It’s The Wednesday Writers!
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Today we hear from Lesley Crawford, my friend from across the Pond.
Choosing Our Focus In Challenging Times
Have you ever faced a time when, despite your best efforts, the outcome has been bad? When you’ve done everything right but, somehow, it’s all gone wrong? When others seem to be getting ahead or, even worse, taking advantage of your unfortunate circumstances, and life just feels unfair?
How do you respond in moments like these?
If you’re anything like me, then misery, anxiety, and doubt are probably not far away, but really, that’s not helpful. While it’s natural to be upset over suffering or injustice, it’s all too easy to give in to complaining and grumbling and constantly asking why, and for the result to be bitterness, hopelessness, and a sense of defeat.
That’s why I’m so challenged by the apostle Paul, who demonstrates a radically different response.
As he writes his letter to the Philippians, Paul is in prison- not because he has done anything wrong, but simply for preaching the Gospel. To make matters worse, Paul’s enemies are using the situation to their advantage and are preaching about Jesus with selfish ambition, intending to make Paul’s chains even more painful.
It would be understandable for Paul to be unhappy about all of this yet, amazingly, his response is not to complain, to give up, or to retaliate, but to rejoice!
How does he do it?
I think it comes down to one word, which God has drawn me to as my word for 2018: Focus.
While we may be unable to control our circumstances, we can choose our focus, and that can make all the difference.
Philippians 1:12-19 gives us valuable insights into Paul’s focus and there is a lot we can learn from his example:
Paul focuses on the Gospel. His main concern is not for himself. It is not his reputation, his comfort, or his safety that matter to him; it is whether people are hearing about Jesus. He rejoices because “everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News,” (v12 NLT) and continues, “the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice.” (v18 NLT)
Paul focuses on God’s sovereignty. He trusts that God can use his circumstances and that he can use others, even with their imperfections and bad motives. He sees God at work and he is content to trust in that, not fighting against his situation, but accepting that God is in charge. (v12)
Paul focuses on what God is doing. As he raises his eyes from his own situation, he sees God at work. The members of the palace guard know why he is in prison and he has had opportunities to tell them about Jesus (v13); many of the believers have gained confidence and are preaching boldly (v14); God is even using those preaching out of jealousy and rivalry to take the Gospel to more people (v18). Despite Paul’s suffering, God is not absent or inactive. He is working out his purpose.
We may not be in prison for preaching the Gospel, but I’m sure most of us can identify situations that are not as we want or as we feel they should be, times when others seem to be getting ahead by dishonest means, circumstances where we face suffering or even hostility for no good reason.
It’s easy to focus on the injustice and to question why God allows these things, but what if we could follow Paul’s example and choose a different focus? What if, rather than focusing on ourselves and our own desires, we could focus on the Gospel, on God’s sovereignty, and on where he is at work, even in our less-than-ideal circumstances?
It’s not easy, but I am convinced that with that change of focus the result would be greater joy and peace.
Of course, there are times when we need to stand up for ourselves and to fight for justice. I’m not suggesting that anyone remains in an abusive situation for example, but I’m proposing that it would change a lot in many situations if, instead of our focus being on ourselves, it was primarily on God and his glory.
Sometimes that will mean acting to change our circumstances, but at other times it will mean accepting hardship, suffering, and even injustice. It will mean putting aside our own desires and comfort, and fixing our eyes firmly on God, looking to see where he is at work and seeking, above all, that his name be glorified.
It’s a challenge, and I know I have a long way to go, but I hope this year to adjust my focus more in that direction and to develop more fully the attitude expressed in this song and prayer:
“Father, let me dedicate all this life to Thee,
In whatever worldly state Thou wilt have me be.
Not from sorrow, pain, or care freedom dare I claim.
This alone shall be my prayer: glorify Thy name.” (Matt Redman)
Lesley lives in Scotland and works for a Christian charity. In her spare time she enjoys music, theatre, reading, writing, and walking in beautiful places, enjoying God’s creation. She blogs at Life in the Spacious Place and writes to encourage people that, whatever their circumstances, there is always hope to be found in God. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.