Life has never been easy. Life is life, so it’s screwed up because people are screwed up. You can’t trust people most of the time, since everyone is really only out for themselves. There’s no getting around the fact that stuff happens. It just does. So when everything goes wrong or when your best intentions turn around and kick you in the head, it’s easy to believe that there’s no purpose in it. And when there seems to be no purpose in life, that’s when I start getting unhappy.
If I don’t have a purpose and if the things that happen to me don’t have a purpose, what’s the point? If our lives and experiences don’t mean anything, then we really are nothing more than dust in the wind, like that old Kansas song.
But the Bible is pretty clear about why stuff happens. There’s a purpose to everything. God isn’t a god of chaos, and nothing surprises Him. So when stuff happens in our lives, it doesn’t shake Him, and it doesn’t make Him worry. It’s all part of His plan, and He can use it to accomplish something amazing.
Today’s verses are Philippians 1:12-14.
And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.
Philippians is one of Paul’s letters, and like most of Paul’s letters (which make up most of the New Testament) he wrote them from prison. I don’t know the actual numbers, but Paul spent a good deal of his life in prison after he started following Christ. But when you read the books that Paul wrote in prison, he isn’t upset and he isn’t discouraged and he isn’t unhappy. On the contrary, most of the time, he sounds pretty joyful about it.
Joyful. About being in prison.
And we’re not talking about prisons like today. Prisons today are like country clubs. Prisons back then? Cold, damp, dark. Full of rats. Prisoners chained to the walls. If they were fed, it was something disgusting. They were beaten. They were mistreated. There were no human rights back then.
It would have been miserable, but Paul takes the perspective that everything he has gone through has been for a purpose. And because of that perspective, the entire prison, even the palace guards (according to the Amplified Version, the palace guard was the Praetorium, for you history buffs) knew why he was there. So Paul used his misfortune to tell others about Christ, and the Christians in prison with him were encouraged.
Can you imagine what that was like? To be in such dire circumstances but still have joy like that?
On Saturday night, a strange man and his wife approached me in the parking lot of a local grocery store, claiming that they needed cash for gas. It’s a story I’ve heard over and over again in many other situations. They’re from out of town and can’t get ahold of family. Yada yada yada. In all those other instances, though, I wasn’t in a position to help, and the people asking were easier to say no to. I don’t carry cash, so I couldn’t give them any. And as much as I want to help people, I had no intention of driving them anywhere. But I didn’t feel like I could just tell them no. So I cut them a check for enough to purchase a gas can from the grocery store and put some gas in it at the station across the street (I already know some of you are freaking out at the moment; please calm down).
And as I was driving away, I started to realize how foolish that decision had been because in one fell swoop I had handed my address, my account number, my routing number and my signature over to two complete strangers. Looking back now, I should have taken them into the store, cashed a check myself, and given them the money. A couple of people I’ve talked to said I shouldn’t have helped them at all, and maybe they’re right. I don’t know. Yes, most likely these folks just wanted money for alcohol or drugs, but maybe they really did need help. Either way, what’s done is done.
It wasn’t an emotional decision. Yes, emotions came into play. But I chose to help those people because Christ helped people. And maybe they’ll take advantage of me, but my resources aren’t mine anyway. I want to be a good steward, and I’m still learning how to be wise. But even if everything in that account disappears, I’m going to trust that God will care of it. I’ve done what I can, and now I have to trust Him.
I’ve taken steps to protect that particular bank account, but here’s the deal: If the money in that account disappears, I’ll be upset, but I want to realize that stuff happens for a reason. Maybe the only reason is to teach me a lesson about learning to live with wisdom. Maybe those people really did need help. Maybe someone else can learn from what I did. But no matter what happens, bad or good, there’s a reason. There’s a purpose. And if God’s the one behind it, that purpose will be good. Whether I screwed up or not, whether I did the right thing or not, God can still use it to make something beautiful happen. And that makes me happy.
So whatever you’re facing today, whether it’s circumstances you don’t deserve or circumstances your actions have caused (like me), remember that stuff happens for a reason. And if God’s in it, that’s reason enough to rejoice because He can use it, and if He can use it, so can you.