What do you desire most? A new car? A million dollars? That’s usually where our minds go when asked that question- possessions and money. I’m as guilty as the next. Had someone asked me that this morning I would have probably said without hesitation a million bucks. Then I would have gone on to tell them what all I would buy with that million. A new car, some new shoes probably, a personal chef, and I’d save some of course. But when I turned Granny’s old beat up Bible to Philippians 3, I learned what my answer should be.
Paul says in verses 8 and 9, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him”. When you desire something bad enough, you are willing to give up all things to have it. Paul was willing to give up all he had- his money, his possessions, his prestige, his position, his friends, his health, everything- and count it as garbage because he desired more than all else to know Christ and be one with Him. The things that often pop into our heads when we think of what we desire, he said were as good as dung to him. Instead, he spoke of the “excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus”. He wanted to know Christ above all else- to know how He works, how He thinks, how He loves- because Paul understood how immensely valuable and excellent a personal relationship with Our Father is.
After reading this passage, my desires were put into perspective. I desire to have a healthy, loving marriage and family. I desire to have a fulfilling, enjoyable occupation. I desire to have a life free of debt and money struggles. I desire to have nice clothes and a nice car. I desire to remain in good health. And sure, a million bucks couldn’t hurt. But above all these, I desire to know my Lord more and more with each new day. To know His wisdom and how He works in the lives of His children. To know how He would respond to the different situations and circumstances that life will bring. To know how He loves unconditionally. To know His power and His glory. To know His promises. To know Christ Jesus personally, intimately, and eternally is my greatest desire. So I ask you the opening question again, what do you desire most?
I can remember running the Charleston Bridge Run on a miserable, slightly chilly, early morning. I don’t love running so why I signed up for the second time beats me. It was only 6.2 miles, but it seemed endless. To tell you the truth the only thing that kept me going was the reminder that free Krispy Kreme doughnuts were waiting on me at the finish line.
Sometimes life can feel like an endless, miserable race. Maybe you made a bad decision and got yourself into a miserable circumstance (like me signing myself up for misery) or maybe you had no control over it. Regardless, life seems to be wearing down on you, and the finish line seems to just keep getting further and further away no matter how fast you run. It’s tempting to give up. However, when we are tempted to throw in our towels, we need to remind ourselves of the free Krispy Kreme doughnuts at the finish line- that is God’s promise of eternal life.
Turn to Hebrews 10: 35-39 and read this passage. Pay special attention to verse 36. Here we are told that we have need of endurance and then it goes on to explain why. So why? Why do we need to endure life’s difficulties? Why can’t we just throw in the towel? Because God called us to persevere through this life in order to enter into His Heavenly Gates when His Will for us on earth is finished. This passage tells us not to lose confidence in Christ and don’t shrink back when life is pressing in on you. Rather persevere with the hope of God’s promise of eternal life with Him constantly on our hearts and minds.
Giving up isn’t an option. When you feel like you can’t go anymore, reroute your thinking and remember that this world is not what you live for; it is not your home. God will carry you the rest of the way. Persevere through life’s challenges. Hope in the promises of God. Run the race that God willed for you and know that when you cross that finish line, you will be triumphant.
Life can take unexpected turns or expected turns that still throw your world in confusion and leave you feeling lost. No matter how prepared we are, we still find ourselves not ready to handle what comes our way. In times like these, it’s hard to convince ourselves of the truth found in God’s Word. But as I think about circumstances that tempt me to question God’s plan, I turn to Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose”. It’s not some things. It’s not most things. It’s all things.
We all face circumstances or watch others face circumstances that make us wonder how they could possibly be a part of God’s plan. But thank the Lord for His divine vision that sees way beyond our finite minds can fathom. Sometimes the reason we don’t see the good in bad circumstances is because we aren’t really looking. We are so caught up in the tragedy that we neglect the deeper purpose for experiencing it. We focus on pain and heartaches rather than searching for God’s purpose in it all. When we do this, we so often miss the wonderful opportunity to grow.
