Summary: Can we look at this or that circumstance in our lives and say, “As bad as my situation is, I can see a way to press it into the service of the gospel. I can bear witness to Christ even in the midst of this”?
Patsy Bonner shared with our Friday Bible study group a spoof news story that had been sent to her recently. The dateline is ostensibly Dallas, and the brief that follows says:
Dallas Cowboys football practice was delayed nearly two hours today after a player reported finding an unknown white powdery substance on the practice field. Head coach Jason Garrett immediately suspended practice and called…police and federal investigators. After a complete analysis, FBI forensics experts determined that the white substance unknown to players was the goal line. Practice resumed after special agents decided the team was unlikely to encounter the substance again this season.
Everybody is wondering, I guess, why it is the Cowboys can’t seem to score this year. But, before we judge the Pokes too harshly, maybe we need to ask ourselves: Do we know where our goal line is, or even what it is? And, even more importantly, do we know what God’s goal for us is?
If we don’t, it’s not because the Scriptures are unclear about it. Take Paul here in Philippians. He was in prison in Rome, and he wasn’t there because he had committed some terrible crime. He was in jail for preaching the gospel. Now, I’ve got to tell you, I have been ordained for forty-two years, and I have yet to be put behind bars for my preaching. Some of you are thinking that may be an oversight on the part of the justice system! Maybe I’m long overdue!
But what if it were to happen? Would I look at it the way Paul did? Would I see it not as a setback but, rather, as an opportunity? Probably not! Paul says in one of his letters that he was subject to “countless floggings” and was “often near death” just for being a minister of Christ. Here’s what he writes in 2 Corinthians, chapter 11: “Five times,” he says, “I have received…the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked” (vv. 23ff.).
Why did all these terrible things happen to Paul? Why did all these perils beset him? Was he just unlucky? Was it that he always seemed to be at the wrong place at the wrong time? Was it that he was one of those people that trouble just seems to find? No. It was something entirely different. All this happened to Paul because he knew what his goal was. It was to do everything in his power, no matter what the risk, no matter how difficult the challenges, no matter how high the cost – it was his goal to do whatever it might take to accomplish one thing. And that one thing was to advance the gospel. As we saw earlier, that’s the very reason that he was in jail. And he wasn’t going to let a little thing like being in prison keep him from doing what he knew he was there to do. He would just change his strategy.