Why hasn’t God shown up? The Philippian Church needs Paul to answer this question. They want to know why God has not chosen to intervene in Paul’s circumstances. And if you are anything like me, you’ve got some circumstances in which you’re also wondering if and when God is going to show up!
That One Time
Chains breaking. An earthquake. Last time Paul sat in a prison cell, God dramatically delivered him in response to the Philippians’s prayers. Now, several years later, Paul rots away in a prison cell and God is silent. Why hasn’t He shown up?
Paul’s letter to the Philippians answers their question. He begins by praying that their love will abound more and more “in knowledge and depth of insight”. He ends by saying, “I’ve learned a secret”. And in between Paul brings this beginning and end together in a beautiful way.
The Philippian church loved Paul. Time and again they supported him financially. They sent messengers to provide for his needs and receive news of his well-being. Because they loved Paul dearly, they hated seeing him suffer in prison. They want him set free. Paul wants their love for him to expand in knowledge and depth of insight.
He explains that his imprisonment has actually advanced the gospel in ways that his deliverance could not have accomplished. While it appears that God has not shown up, He is actually incredibly active in Paul’s situation- it’s just harder to recognize. They needed a greater depth of insight to see God’s work here.
The Situation and the Silence
Listen guys, Paul implores, things are not what they seem- God is at work here! Paul invites the Philippians into a secret he has discovered- difficult circumstances are not a sign that God has not shown up- they are actually a sign that He is working all the more. What? How does that work?
Actively praise. Paul tells them to rejoice. Our most common word would be “celebrate!” It’s not like a magic wand. It’s a choice to remember the goodness of God in the absence of good circumstances. Paul says this is his secret. As long as he celebrates God’s goodness, He is able to do all things through Christ’s strength. He doesn’t need God to show up in his circumstances for God to show up in his thoughts and his heart. He intentionally focuses on the goodness of God.
Put This Into Practice
While the Philippians worry about Paul’s future, Paul tells them to be confident. He reminds them to take their cares before God in prayer and intentionally focus on what is good, true and lovely. Paul tells them: Don’t waste your time fretting over outcomes, trust that God is at work even when it isn’t making sense- then God’s peace will reign in your heart and mind.
I want to put this into practice. I struggle when I can see God moving mightily in others’ situations, yet He seems silent and distant in mine. I prefer the chains breaking and earthquake-immediate and dramatic intervention. But I also really like Paul’s secret- to arrive at a place where I can see things with spiritual eyes and believe God is at work even when I can’t perceive it. To trust Him unconditionally, seeing the good even in the difficult- to be unexplainable! Paul says our confidence in God despite our circumstances are what makes us unexplainable to the world around us!
So, I’ve decided to begin praying Paul’s prayer for the Philippians over myself. God allow my love for you and for others to abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. Help me to put into practice a life of praise despite my circumstances. Open my eyes to perceive your hand working in all things.
Do you have a difficult circumstance in your life in which you have seen God bring good out of it?
This post is from Erica’s latest Bible study: The Unexplainable Church: Reigniting the Mission of the Early Believers.