Summary: Paul says to dwell on those things that are excellent and worthy of praise. These encouraging words will help us all through any circumstance, any trial or any hardship, as we remember that “all things work together for good to those who love God.”
How soon we forget, or how soon we don’t forget. I have cherished memories from long ago that I will never, ever forget.
Way back in 1975 I learned a valuable lesson about time, and I learned how many hours are in a week. I also learned about the power of prayer and leaning on God to endure. As a naive and much too enthusiastic youth director for a small Congregational church in Glendale, I gathered the junior and senior young people together to pray. We prayed that God would provide a unique way to raise money to build a beautiful prayer garden by a creek that ran alongside the church. We would need to raise $3,000 to complete this project. At first we thought we would have a walk-a-thon where families could sponsor fellow “walkers” per mile. Too overdone, not nearly unique enough, and the idea seemed rather unexciting. And then God put something on my heart. That’s it! That’s what we’ll do! We’ll play ping-pong 24 hours a day for a week! Families could sponsor “ping-pongers” by the hour. A ping-pong marathon!
We devised a plan to have two to four people playing at a time, each group playing for one hour, and then changing places with another group. The ball could never stop ‘round the clock’, night or day. We would start at 10:00 AM after the church service on Sunday, and end at the same time the following Sunday. Total hours…..168. The first hour was great. The second hour was also fun, kind of. The first night was long, and the next day was even longer. Church families brought in meals, and adults volunteered shifts to stay with us throughout the week. By Tuesday many of the kids were not speaking to one another. Wednesday, some of the families were looking for a new church in the area. All the ping-pongers were grumbling, murmuring and complaining. I felt like Moses with the Israelites in the wilderness! Thursday the newspapers and local TV came out and we came together beautifully, only for the hour the reporters were present. Friday, I was convinced that God was telling me to leave ministry altogether. Friday night I learned what lack of sleep does to a group of young people. All the girls were in tears, and the boys were crying even harder! All of the boys and girls had fallen in and out of love with each other throughout the week, and now they were just plain exhausted, but we kept the ping-pong ball going.
Saturday, every now and then we managed to smile a little, and then, only by the grace of God, by Saturday night all of the kids were the absolute best of friends. Families decided not to leave the church. Everybody wanted to play ping-pong at the same time. There was joy and happiness in the air. We were so close to achieving our goal we could clearly imagine what it would feel like, we could smell victory! God clarified that he wanted me to stay in ministry, just not around a ping-pong table. We finished Sunday morning giving God the praises for holding us together by a thread. We were blessed to raise more than enough money to complete the project, and each participant, each family, and that little church in Glendale will never forget such a unique experience. And I learned first-hand how many valuable hours are in a week, because I lived through and survived each and every one! But as we endured, all of us found joy. Joy of being together, joy of setting and achieving a goal, and the joy found only through Jesus Christ.
Enduring persecution is one thing. Enduring a ping-pong marathon is another. Throughout the entire week, Christ was at the center of our activities. Even through the rough spots, we would pray that God would help us, would give us strength, would give us comfort and give us peace.
Pau’s letter to the Philippian church speaks to us all today. Philippians is one of 4 letters Paul wrote while he was in prison. The prison epistles include, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. Philippians was written during Paul’s first imprisonment, somewhere between 60 and 62 AD, only 30 years following the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet in this thirty year time span, many believers had followed false teachers and fell into legalistic practices. While Paul addressed this in this letter and others, his main purpose for writing to the church in Philippi was to thank them for their support, inform them of his circumstances in Rome, and to exhort them to unity. Paul also knew the necessity of encouragement. Paul writes; “I know the importance of forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)