Here in America we value personal autonomy above just about everything. In some ways it is an illusion. We can not have our way in everything. Many things work together to place limitations on what we can or cannot do. We have relationships, we need money, we have limited talents, we have physical limitations, and we must live with the consequences of our actions. We suffer a tremendous amount of discontent in an environment that is better than in much of the world. Why is this? Why do we feel so little autonomy? What can be done about it?
Philippians 1:12-18 (ESV)
12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,
When we read the opening greeting in Romans, we see Paul communicating his intention to visit Rome and meet with the church there. We read of his desire to fellowship with believers in Rome and to preach to those who have not heard the good news (Romans 1:11-13). Paul gets to Rome, but not in the manner he was intending when he wrote to the Romans. Paul is arrested in Jerusalem. He is taken to Caesarea where is imprisoned for quite some time. The local rulers do not know what to do with him. He finally appeals to Caesar. This brings about his journey to Rome. He waits in Rome for his trial before Caesar. During his stay he is continually chained to a Roman guard. While imprisoned in Rome he writes this letter to the Philippians. He records preaching the gospel during his imprisonment. Paul is able to share with the Romans and to preach to unbelievers as hoped. It just did not happen under his own terms in the way he thought.
What about you? Your prison probably looks different. You are probably not currently incarcerated, but you could be. What does your prison look like? Do you have a financial prison? Are you in a job that is a struggle? Is your marriage difficult? Are your children driving you crazy? Are you caring for another person with no end in sight? The list of potential prisons is long. It is partly perspective. We sometimes feel imprisoned in a way that is out of balance with our real situation. Or, you may be trapped.
What can we do about it?
- There are some prisons from which you can escape. If it is possible, take courage, get some help, and set a new course.
- We can think our way through the truth of the situation. The prison may not be as dismal as imagined. Ask God to give you the right perspective. Often we just need a slight attitude adjustment. It would be a mistake to view all of life’s constraints as a prison. It is unwise to move from situation to situation, trying to escape when the reality is that all things in life have some limitations.
- Try to focus less on your situation and more on your call. Paul was called to take the gospel to the Gentiles. He knew he was heading to Rome. He made to most of the situation he was in. He did not let the situation keep him from the call. Go to Acts 21:26-28:30 where you can read the account of his arrest and imprisonment. Paul uses every opportunity to preach the gospel. He is able to preach to several rulers and he ministers to others at every step. Paul did not see his imprisonment as a hinderance, merely a change in location, timeline, and audience. He was about God’s business and was grateful that others were accomplishing the same, even if it meant hardship for himself. Be faithful to be about God’s business, wherever and with whomever God guides across your path. Paul had a singleness of mind. He peached the gospel anywhere, anytime, to whomever.
- Ask God for a singleness of mind. A mind set on Christ. Then, let it overflow into your life. It is not our circumstances that create to ability to minister. It is the Holy Spirit. Set your mind on eternal priorities no matter where you are or what is happening.