"I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:3-6
Paul wrote what are now referred to as The Prison Epistles, during his imprisonment in Rome. They include Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. The first chapter of Philippians flows from personal greetings, to genuine thanksgiving, and into intercessory prayer. They reveal much about the man, his mission, and his Master.
Joy saturates Paul's letter to the Church at Philippi. Sixteen times Paul makes reference to some form of joy or rejoicing. It is easy to forget that he was an imprisoned man, facing criminal charges, and the real possibility of death at the hands of the Roman authorities.
Verses three through six of the first chapter are some of the first verses I committed to memory, while a student at Baylor University. Separated from my family, and friends in New York, by 1,200 miles I could identify with Paul's emotion, as he recalled those he loved.
In the middle of any crisis, the attitude adjustment is the most important adjustment to be made. Paul initiates his remarks by expressing the attitude of gratitude. He may have been walked upon by his Jewish brethren, and pushed around by Roman authorities, but he refused to see himself as a door mat. His letter to the Church at Philippi is more like a Welcome Mat to the joy of the Christian life.
The older I get, the longer it takes for me to get up, when I fall down. Consequently, if I drop something on the floor, I don't immediately pick it up. I make a swift evaluation, and determine if the trip down to my knees to pick it up is worth the effort. If I fall, I look around, before I get up, to see if there is anything else I need to pick up while I am down on the floor. Never let a crisis go to waste. Can I get a witness?
Watching a child make their way through the day is very revealing, and exhausting. If they get knocked down, they bounce right back up. If a grown man fell as many times during the day, as a two year old, he would end the day in ICU. But I digress.
The challenge for the believer is to remain Christ-centered and child-like, and to avoid becoming self-centered and childish. When Paul faced a crisis beyond his control, rather than choosing resentment over the inconvenience, he chose joy.
The attitude of gratitude is a learned behavior. Little children are not born grateful. They must be taught to say thank you. When they come into the world, it all revolves around them. This stops being cute, at a very early age.
When our first child came into our lives, Dana and I were never thanked for the loss of sleep, or any inconvenience that was forced upon us for changing a diaper, providing a meal, or covering our child with clothing. It is breath-taking how ungrateful a newborn can be. It becomes life-draining by the time a child is a teenager.
As our child grew older, we insisted she learn to say, "Thank you!" She resisted. There is something very childish about being ungrateful, and something very child-like about becoming grateful for what one receives. Guess which one is more Christ-like.
"Please" and "Thank You" are not magic words, but they need to become mastered words, by those who claim the be children of God. Paul learned to thank God, regardless of the crisis, the inconvenience, or the chains. He made no claim to being the master of disaster, but he refused to be the victim of it.
Joy is also a learned behavior. Yes, it is the fruit of The Spirit, but Christians who are squeezed by a crisis don't always spew out what is on the label. Squeeze a lemon, you get lemon juice. Squeeze a Christian, and you don't always get what is on the T-shirt.
"It is easy to act like an angel, as long as no one ruffles your feathers." Author Unknown
Joy is that over-riding sense of calm, and confidence in the middle of a crisis, based upon the seasoned conviction that The Father is reigning, The Son is interceding, and The Spirit is intervening to bring God's best out of what appears to be the enemy's worst. Joy is a matured perspective on life that is gained by praying one's way through a crisis, rather than talking one's way out of it. Talking prolongs the pain of the crisis. Praying releases joy in the crisis.
Paul was chained to a Roman guard for two years. There must have been a point in time when Paul looked at his chains, as a connection to God, rather than a separation from Him. The day Paul looked at his Roman guard as an inspiration from God, not an irritation from man is the day joy was released into his soul.
The result of Paul's attitude adjustment, transformed the crisis of being chained to a Roman soldier for two years, from an irritation to an illustration. What Paul was inspired to write about The Armor of God in Ephesians has inspired believers for over 2,000 years.
Prayer is the most essential quality of the Spirit-filled life and the world class weapon in the the arsenal of any believer engaged in spiritual warfare. Paul not only thanked God for his friends, he prayed for them. There is no greater joy in life than seeing friends finish the race well. There is no greater heart-ache in life than seeing dear friends fall along the way, detoured by the crises of life.
Note to self: The next time you fall down, don't take it personally. Pray for someone else while you're down there, and then help them up. Never waste a crisis. When you fall, stay on your knees long enough to thank God that He is already on the scene, putting the broken pieces together. TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!