Take a look at Paul’s life. This man was hit left and right with bad circumstances. From jail to a “thorn in his flesh”, it seems he never got a break from his troubles. But Paul never focused on these troubles did he? Instead, he turned them around and proved to us that God does indeed work all things together for the good of those who love Him. He didn’t gripe and complain and sulk about being in jail, but he used that time to grow closer to God. While in jail, he saw the opportunity to write words from God of encouragement and truth that people continue to read to strengthen their spirits. We were never told what this “thorn in his flesh” was, but we were given such beautiful words of how he overcame it. Once again he used his pain to strengthen his walk in Christ Jesus. He responded to this “thorn in his flesh” by letting God’s power be revealed all the more through his weakness.
We all have our own thorns in our flesh. Some of us have our own forms of prison. The question is how will you respond? Will you let the expected and unexpected troubles of this world, from death to loss of a job to sickness, occupy your thoughts and draw you away from the Lord? Or will you look beyond the scope of human reasoning and trust that God has a greater plan for your pain? Will you allow your suffering to draw you closer to God? Will you allow God to reveal His power through your weakness?
It’s all up to us. We choose how we respond to circumstances. Don’t miss the opportunity for growth by choosing to focus on your situation. I challenge you to seek God’s wisdom and understanding in His Word and most importantly through prayer. Ask Him to reveal His greater purpose for your suffering and look for ways that you can use it for His glory. Again, God’s knowledge goes well beyond ours and He doesn’t allow suffering without a purpose. Seek that purpose. Look beyond yourself and maybe you will find the opportunity to help someone going through a similar situation. Maybe you will experience His presence like never before. Growth is a precious thing, don’t miss it.
Have you ever been around people who are just full of hopelessness and negativity? They constantly choose to see the bad in circumstances and dwell upon it. Notice I used choose there because we decide how we respond to unfortunate circumstances. We can choose to sulk and despair over the bad things in life or we can choose to trust that God is in control. Easier said than done, trust me I know. I’ve chosen both ways before and I can say without a doubt choosing to trust in God is a much better route.
In times when hopelessness tempts me and despair knocks at my door, I like to turn to Paul’s teachings. Paul is so honest in his writing and I love that about his books. He doesn’t sugar-coat his thoughts but he tells the truth, even if its not what people want to hear. He understood his own weakness and that he could only overcome the world by the power of God within him. He understood that life was hard and it wasn’t going to get any easier just because he accepted Christ as his savior. That’s a big misunderstanding Christians have. We think that being a Christian exempts us from bad circumstances, but this is an inaccurate assumption. If we never experience any bad times then we will never have the great opportunities to grow in Christ that bad circumstances so often bring. Take a look with me at 2 Corinthians 4: 7-10. What does Paul say? Pay special attention to verses 8 and 9.
In verse 7, Paul starts by reminding us of what we have on the inside of us, which would be God’s power. Not man’s power, but God’s all-consuming, ever-abundant power that has no bounds. Then he goes on in verses 8 and 9 to tell us that we may find ourselves in circumstances that tempt us to feel beaten down to the ground, worthless, hopeless, like there is no way out. But, he reminds us that we will never be overcome. We will never be overcome by life’s circumstances with the power of God working on the inside of us. Nothing on this earth or in the spiritual realm is capable of trumping God’s power. Paul says in these verses, “we are troubled on every side, yet not distressed”. How is that so? Because our faith is in the Lord and His power to make all things work for the good of those who love Him. Though our enemies may surround us and we may see no way out, we can stand firm and trust that God will see us through. We can rely on the peace that Jesus Christ offers to keep us from becoming distressed and hopeless.
At the top of Granny’s Bible on the page where I’m reading from today it says, “Paul’s assured hope of immortal glory”. I find ample encouragement in the phrase hope of immortal glory and in the final verse of the text I asked you to read with me, verse 10. It says, “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” That’s what this life is all about. Living out Jesus’s life through our mortal bodies, proving to the world that His death on the cross changed our lives forever. Letting God manifest His power through our weakness. Standing firm in our faith through all life’s trials because our hope is not found in these mortal bodies but in the eternal glory we will experience after physical death, the hope of immortal glory.