My dear friend, Julie, and I recently started a Bible study together through the book of Philippians. We’ve been reading throughout the week, jotting down thoughts and notes, then sharing them with each other when we meet. We’ve only been doing it for a few weeks, but I can’t even begin to say how wonderful it has been. It’s been a long while since I’ve been surrounded by the sort of thoughts and atmosphere that come naturally with studying the Word of God with a fellow believer, and in the past few months, I’ve definitely felt the consequences of being a little disconnected.
So over the few weeks that we’ve been studying, I’ve been writing down my honest thoughts in a black moleskin journal, then writing down my prayer to God in that moment. And when I feel upset or distracted, I go back and read my written words to God from previous days, and it is so refreshing to see Him working in my life already. He is changing me and my thoughts and my desires for my life and aligning them with His will. And it is great, so I decided I should share my thoughts here.
I am no expert on the book of Philippians or any book in the Bible for that matter, but I am a disciple of Jesus, and my job is share the gospel. So here is just a little bit of what I’ve been learning throughout my study with Julie…
Philippians is Paul’s letter to the people at Philippi, and as he is writing it from prison, he is thanking God for where he is.
In Chapter 1, Paul writes, “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ… and it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
A recurring theme throughout the book is that times of trial can serve a greater purpose, and if we hold onto God’s word and promises, He will provide us with something greater than anything we leave behind.
As Julie and I were talking one morning last week, we called attention to fact that many, many people have come to Christ because of Paul’s letter of Philippians, and how great that is. But in my head, I have (several times) posed the question: “Couldn’t Paul have just written the letter to them from the comfort of his home? He could still say how God provides for us in all circumstances and stuff, but did he really have to be in prison?” And each time, I remember why it’s so important that he’s in prison. In verse 12, he writes, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest, that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most the the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
As I read, there are so many powerful and convicting words written in Philippians, and had Paul not been suffering in prison, and filled with the joy of the Lord to write this book, none of it would be in the Bible.
Chapter 1:23-26 says, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”
I have been in such a pause mode of life for quite a while. I’ve felt so lonely, useless, unproductive and guilty. And in this time, I’ve written so many journal entries and songs and tried to write blogposts that accurately express my anger towards God and His lack of movement in my life. But, the truth is, all the while I’ve been wondering what/if God is up to anything good in my life, I’ve been searching for fulfillment and satisfaction in all the wrong places. I’m not angry because God isn’t making anything happen in my life, I’m angry because I’m too stubborn to trust Him and trust that He has something greater for me ahead of the foolish things that I need to leave behind me.
In every low valley of my life, God has always prevailed. He has won my heart back from wandering into sin time after time and has continually pulled me out of darkness and into His light. And that’s not to say that my wandering is useless. In fact, just the very opposite. God works all things for the good in each of our lives, but only if we choose to see it and follow Him back to where He wants to lead us, not where we want to go in our sinful flesh.
I lost so many friendships as a younger teenager because of my selfish heart and bossy mind. But if I hadn’t lost those friendships, I wouldn’t have learned the great value and privilege that comes with being someone’s friend. Even thought it’s still something a struggle with from time to time, I have had so many wonderful and flourishing friendships since then and I know I will continue to have many more in the future. And even now, in my current spell of loneliness, I am learning that patience is so important in life, especially when waiting on God. I believe whole-heartedly that He is working on me and trimming me to His exact liking, and when the time is right, He will fulfill all of the desires He has placed in me, whether it be here on earth, or in Heaven with Him one day. And either way, learning to be patient and learning to completely cast all of my cares and wants on Jesus and be fully dependent on Him, will benefit me greatly in the future, I have no doubt.
So while Paul is suffering in prison, God meets him there and fills him with joy in the Holy Spirit and words to write in his letter to Philippi. God speaking to His people through Paul served a much greater purpose than any pain Paul felt while enduring his imprisonment. How great is it that you and I serve this same God?
The pastor at my church recently said something that stuck with me about where he and the church staff feel God is leading them in an expansion of their currently bursting building, “If God has been faithful to us in the past, we believe He will be faithful to us in the present, and even more so in the future.” God already has a plan for each of our lives. Yes, we absolutely have free will to do whatever we please on this earth, but that is not the point.
The point of this life is to glorify God and bring His name and His truth into the light. When we are immersed in self-gratification, self-praise, self-beauty, self-positivity, it is only then that we loose sight of the purpose for our lives and become unsatisfied and confused as to why we are where we are.
That is where I have lived so many different times. I have worried so much what is going to happen with my life, whether it be seemingly silly things or serious desires that are not being met. Will my art and photography ever get noticed and will I ever become famous on Instagram? Will I ever make enough money to shop exclusively at Madewell? Will I ever get to travel over seas? Will I ever get married and feel the satisfaction and joy of marriage and raising a family? Even just typing each of those concerns out gets my mind racing in all the wrong ways.
This life that God has given me is wonderful. I am fortunate, smart, funny, talented, you name it. And it’s not just me. The life you live is wonderful too, no matter what your circumstances are. We are all humans capable of so much, and even when we think we suck or aren’t as pretty or artistic as our friends, we are all talented individuals. Similarly, the world is telling us women that we need to praise ourselves for how strong we are - how attractive we are and how much we’re capable of, despite what men think of us or what we think of ourselves. (Wowow. I could write a whole post about that sentence right there.) And it is so easy to get lost in ourselves and how great we think we are… But that is not the point of this life.
Imagine if the whole reason we are here is just to feel good about ourselves and make others feel good about themselves. It sounds like it would be nice, but honestly, we are drowning ourselves in positivity and self-love, and yet, this whole population is still unsatisfied and lonely. Even people to profess to be Christians.
God sent His son, Jesus, to this earth to save us from ourselves and give us a life with Him in Heaven. He didn’t come to save us so we could have a happy life on earth feeling great and cute and happy all the time.
In their song, This Beautiful Life, Colony House writes,
“What is the meaning of it all? To fall in love, to make a life that’s calm and stable Or just to find a place where I belong? What in the world am I looking for? What is the peace that I can find? This longing for, I can’t ignore but am I able To see the good and taste it on my tongue?
Well maybe I’m a part of something that’s bigger than me Like I’m a page in a book in a library And inside my heart there’s a dying part that’s always searching “Cause I know that there’s a place where I belong.”
That “place where I belong” that he mentions isn’t anywhere on this earth - it’s in Heaven with our Maker, God. Many of us are blessed and fortunate, but for those who feel we aren’t worth as much as the people who are rich and beautiful and happy here on this earth, there is still hope. Jesus did not intend for us to feel security in this world. We aren’t supposed to be satisfied by anything it has to offer. We have been created to desire more - we have been created to desire the face of Jesus and all that He can provide us with, which is an abundant life filled with His word and His hope that something greater lies ahead of us in Heaven.