Philippians 1:12-13, 19-30: Suffering, Never Fun, but…

From many a pulpit, a twisted narrative too often resounds. Such preachers clamor to offer people the promise of easy success. How? By peddling God as someone who always rewards faith with material wealth and physical well-being. Can He do this? Yes. Does He pledge to do so? No.

Let’s debunk those common fallacies. Struggles, illness, and hardships aren’t signs of divine punishment or disfavor. The misery you might endure in service to the Gospel isn’t God punishing you for your sins. Now, this doesn’t mean you may not suffer from a foolish deed you did. Say you lost your temper and beat up your neighbor, which landed you in jail. This distress is your own doing, but our focus today is not on our self-inflicted scars or folly.

Contemplate something else. Picture Jesus on the cross. The blood dripping from His wounds forms a crimson trail as harsh laughter and scorn fill the air. Is this not the image where God best unveiled Himself to us? So, obstacles littering our Lord’s pathway as we follow Him aren’t strange, such as suffering or persecution.

Brace yourself, for you can become a target of public scorn or harassment from family members. The barbs and jeers might come. Friendships may falter if a falling out happens because of your beliefs. These offer a glimpse of what it means to walk with Christ. Our hurts cut deep, yet they still serve a purpose. How so?

First, God takes what comes to us in this fallen world as a tool to help shape us. In His hands, He teaches us virtues such as patience, perseverance, and humility. Our sufferings force us to confront our limits and compel us to lean on God.

Second, when shadows fall, remember: God is near, not far away. Christ’s enduring love shines through, though you are wallowing in your most hopeless moment. The cross is a testament to His unwavering commitment to us. So, hold tight to Christ, your refuge during the storm.

Third, life’s thorny paths and jagged tracks give us a place to mirror God’s love. How we react when caught in its grip, with courage, hope, and compassion, reflects the qualities of Christ in the world. The comfort and strength we find in God can kindle a flame of belief in others, drawing them to the warmth of Christ’s embrace.

The Roman authorities arrested Paul for preaching the Gospel. Did this silence him? No. In prison, he wrote to the Philippians—and the Ephesians, Colossians, and to Philemon. Oh, and he did more, bringing Christ to the imperial guard and others while in captivity. This imprisonment bore fruit and encouraged other believers to take a stand and speak unfettered.

So, how does God use us to bear witness when we or somebody else suffers? Well, we can embody Christ’s caring and love by showing patience and trusting in His promises. Why, when others are struggling, this allows us to step forward and lend them a helping hand. How? By serving as God’s hands and feet. Through sharing His Word, praying with and for them, and extending acts of kindness, bringing them heaven’s blessings.

Is this not our belief in action? Yes. Our sorrows can drive us to rely more on God’s grace, to discover a deeper communion, and to strengthen our confidence in Him.

Sorrow and longing are part of our human journey, but don’t think they are meaningless. No, they become tools in the hands of the almighty Artisan. God takes our brokenness and molds us, drawing us closer to Him. Our pain may create a hunger for His grace, leading us to realize our painful need for His loving mercy. Why, God can take our tears, when connected to His Word, to water the seeds of faith.

Today’s epistle teaches us how hard times often lead us to pray and help foster our trust in Christ (Philippians 1:19). A real-world example is Jessica Buchanan, who served as an education advisor in Somalia. In 2011, her life took a tragic turn. Somali pirates kidnapped her and plunged her into a realm of uncertainty and fear. Stripped her of liberty, God became her beacon of hope in the darkness.

Captive and alone, Buchanan clung to Jesus. Childhood prayers, once uttered with little thought, grew into a heartfelt plea for mercy. The timeless and familiar rhythms of those petitions steeled her resolve in those trying hours. The power of those words came to her as she endured those traumas.

So what happened? After 93 days, Jessica’s chronicle shifts and pivots. Night descended, and our Navy SEALs swooped in to rescue her. By turning adversity into advocacy, she took an ordeal, which tested her convictions and now shares her experiences with others. Today, you may still find her as she lends her voice to tell her story and support the men and women in our military.

