Jesus Changes Everything

Do you ever struggle with despair? Boy, I do — and more often than I’d like to admit. Sometimes I’ve endured an entire season in which I’ve had to fight for hope.

A few months ago I got it in my heart to memorize Philippians 3:7-14. So every morning when I spend time with the Lord, I typically end it with prayer and declarations (from Scripture), which include this passage from Philippians.

It rolls fairly easily off of my tongue when I’m saying it these days, except for verse 10, which I’ve always struggled with since it’s a pretty sobering Scripture:

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death …”

I always take a moment to “count the cost” when reciting that part because what if like the Apostle Paul, I actually do share in the Lord’s suffering? Can I measure up to Paul?

Most biblical scholars believe that Paul was imprisoned in Rome when he wrote Philippians. Some historians claim that the prison in which the Apostle was held doubled as the city sewage system, meaning that there may have been times in which raw sewage stood in his cell.

We know for sure from historical accounts that the Romans did not treat their prisoners well or have much propensity toward “putting on the Ritz” for inmates, to say the least. Usually, if one was imprisoned it was a certain death sentence. Whether one died on a cross or from disease was of little consequence to the governing authority. Either way, it was ugly.

So besides all of the other biblical accounts of the trials that Paul went through for Jesus’ namesake, he had some pretty rough circumstances surrounding him when penning this book. The reason why that’s important is because two of the central themes of this treasured letter is the importance of focusing on things above and the resulting peace of God.

Paul understood the call on his life and that every hard thing that he walked out would only serve to advance the Good News to those who believe if he kept his focus on Christ:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (4:4-9)

Paul’s charge to us as believers has not changed over the years. The question remains the same: What are we focusing on? Our fears or Jesus?

Am I looking at the circumstances surrounding me or am I looking at the Author and Finisher of my faith, who, for the joy set before Him …. endured the Cross (Hebrews 12:2)? Jesus endured all sorts of pain, both physical and emotional during His walk on earth, but He always kept looking at the horizon for what was next for Him from the Father.

Can you imagine the loneliness He must have felt when His most trusted friends abandoned Him when things began to get real in the Garden of Gethsemane? The Apostle Paul understood this loneliness all too well during his lifetime, though he clearly considered this particular prison stay nothing compared to the suffering of Christ. Paul seemingly never despaired even in some of the most hideous circumstances imaginable because he never lost sight of Jesus.

When reading Philippians I, too, think of Christ’s suffering and how out of touch I am with the sacrifice made for my redemption. To my shame, sometimes I am too quick to use my natural eyes to see the problem and get into fear rather than my spiritual eyes to see Jesus. When I do that, I become worn out and weary and whatever hope I had in Him slowly gives way to despair (hopelessness), rather than experiencing the peace that Paul writes about.

If you are in a season of despair, here are a few thoughts for pulling yourself out of it so you can walk in peace:

1. Quit looking at the problem. Look only to Jesus.

2. Do this by reading His Word DAILY. Memorize it. Learn to love it. When the enemy catches you off guard with his lies, tell him God’s truth. (This is why it’s so important to memorize it!)

3. Start a Life Journal. If you’re not sure what this discipline is, please contact our church office (270-443-3110) and we’ll get you set up!

4. Seek the Lord’s Presence. I do this by quiet time early in the morning by myself, sitting before Him, focusing on Him. No TV. No music. No phone. No laptop. No kidding; it’s just me and Him.

5. Worship God in song and in praise and by being THANKFUL for the many things that are good in your life. There’s always something to be thankful for! If you’re really struggling in this area, start a gratitude journal and write down your blessings. Review them often.

6. Paul said, “in every situation, by prayer and petition …. bring your requests to God.” I do this by quiet “spontaneous” prayer all throughout the day and I also I have a rather lengthy prayer that I’ve written out that I read everyday to God.

7. Join yourself to a local church body as a family member, not a spectator on Sunday mornings. Become a part of a vibrant Church body that is going after God!

8. Observe a Sabbath day of rest WEEKLY.

9. If you’re coming off of a season of lengthy service in a church, REST! If you’re a pastor or a leader, seek God for what this looks like in your life.

10. If you’ve been hurt in church, I’m sorry. Unfortunately, the reality is: Who hasn’t? And who hasn’t been hurt by family members or friends, or coworkers or team members or the rude person at Walmart? It’s life. Pastors and fellow Christians and people in general aren’t our Savior; Jesus is. It’s our sin that make us ripe candidates for His rescue – and save us He does! Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, forgive whoever hurt you because if you remain embittered, the only one you hurt is you, and then try again, dear one.

So that’s it! This is pretty much what I do when life gets overwhelming. And guess what? The despair that I felt when I began this post? It’s lifted …. a lot. I might even be feeling a little bit of peace bubbling up! Jesus changes everything.

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