“The things that you think are getting in the way of what your life should be are often the places where God is at work.”

Writing a sermon is an involved process that usually ends with cutting a bunch of stuff out. It's the preacher’s version of “killing your darlings.” Since people will glaze over halfway through a two hour sermon, the darlings must be killed—usually on Sunday morning, with little time to grieve.  

This last Sunday I had to leave a particularly poignant page of sermon notes on the cutting room floor.  Luckily, they asked me to write a blog today.  So I can resurrect my darling and, hopefully, bless you with it.  

The passage was Philippians 1:12-18, and in it we find Paul has lost every earthly thing that made him comfortable.  He is in jail, without access to most of his close friends, no longer able to pursue his passion (church planting) or control the smallest details of his day.  On top of it all, there are Christian preachers who are more than happy to see him in jail so they can get the spotlight, and they want Paul to know it.   

Paul’s life was dedicated to the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He had travelled far and wide planting churches, growing churches, bringing the gospel to new places for the first time. But now, he’s in chains. It would seem that Caesar had put a stop to Paul’s work spreading the gospel. 

And yet how does Paul sum up what has happened to him? “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel...” (Phil 1:12).    

You can chain Paul, but you can’t chain the gospel. God uses the strangest circumstances to spread the gospel in the strangest of places (like Caesar’s imperial guard, cf. v. 13).  

This is true across the Bible, and probably in your own life. Joseph is thrown in a pit by his brothers and left for dead. He is found by slave traders and eventually jailed for years, with no sign things would change. God uses it to save his chosen people from a famine. Jesus finally shows us what it means to love God fully and to love our neighbor as ourselves. His life gets cut short as he is hoisted onto a Roman cross with nails through his wrists. God uses it to open a door to forgiveness and adoption for all who believe.  

You went through a valley. Something painful, something that leaves a scar. And yet, in hindsight, you begin to see how God walked through it with you, how something “meant for evil, God meant for good” (Gen 5:20).  

And here is the upshot. Despite all this evidence, we still evaluate God’s activity in our lives based on our circumstances. There are parts of your day and your life where you have the implicit assumption that “God can’t work through this.”  Negative circumstances, from small inconveniences to large valleys, become spiritual black holes. We look at them, put them in the category of “God doesn’t use this sort of thing,” and move on. Unconsciously, we tell God he can use the nice parts of our life, but not these negative ones. 

Paul’s example is extreme, from Roman jail to vengeful preachers. But because it’s extreme, that means it covers everything else, from small to large. If God can move through Paul being in prison, then he can move through your job not being what you thought it would be.  Or your rent going up. Or you having four kids in your house that don’t stop talking, and keep hurting each other and laugh at you when you ask them to stop. The things that you think are getting in the way of what your life should be are often the places where God is at work. And that realization will reshape your attitude entirely.  

This realization gives hope to the darkest circumstances. It means your life can be a success in places that looked like dead ends. It means you can stop telling God what he can do, and start looking for what he is doing in all the different circumstances of your day.  

It means, echoing Paul, you can say, “What has happened to me will really serve to advance the gospel.”  And with that comes a lot of joy, and a lot of peace.  

Brian Colmery

Brian serves the church by overseeing preaching and Sunday morning services at Cornerstone.

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