I don’t normally get personal with the discussion questions my teachers throw out at the class, but this week was a big exception. As I considered how to best apply Philippians 3:12-4:1 in daily living for a broad audience, I couldn’t escape the sense that I needed to see how it applied to me – right here, right now. Probably won’t get a very good grade on this one; it’s not “academic.” But I don’t care.
On a dusty, windswept battlefield, the medic utters horrific words: you’re sick. Something is wrong. It could be anything. Cancer. Chronic fatigue syndrome. Fibromyalgia. Miscarriage. Really, it’s doesn’t matter. The barrage comes. Your once-pristine armor is pock-marked and dulled in an instant.
What do you do?
“As the process unfolds, we are reminded of a simple truth: because we cannot get inside another person’s soul, we cannot possibly know the answer to another person’s problem.” ¹ In many ways, this is true. Perhaps nothing is more irritating for someone who is chronically or terminally ill than the attempts of friends and family to offer advice. They don’t know. How can they know?
There is one way in which the above statement is patently false, however. For there is an answer, and there is One who knows. “Jesus anguished…cheeks streaked with tears…face flooded in sweat…rivulets of blood dripping from His chin.” ² Jesus knows your inner turmoil, your doubt, your questioning, your exhaustion. Yet this same Jesus, who agonized in Gethsemane, “strained toward [was] ahead.” ³ Through all the pain, all the sorrow, all the temptation, He “forgot what [was] behind.” 4
He moved forward.
This is the principle to which Paul speaks in Philippians 3:12-4:1. Jesus Christ reached the apotheosis of His earthly ministry only by walking facing the darkness head on and walking through it. This is the model which Paul is calling believers to follow.
How can you press on when you can’t even move? How can you stand in the midst of crumbling? The answer is to fall apart. You cry out. You tell Him that you can’t. You scream at the injustice of it all. He is there in that valley with you, clinging to the dust and sobbing as you do. 5 Pour out all the bitterness, all the poison, for as long as it takes. It is only in the emptying that God Himself may fill you with the strength to “press on.” 6
You are more than a conqueror 7 – despite the mastectomy, the hysterectomy, the agonizing headaches, the hours lost to mind-dampening sleep.
Beloved warrior, you have done battle with the hosts of darkness. You are banged up, bruised, and sobbing.
Nail-scarred hands slip beneath your arms.
And you stand.