him. I see His love and I trust His character, and He wants me to talk about that instead of pointing to the chains.
It’s not about me, as much as I want it to be. It’s not about proclaiming my pain or the wrongs I may have suffered or the hurt I am enduring. It’s so easy to do that, though…..to focus on me and on the suffering. There is actually a strange kind of comfort in that attitude, but it’s so wrong.
Speaking of Paul, Motyer said, “He did not see his suffering as an act of divine forgetfulness (‘Why did God let this happen to me?’), nor as a dismissal from service (‘I was looking forward to years of usefulness, and look at me!’), nor as the work of Satan (‘I am afraid the devil has had his way this time’), but as the place of duty, the setting for service, the task appointed.”
Even when God directly answers prayer I sometimes cringe, pull back in pain, and then act surprised by the route God has chosen for me. Whatever the issue is in my life, I need to realize that God wants to be honored in it……..not questioned. It takes time and practice and great trust to accomplish that attitude, which unfortunately sometimes means more time in the trial. More time with those chains around my wrist.
So I hold up my wrist to others, and what do they see? They see what I focus on……what I talk about……..what I point toward. Will I be Paul and magnify Christ with my chains?
“How that word ‘now’ needs to eat its way into our minds and hearts and wills! It is now that we must show how great Christ is. Never again will we have the chance to live for Him through this moment, to please Him in this circumstance, to gladden Him by trusting in this ordeal.”
It’s not easy. It takes resolve to change my focus. Every single day, many times a day, I know I must refocus my eyes. My hurting wrist……the rusty chains…..the ongoing pain. Whether it’s Aaron issues or hurt from others or sadness from those I love who are suffering or worry about our loved ones………it doesn’t matter. God is there. He has a plan and a purpose.
Now…today…this moment – holding up my hands to God and not even noticing the chains. That’s my desire.