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This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus. - Philippians 1:1 (NLT)
Years ago I ran across the following writing that profoundly changed my life. For brevity’s sake, I offer a condensed version.
If God has called you to be really like Jesus, He will draw you to a life of crucifixion and humility, and put upon you such demands of obedience, that you will not be able to follow other people, or measure yourself by other Christians, and in many ways He will seem to let others do things which He will not let you do.
The Holy Spirit will put a strict watch over you, with a jealous love, and will rebuke you for little words and feelings, or for wasting your time, which other believers don’t seem distressed over. He may not explain to you a thousand things which puzzle you regarding how He deals with you. But if you absolutely sell yourself to be His slave, He will wrap you up in a jealous love, and bestow upon you many blessings which come only to those who are close to His heart.
Settle it forever, then, that you are to deal directly with the Holy Spirit, and that He is to have the privilege of tying your tongue, or chaining your hand, or closing your eyes, in whatever ways He chooses.
And when you are so possessed with the living God that you are, in your secret heart, pleased and delighted over this peculiar, personal, private, jealous guardianship and management of the Holy Spirit over your life, you will have found the beauty and splendor of Heaven. (By G.D. Watson, paraphrased)
Slave -- ”someone who has surrendered all rights to another.” Interesting that Paul used that word to describe His relationship with Jesus. Perhaps it’s the only use of the word that’s holy.
Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. - Acts (of the Apostles) 16:25 (NLT)
Ten years before Paul wrote Philippians, he planted a church there. One of his first converts was a Philippian jailer. Remember the story? Paul and Silas had been arrested, beaten and thrown into prison. Amazingly, at midnight, they started to sing.
Midnight… that’s the most difficult time to sing, isn’t it? The pain often seems greater then. If you’ve ever sat up with a sick child all night, you understand. It seems like an eternity until dawn. Here are some things I’ve learned that help me sing songs in the night.
Tomorrow is coming. All the pain in the world can’t keep the sun from rising. Live a day at a time.
All problems have a certain beginning and end. There may be chaos in the middle, but eventually, we come through (Psalm 23:4). Generally, we must live awhile to understand that. I suppose that’s why everything’s a crisis to a teenager!
On the other side of the pain, I look back and say seven words: "God was there, and He was good." Sometimes I can’t say those words during the trial (just being honest), but afterwards, I know what I know… He loved me the whole trip.
When you've discovered He’s with you at midnight, your faith grows. This is one of the great blessings of suffering--trusting through the trials. Faith is cumulative. It builds on itself.
No one’s exempt from suffering. “Why me?” Hey, why not me? It’s a broken world. Jesus said, "In this world, you will have troubles." (John 16:33) Also,"The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike." (Matthew. 5:45)
Here’s the other thing I’ve learned: Adversity introduces us to ourselves. You don’t know who you are or what you’re capable of...until you suffer. Embrace it as best you can, tears and all. Along the way, you’ll learn something… how to sing at midnight.
Psalm 55:22 This verse has helped me through many trials. Look it up and pray it over your life today.Share Tweet
I thank my God every time I remember you. - Philippians 1:3 (NLT)
One of the endearing characteristics of Paul’s life is gratitude. Perhaps it’s also why he was so joyful. The two characteristics seem to be inseparable. Over the years I’ve been in some dark places--a forest at midnight, in a cave without a flashlight… next to the fresh grave of a loved one. But the darkest place I’ve been is in the land of ingratitude. I lived there for a long time. It stole my joy. Fortunately, I found a way out. Here are three steps I took:
I listened to myself talk. I discovered that I used many more “death” words than “life” words. If we could hear what others hear when we speak, we might be surprised… or ashamed… or both. I was.
An older woman came to see me once who was having difficulties with her adult children. After listening to an hour-long, bitter rant about how little her children respected her, I said, “Can I be honest? If so, I think I can solve your problem.”
“Certainly,” she said, “What is it?”
I said, “Mam, you need to change.” She left in a huff. I never saw her again. She was eaten up with ingratitude.
I confessed ingratitude as sin. Ingratitude is what kept the nation of Israel in the wilderness for forty years. Seven times in Exodus we read, "They grumbled." Each time God said, "Fine, run some more laps around the desert.” God can’t use someone mightily who has an ungrateful heart.
I explored new ways to be positive--encouragement, notes, cards, writing, listening, caring. Friend, you have the power to give God (and others) something that no one else in the world can give--the daily love and adoration of your own heart. Don't waste that.
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy. - Philippians 1:4 (NLT)
The longer I live the Christian life the more God teaches me that His ways are dramatically different from mine. For instance, He's been teaching me that real joy comes from …
experiencing God, not goals.
letting go, not hanging on.
loving Jesus more than the Church.
savoring contentment more than achievement.
listening more than teaching…
yielding, not controlling…
pleasing Him, not myself.
What's the source of your joy? It’s one of life's most important questions. May I spare you a lot of heartache? May I clue you in on a very important truth? Just wholeheartedly yield to God. Live a surrendered life. Make this your prayer:
“Lord, I will accept anything you have for me, listen to anything you want to tell me, do anything you ask me to do, and repent of all self-will, and yield entirely to your purposes for my life.”
Now, if you’ll pray that, and walk it out, He might call you to obscurity, but even in obscurity, you'll find joy. He may call you to pain… but even in pain you'll have a powerful testimony. He may call you to give away lots of money, but in generosity, you'll discover tremendous happiness. He might even love you so much that He calls you to a cross. He did that with Jesus, you know.
I love John Wesley’s wonderful prayer.
I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
Put me to doing, put me to suffering;
Let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you.
Exalted for you, or brought low for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty;
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
Friends, He always gives back much more than we give up. And people who truly know that… discover joy.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. - Philippians 1:9 (NLT)
Paul was perhaps the greatest church leader of all time. He brought Christianity to the western world. He wrote 13 of the 27 books in the New Testament. He clarified the core teachings of the Gospel (i.e., we’re saved by grace through faith in Jesus, not works. Ephesians 2:8-9)
Recently I was asked to share advice to a group of young men and women who were planning to become pastors. I had 33 suggestions, most of which are obvious in the life of Paul. Here’s a summary:
Glorify God in some way, every day.
Put people first.
Pray... a lot.
Do things with excellence.
Be loyal. Value team.
Live a balanced life. Love God, love people.
Keep things simple.
Pray daily for wisdom.
Set healthy boundaries.
Pray for God's vision, not yours.
Serve the poor. We’ll learn more from them than they'll learn from us.
Never forget, you’re not the only tool in God’s toolbox.
Never allow yourself to think you’re indispensable.
Walk with the Spirit daily.
See everything, overlook a lot, correct a little.
Don’t use words carelessly.
Don’t forget your identity--child of God.
Be you, not someone else.
Read widely, not just stuff you agree with.
Never be co-opted by politics.
Don’t forget, we deserve Hell. It’s all grace.
Admit you could be wrong about many things.
Don’t throw away your reputation by making foolish, impulsive choices.
Don’t spend too much time being worldly.
Don’t pull rank unless there are no other options.
Don’t be afraid of humiliation. It teaches humility.
Practice spiritual disciplines.
Forgive quickly. Don't keep score.
In essence, ministry is simply giving your life away, expecting nothing in return.