Consider the liturgy. Each Sunday, a spiritual dialogue unfolds, punctuated by our responses, as its phrases echo in our hearts with life-breathing words. Hearken to the Kyrie: “Lord, have mercy.” This recognizes God’s constancy in our lives—if not, why say those words? More than this, they declare our yearning for divine empathy and pardon.

So, in times of turmoil, those responses compose a clarion call. Back to the shores of our Lord’s boundless love, they beckon us. Regardless of what life hurls at us, God is always within reach, a constant reminder of His continuing care.

The Nicene Creed is, likewise, a shining star in stormy skies, uplifting our spirits. This confession affirms something much better than our flawed reality. Are grief and hardship stern masters to us? Yes, but they meet their match in God’s resurrection promise and the new heaven and earth to come. Our eternity isn’t only devoid of discomfort but bustles with complete and abundant life. Is this not comforting during our darkest hours?

Deem your sufferings as God’s invitation for you to pray. Heed the words of Isaiah for strength and guidance.

Seek the Lord before it’s too late; call on him while he is nearby. The wicked man should forsake his ways and the sinner his schemes. Let him return to the Lord so God may be merciful to him, and to our God because he is generous with forgiveness. “My thoughts are not yours, nor are your ways, my ways,” pronounces the Lord. “As the heavens are above the earth, so are my ways higher than yours, as are my thoughts…” (55:6-9).

Sometimes, we sense the cloak of melancholy enshrouding us. The sun retreats, and evil silhouettes stretch their fingers across the land. At those times, God invites us to turn and call on Him. Ever-present, our Savior is with us, ready to forgive and eager to guide us, standing by us through every trial.

Don’t forget: God’s thinking and doings far surpass us. Amid the upheaval, we may think ourselves lost in despair. In those precise moments, God is transforming our travails into heavenly triumphs, what is best for us evermore. Clasp this truth and be ready for God. Ask for His wisdom in such desperate times.

The Holy Spirit stirs inside our souls, speaking the prayers we crave. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For when we don’t know what we should pray, he himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). Ponder the thoughts from a hymn we sometimes sing. “Eternal Spirit of the living Christ, I know not how to ask or what to say… and only You can teach me how to pray. Come, pray in me the prayer I need this day.”

In the throes of anguish, we learn to rely on our Lord (Philippians 1:21-26). Our Lord’s journey mirrors ours—with trials, a few of which we can fathom and others we cannot. Gaze upon Jesus, despised and rejected, shamed and scorned, abandoned by those He held dear. Our Savior bore undeserved shame and disgrace, captured and confined, brutalized and slain. God’s wrath and the torments of hell—these He endured to spare us from such horrors.

Of course, we can confuse our identities between Christ and this world. This mix-up causes a false comfort to arise. Now, the delights of worldly pleasure lure us away from those discomforts linked to our devotion to God. No different from the fallen creation around us, we swap the joys of heaven’s citizenship for the fleeting satisfactions of earth (Philippians 1:23b).

In times of distress, recall Jesus’ sacrifice—and His defeat of death! Psalm 27 proclaims, “The Lord is my stronghold, of whom shall I be afraid?” Cherish those words. Let them envelop your heart. Remember: Despite the losses we confront, Christ assures us of a far superior reward: our resurrection.

No more will darkness, depravity, and degradation hold sway, trapped in a dying world. Vigor and vitality will replace the frailty and sickness haunting you, and you will radiate with breathtaking brightness. Not a dream, but a reality. The Spirit will breathe His breath into your risen body. At last, you are the person God created you to be before sin’s corruption.

Worldly success does not mark the milestones of our Christian walk. Our path may lead us through rugged and thorny terrain as we serve the Gospel. Don’t forget the gift hidden within them. God is still our steadfast foundation and refuge, granting us solace from birth to our last breath and beyond, into the glories of eternity. Amen.

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