Have you ever started a project with a very clear vision of what the final result would be only to complete the project and realize it doesn’t look anything like the picture you had in your mind when you started? It didn’t take me long as an adult to realize that God’s calling in my life wasn’t in carpentry or anything of that nature. When our daughters were small I had the dream of building them a playhouse in our backyard. I remembered one I had seen before in a yard close to where Linda grew up in Vernon, Alabama and that was the vision I had for the one I was going to build. But when I completed the job, it didn’t have the slightest resemblance to the one in my dream.
In many ways, life is a lot like the building of that playhouse in that it is seldom the case that things turn out the way we imagined they would. The truth is they often turn out many times better or there are blessings that come from awful things that have taken place to the degree that we have a hard time thinking of the things that happened as being awful. No matter how well we plan the future, there will be surprises that we never would have expected. How many of us have been totally upended by the events of this year with the pandemic and all of the other problems that have arisen? I don’t think anyone expected this year to be one that was totally different from previous years. When I look at the calendar that I made at the beginning of the year of things I planned to do during the year, most of them never happened and the chances are slim that they will.
This all reminds me of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. He wrote as a prisoner in Rome having been arrested back in Jerusalem while there to give a large contribution to the poor among God’s family in that area. His arrest led to plots to kill him and him being carried to Caesarea where he would remain in jail for two years before having to appeal to Caesar for trial to keep from being sent back to Jerusalem for another assassination attempt. Then he was sent to Rome as a prisoner. Along the way the ship faced a massive storm and was destroyed so that Paul and the other prisoners spent the winter on an island before catching another ship to Rome. Now he was staying in a rented home where he was chained between Roman soldiers every day and couldn’t leave. If you have thought of Paul’s situation, how would you have felt about it? Would you have felt he was being mistreated, abused or rejected by God?
In Philippians 1:12-14 Paul offered his assessment of the whole situation. “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” I suspect that the church in Philippi had heard of Paul’s situation and had been praying for God’s deliverance for him. They likely worried that he might be killed or misused in some way as a prisoner. I would guess they thought the gospel was suffering because Paul wasn’t out in the world preaching and starting new congregations for the Lord.
If that is true, they must have been shocked when they received his letter. Instead of him suffering with the “poor me’s” he actually said the whole thing had served to advance the gospel. Some were preaching Christ that wouldn’t have had he been out of jail. It was true that some preached from wrong motives seeking to add to Paul’s pain but he was thankful that even in those cases the gospel was still being preached and people were learning of God’s love and grace toward them. The Roman soldiers that guarded him each day soon realized it was for the gospel that he was there and at least some of them gave their lives to Christ as a result.
This makes me wonder how many of the things that happen to us that we believe are awful will actually result in the advance of the gospel of Christ. If something causes me personal pain but results in others hearing the gospel that might lead to their salvation then the personal pain is worth it. I believe that many of us will look back on this year and the whole pandemic and think of the wonderful blessings that came from it. Families were able to spend more time with each other, listen to each other and hopefully spent time learning more of God’s word and will for our lives. I believe there will be those who heard the gospel for the first time during this whole situation. Their world will turn over to sit up straight.
Consider how you look at the tough times of life and see if it may be the case that there are some amazing blessings that come even from the hard times. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose.”