Life’s prisons are where we often find ourselves doubting most. But isn’t it interesting that when the Apostle Paul was in actual prison, his faith seemed insurmountable? He provides a great example of how to build rock solid faith.
While in prison (Acts 21-28) Paul wrote a letter to the Philippian Church. The Philippians at this time were beginning to doubt Paul’s ministry and were thinking that they had wasted a bunch of time and effort on a guy that was now stuck in prison. Wasted money and effort right? Wrong.
Before we can fully understand Paul’s exact intent, we must understand how letters were generally written during the 1st century and how Paul tweaked each element to demonstrate a point. (Don’t worry, this is not me being random. This is the brilliance of Dr. Ben Gutierrez.) There were five customary elements that all letters would include.
1) The Name/Sender: (v.1) This was generally official and formal, but Paul decided to make it the opposite and call himself a “bond-servant”.
2) Name of Recipient: (v. 1:1b) Paul here gave the recipients the official and formal title, “overseers and deacons”.
3) Greeting: (1:2) Paul here gives “grace” to the believers.
4) Thank the gods: (1:3) “my God”, both personal and monotheistic. (Only the religious would use this step in writing a letter).
5) Talk about yourself: (1:12) This is the big one. This is what really hits the Philippians. Paul starts with “Now I want you to know…”, this is where he should start talking about himself, it is the basic flag/indicator that he is going to talk about himself, BUT he chooses to instead talk about the furtherance of the Gospel.
What in the world does all of this mean, or have to do with faith? Well, Paul was trying to teach the Philippians something about trusting God. We may not think that it is a big deal of what he did there, but the Philippians would have clearly seen it. Paul tweaked each part of the letter to even have the mundane things of the letter focus on God.
Paul was telling them that the way to cultivate a rock solid faith is through trusting God in everything, all the time, everywhere. When we focus on even the mundane things and turn them back to God, we will create a default reaction to God. The more we view as God working, the harder it will be to change the default setting.
When we have our default setting as trusting God in everything, and the big dip hits, we will be ready. We will automatically think to trust God, almost as if off pure instinctive reaction. It will no longer be a tough decision whether to trust God because we have simply trusted him all along.
This then brings Paul to a major point in proving to the Philippians how to trust God in even the roughest of circumstances. Paul goes on to explain in the following verses that even while he was in prison, great things have happened to advance the Gospel! The Palace guard in fact has turned to Christ; and these men were theoretically impossible to reach for Christ because they were not even allowed to talk to Christians unless breaking up a riot of some kind. Paul is explaining to the Philippians the great story of Acts 16 and of his miraculous deliverance and the spread of the Gospel.
Paul basically explains that there is a four-fold cycle of events in order to advance the Gospel.
1) The Divine Call
2) Receive Persecution
3) Miraculous Delivery
4) Gospel Spread
Paul in the writing to the Philippians is right in the middle of receiving persecution and having a miraculous delivery. He knows God is going to show up because that has become his default reaction.
But it is right in between the persecution and miraculous delivery that we often crumble in need of faith. Why? Well… The absolute worst time to cultivate faith and spirituality is when the problem happens. That is where you get your report card, not your instructions on how to gain faith.
The time to cultivate your faith is now. Today, start looking at even the small mundane things through spiritual eyes, and by the time your trial comes, faith in Christ will be the default setting.
Whatever. Wherever. Whenever. Think God.