Paul is taking a moment to say “thank you” for the support he has received from this church body. They have been a great help to him over the years. But regardless of his need or abundance, he has learned to lean on God and be content.
I wonder if Paul ever had an “Elijah moment” (1 Kings 19) where he grumbled at his calling. If he did, we don’t see it. He has had MANY opportunities to become discouraged. Beaten, run out of towns, plotted against, shipwrecked, stoned, in prison, in chains for years without any charges being levied. But he also had MANY opportunities to rejoice. He saw hundreds of people turn to Jesus, performed countless miracles in Jesus’ name, planted and nourished churches all over, stood before kings and rulers while the Holy Spirit provided him with what to say, and personally witnessed and participated in the spread of the Kingdom of God on earth.
Yesterday we read the exhortation Paul gave about focusing on the praise worthy things instead of the problems. I believe that is the practice Paul used in every situation. “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (verses 11b-12).
Paul wasn’t protected from problems. He simply refused to let them define or defeat him. He walked through them with Jesus by his side. He knew that Jesus was his strength and guide. He didn’t expect “rosy outcomes” every time. He knew there were going to be rough spots but he gave that care over to Jesus. Instead he focused on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (verse 8).
He practiced looking for the praise worthy parts of any situation. Even in prison after being beaten severely, he STILL sang praises to God and God moved on his behalf. Paul wasn’t expecting or demanding a miracle to rescue him from that prison cell. He was praising because he had had the opportunity to share Jesus before he was arrested. He was praising because he KNEW Jesus was by his side. He had been brought low but he was not alone.
Sometimes we are brought low so we can see the hand of God at work in using the situation for His good. Other times we are brought low because we are in need of correction. Our attitude in these times is as important as our attitude in the high times.
Sometimes I think it is easier to turn to Him in the valleys. That’s when we tend to cry out for help. But praising Him in the midst of the valleys shows our trust in Him. It demonstrates where our faith lies. He wants us to praise Him even in the midst of trouble. Don’t quote me on this but I think praising Him in times of trouble can sometimes move us out of it faster than praying can. At the very least it changes our outlook on the situation. Sometimes He calms the storm and sometimes He calms His child.
Father God, I’m not an expert when it comes to praising You. I have a tendency to cry for relief before praising You for the opportunity to learn. I know that struggles are a time for growth when I stop trying to wrestle for control. But this “control freak” has a hard time with that. Thank You for all the lessons that You have brought my way that have made it easier to let You have control now than it used to be. It used to be prying the reins out of my clenched fists. Now it is more like reminding me to hand them back. Someday I may get to the point where I don’t reach for the reins at all and simply sit back and watch You in action. Was that how Paul operated? I imagine it took him a few lessons to get to that point too, so I guess there is still hope for me. Thank You Lord for never leaving me alone in any lesson I go through.