Many of us feel trapped in our life circumstances. The 9-5 grind. Commuting to work. A boring job. The endless routine of caring for small children. A mediocre and unremarkable church. Bad health and limited mobility. Even many of the good things in life—work, family, church—can feel like they are the things holding us back from serving Jesus as we would like. This is nothing new. Dissatisfaction with life is older than the book of Ecclesiastes.
Even many of the good things in life—work, family, church—can feel like they are the things holding us back from serving Jesus as we would like
Being a Christian should cause us to look at our life circumstances differently. At the end of his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul instructs his readers to imitate his gospel-centred approach to life:
‘Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.’ (Philippians 4:9)
That command should lead us to start reading the letter again from the beginning to see what example Paul offers us to imitate. You’ll quickly realise that he spends the early part of the letter talking about how wonderful it is that he is in prison. That’s probably not the part that Christians are supposed to try to imitate! But the way in which Paul approached his time in prison is extremely important for all of us to consider in relation to our own lives.
Paul had been commissioned by Jesus as an Apostle to proclaim the gospel. So he went from city to city telling people that Jesus is Lord and that they should repent and believe in his name. Difficult though it was, Paul had one the most meaningful and important jobs in all of human history. He was the emissary of the King of Kings to the nations! So long as there were people around to hear he had important work to do.
But then Paul found himself in the most futile situation he could experience. He was thrown into a Roman prison. It was a miserable place: squalid, damp, and with poor room service. But the thing that made it truly miserable is that he had nobody to tell the gospel to. He was cut off from the world and the ability to lead a worthwhile life.
However, it wasn’t entirely true that there was no one to tell about Jesus. There was at least one Roman guard within conversation distance. And guards were changed every four hours so that means that he might see up to six of them in 24 hours. That’s quite a lot of people for Paul to tell the gospel to! So that’s what he did. Word spread and people heard. Surprising as it was, Paul’s time in prison turned out to be a remarkably fruitful opportunity to share the gospel and to spread word of his message (Philippians 1:13).
Paul’s Unique Posting
It was no accident that Paul was in prison. He says that he was ‘stationed’ there for the sake of the gospel (1:16). Just as the guards had been posted outside his cell their commanding officer, Paul had been posted inside the cell by his commanding officer, Jesus. The wonderful irony is that by being a captive Paul had a captive audience for his message.
It was no accident that Paul was in prison. He was stationed there for the sake of the gospel by his commanding officer, Jesus.
That’s why Paul mentions his ‘chains’ so many times that if he were alive today he could sue Tina Arena for plagiarism (Phillipians 1:13, 14, 17). Paul rejoiced in precisely the most miserable element of his existence at that time: his imprisonment. Why? Because that was the place in life that God had stationed him in at that point in time. He was called to serve Jesus there and then. He rejoiced to see the unexpected results.
Your Unique Posting
We should all take Paul’s attitude to our own life circumstances. They may be difficult and unglamorous; Paul’s certainly were! But you are the only person who God has stationed where you are in life. You have unique opportunities, relationships and life circumstances that only you can make the most of.
So look around. Take stock. Do it fresh eyes as though seeing your life circumstances for the first time. Notice who you know and who you could take the next step of engaging with: friends, family, colleagues, neighbours, social groups… The most precious gift that any unbeliever has (and doesn’t value) is a relationship with someone who knows Jesus. They live one degree of separation away from eternal life because they know you. It could be that God will use you to share that message with them. That’s worth starting to pray about.
Photo: Tony Rojas, unsplash.com