Pondering Philippians 1:6, part 1

As young people—in our teens and even twenties—possibilities often seem endless. I remember thinking I could be a doctor like my dad and help lots of people with their health issues—maybe on the mission field. I could write the next great children’s novel—and be like Madeleine L’Engle. I could open an orphanage. I could…

Now life feels more limited–and a lot more complex. I understand that opening one door means closing another. I see so many needs and often feel helpless to assist. I know children are starving around the globe and I look at my comfortable lifestyle and wonder what biblical living means for those of us who stay in the suburbs. I struggle with the differences between needs and wants. I wonder if all the “little” things I do each day are really making a difference. Is THIS what I’m supposed to be doing? I sometimes wonder.

The Christian life no longer seems like endless possibilities; it seems wrapped up in—perhaps even restricted by—“small” choices within everyday life.

But in the midst of my questions, my wondering, I’m learning to cling to the promise of Philippians 1:6—“…being confident of this, that He who began a good work in (me) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

And lately God has given me the privilege of seeing that verse “fleshed out” in the lives of some older believers.

Because of the writing assignments I do for Wheaton Academy, I often get to interview believers much older than myself. They tell me their stories and about what has happened with them since they left Wheaton Academy. In their 70s and 80s, they don’t focus on the “small stuff” that unfortunately controls much of my early-40s, mom-to-6-kids, suburban life. But I know they DID experience these things; I’m not always talking to people who lived their entire lives on the mission field. Like me, most of the people I interview have children. They, too, bought homes and “settled” and lived in American culture. They, too, worked and had to bring home a paycheck to feed and clothe and pay sports fees and activity fees and for the cleats and shinguards and guitars to take to the sports and activities.

But they have something I don’t, a vantage point that I usually lack. They have a long view. One of them recently said this to me: I look back on all my career, all the jobs and changes and successes, and on our family life, and I see God purposefully preparing me and my circumstances for what I am doing now, in my golden years.

This bird was hanging out in a tree in our backyard a week or so ago. Hawk? Falcon? Anybody know? Whatever it was, it was big and fun to watch.

This bird was hanging out in a tree in our backyard a week or so ago. Hawk? Falcon? Anybody know? Whatever it was, it was big and fun to watch.

This man didn’t orchestrate things; he just did what came next—which is what I feel like I do most days, wondering if it’s what I’m supposed to be doing, wondering if it’s of any eternal purpose. This man didn’t have the long view IN the moment, in the journey. He just put one step in front of another and NOW he can look back and catch a glimpse of the pattern. He sees how all the “little” was part of the BIG, and that helps him to trust that there is an even bigger, even deeper pattern beyond and beneath what he is able to see right now.

And his long view helps ME to be “convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in (me) will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in (me.)” Phil. 1:6 Amplified version.

Pessimistic praying

I grew up spiritually fatalistic, in a family and in churches that firmly believed we were in the end times, and things were only going to get worse in our world until Christ’s return.

I still believe that Scripture bears witness to this, but lately the Holy Spirit has been convicting me about the pessimism that I’ve carried along with this belief. It is true that as a world, we are marching steadily further and further away from God, but I can’t find any place in Scripture that tells me to give up hope for God’s work in the middle of this.

I’ve begun to see that my “pessimism” has led me to pray limited prayers. I haven’t really prayed for great revival—in our nation or our world. I don’t remember ever asking for a widespread heart transformation of our political leaders—at least not with any real passion.

And this pessimism hasn’t just affected my “big” prayers. When I pray for someone seriously sick or injured in an accident, I hold back from boldly asking for healing. Instead I say, “if it be Your will, Lord” or I ask Him to “work things out for good.” Even when the longing in my heart is so great it throbs, I often hold back from praying in hope.

I think I began praying those words because Jesus prayed for the Father’s will to be done. It seemed right to follow His example, and I still think that is a valid way to pray. But I’ve been realizing that, though my WORDS may be the same as Christ’s, my attitude is entirely different. When I pray those words, they come out of doubt and not hope. When I pray them, I’m tamping down hope. I’m subconsciously thinking, “Well, if I don’t let my hopes get too high, then it won’t hurt when God doesn’t answer this prayer the way I want Him to.” This attitude seems pretty contrary to Scripture. In the Lord’s Prayer, the phrase “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is incredibly hopeful! It’s asking for earth to be more like heaven, where a loving God—rather than a cruel Satan—reigns. When Christ prayed “Your will be done,” He did so KNOWING that His Father’s will was and is completely good. He KNEW that on the other side of suffering was unspeakable joy for him. I imagine there was great freedom when He cried that. I imagine He was thinking, I WILL triumph over the pain and loneliness. I WILL cling to the joy that is ahead.

I don’t pray for the Lord’s will in that way. My sight is incredibly limited, so there is no triumph, there is no ability to see what is on the other side. So when I pretend with my words to be able to do that, am I lying? What’s more important: the words that come out of my mouth or the stifled hope that is in my heart? If I think my words are going to hide a very different heart attitude from an all-knowing God, then I’m mistaken.

How silly to try to hide my longings from God. How silly to pretend to have the same wisdom and knowledge as Jesus. I am human, not divine. I can follow Paul’s very human example when he cried out for his “thorn in the flesh” to be removed. Again and again he “begged” for this. He didn’t try to pretend that it was okay. He didn’t try to be “spiritual” from the beginning. He didn’t act like he had God’s purpose in that thorn all figured out. No. He cried out. He let God know how he felt. He “begged”! His words honestly portrayed what was in his heart. THEN God began teaching him that “(His) grace is enough.” Paul, being human, didn’t start with that. He shared what was in his heart and then let God transform him.

Lately, God has given our family a rare rest time: No one is sick; all six kids are doing well at school and with each other; Dave’s enjoying his work; I’m not so incredibly busy that I’m barely clinging to sanity.

This is good, yes, but it’s also dangerous because it’s during these kinds of times that my prayer life often suffers. I don’t actively depend on God in rest times the ways I do when things are hard. I don’t pray with the same intensity. But God’s been reminding me that things are hard in others’ lives and—on a bigger scope—in the world and in the church. I can use this space of personal rest to pray with passion—and with HOPE!—for others.

I know that authentic prayer for others hurts. When I pray specifically for the persecuted church, my heart will have to stretch to care more about those brothers and sisters. When I pray for women and girls and boys who are being abused through sex trafficking, my sleep will at times be interrupted with urgings to pray in the middle of the night. When I pray for this nation’s political leaders, I will have to pay greater attention to what is going on in the government. When I pray for the members of our church, I will have to invest more of my time in their lives.

But HOPE requires that I pray. And faith requires that I pray in HOPE.

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!

Amen.” Galatians 3:14-21

I took this shot in Montana this summer and am posting it today because I find a lot of amazing lessons in the metamorphosis of butterflies and in their fragile, short lives following their transformation. I see them as very hopeful creatures.