Picture a damp, dim cavern faintly illuminated by a few sparse torches and oil lamps. Suddenly a small opening in the ceiling is opened and the daylight finds its way inside for the first time in days. Just a suddenly as it opens, so too does the manhole cover close, and along with it any hope of the wretched stench of human waste that has accumulated over months of imprisonment in the hell-hole these prisoners found themselves surviving. Survival was simply the only means of describing the ‘nearly-humane’ condition in which these men had found themselves existing.
That was Paul’s existence as he wrote Philippians. Yes, his existence, because as I read about the conditions in which he was imprisoned, I find it hard to refer to it as anything more. Paul was relegated to the lowliest forms of human life as he wrote his letter to the Church in Philippi.
Yet he found joy… But how?
One word. Purpose.
It was purpose that gave Paul joy in the midst of his unbelievably bad situation. And what was that purpose? Was it to reach the lost? Was it evangelize to the Roman Empire? Was it to preach the Gospel of Christ? Surprisingly, no. I don’t think so. While they seem to be logical answers, Paul explains that his purpose in life is to see the Gospel of Jesus Christ advanced.
Notice that difference? It seems to be a contradiction to what I just said. But it isn’t. Because Paul wasn’t concerned with himself being the only one advancing the Gospel. Paul was able to find joy because he was concerned with God receiving the glory He deserves. The purpose that drove Paul was the Kingdom of God advancing. In Paul’s life, it looked like evangelism. It looked like reaching the lost. But Paul’s partnership with God never took precedence over God’s purpose. And the result? His joy was always focused on God’s purpose being fulfilled.
What’s God’s purpose in your life? What is it that God is calling you to do today? Tomorrow? The next day? Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the question, “What should I do with my life?” is daunting. But that’s Paul’s point passage of Philippians. Rather than focusing on what he’s doing, Paul focuses on what God’s purpose is and how he can partner with God. Again, those sound similar, but the difference is seen in the latter part of this section of verses - Paul isn’t affected by his circumstance because it isn’t what he does that matters; it’s whether or not God’s purpose is fulfilled that matters to Paul.
So what does that mean to you? Good question. What it means is that you don’t have to figure out what you’re going to do for the next 80 years. You don’t even have to figure out what to do for the next five. But you’re called to ask God what His purpose is on this campus, in your classes, in your dorm, and your only inquiry can be this - “God what would you have me do today - what are You doing on this campus, and how can I be a part of that?” Because when your prayer is that, your circumstances fade away. Your fears and doubts begin to fade, and instead, God’s purpose becomes the thing that drives your day-to-day. Your issues with your roommate don’t affect whether or not you interact with the people in your classes. The argument you got into with your mom the day before doesn’t cause you to miss an opportunity to sit with someone in the dining hall that’s alone. When your focus is on God’s purpose, the pressure isn’t on you anymore, it’s on God. And guess what? God shows up. Every. Single. Time.
- Logan Johnson