“…what has happened to me…”
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Phil. 1:12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.
In his letter to the Philippian Church Paul recalls the “things that happened to him.” In this case Paul wasn’t pointing out his tremendous accomplishments, nor his dazzling adventures that might leave his audiences spellbound. What exactly had happened to the Apostle Paul? Some pretty horrific things had unfolded in Paul’s life leading up to the time he wrote this letter to the Philippian church; shipwrecks, beatings, hunger, exposure, imprisonment, and the list goes on (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-27).
As a pastor, it seems as though I am constantly confronted with the “things that happen” to Godly people. My office is often a place of tears, worries and uncertainties that accompany the lives of good people, people I admire who have faithfully served the Lord for years. I am frequently reminded that bad things happen to some really wonderful and Godly people. Yet I am also reminded that the Bible teaches us that trials are an inevitable part of our Christian journey. Whether emotional, spiritual, financial, physical everyone will face difficulties in life. We live in a fallen world, in a world that is far from what it was originally intended to be. The fall has led to consequences that even we as Christians have to face. This means that, like Paul, we will all face significant trials.
There are some in the church today who suggest that if you have enough faith or if you are spiritual enough, you will never get sick, you will become prosperous and you will simply not have “things happen to you.” As best as I can understand my Bible this is simply not true! Jesus reminds us that, “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33).
The problem is that many believers have bought into a bad theology that asserts, “If I follow Christ closely and intimately, if I am a good Christian…..the wind will always be at my back, the sun will shine on my face, heavenly bliss will ubiquitously hover over me with good fortune, and all trials will bounce off of me because God will never allow these things to happen to his child.” And when these things don’t happen…..they ask, “Where is God? Christianity doesn’t work!” Their faith begins to flounder in the turbulent waters of real life.
In her biography, former First Lady, Laura Bush described an event that illustrates this approach to faith. When she was 17 years old she ran a stop sign, collided with little boy and killed him. Describing the aftermath of this event, she wrote, “I lost my faith that November, lost it for many, many years.” As I read the book and felt the agony of her suffering, I thought that she had articulated so perfectly what so many in the modern church believe about faith. When something terrible happens in life, we give up on faith or we look away from God. We suppose, “God is not working for me anymore, so I will try something else.” Consequently, some will walk away for years and eventually return. Others will walk away never to return. Yet this kind of “faith” is a misguided faith, not based on a biblical reality of our world because the Bible is quite clear that we live in the same fallen world as everyone else. It assures us that we will experience all kinds of trials.
After experiencing a series of trials, a church member once shared with me, the same sentiment that Laura Bush articulated in her biography, “Pastor Chad. I think I am not sure about God anymore, I might be losing my faith.” I replied, “Good! …because we need to replace your current faith with a rightly guided faith, a faith that recognizes that you will experience trials like everyone else. Let’s get rid of the wrong theology and replace your faith with one that is based upon the truth of Scriptures. Then you will no longer follow a faith that lives in a fantasy-land. Instead, you will possess a faith that gives you the tools to deal with the real pain of our world that you will invariably experience and then you can received the strength to overcome that pain.” Remember Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble but take heart I have overcome the world.”
Beloved in Christ, are “things happening” to you today? I won’t tell you that a prayer will remove those things, visiting your pastor will solve everything, or a trip to church will ease your suffering. However, I do know that you will overcome through Jesus. He has promised it. Stand firm in Him. Don’t run away from your faith in Him. Instead, know that your suffering may persist, but that Jesus has a purpose for your pain and that he has empowered you and granted you the spiritual equipment to overcome anything that you will face.