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For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).
Let me lay it out for you in a “fill the blank” statement. “For me to live is [fill in the blank].” What is your response to this presuppositional query? Whatever you place in the blank sets the course for your life.
Another way to think about your answer is as a foundation. Like a rock or sand, your ruling worldview is your foundation upon which you stand. Everyone has a “to live is [fill in the blank]” presupposition, which makes reflecting on this subject worthy of our time. Paul’s perspective gave him a built-in guarantee to his life: he would have biblical success. There is an absolute truth here.
Paul was explaining to the Philippians why he was not discouraged about being in chains. His God-centered perspective empowered him through his daily difficulties. You can see how he tied his level of joy directly to the thing (person) he wanted most out of life. We’re like this, too.
The thing we want most will determine the quality of our daily joy. Paul did not live in ongoing disappointment because what he wanted most was in his possession—he was in Christ and desired nothing more meaningful.
Every person knows what is most important to them. The way you discern what governs you is by how you respond to life’s circumstances. You don’t need to take a poll to figure out what your treasure is. You only need to examine how you responded to your last disappointment. Will you take a moment to think about a recent frustration? How did a Christ-centered presupposition empower you through it?
Because Paul found living for Christ as preeminent, his practical focus was on gospel advancement. There is a formula here: your utmost joy will determine the values you hold and the direction you take. Paul’s path was painful, but he understood that God permitted those things for the gospel’s advancement.
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear (Philippians 1:12-14).
Being under God’s control kept him from being distressed by his life circumstances. The things that happened to him became instruments for the gospel’s advancement rather than a means that led to his despair. Paul was a one-trick pony—a Johnny-one-note. His worldview gave him a true north that kept his heart from the ditch of ongoing discouragement.
Knowing that the Lord is in your mess should bring huge encouragement, even when there is seemingly no way out of your trouble. There is another implied formula here: if Christ is your chief aim, whatever circumstances you are in is for the gospel’s advancement, which will return for your good, God’s fame, and the benefit of many.
Paul perceived how the Lord was simultaneously working suffering and triumph into his life that provided him a massive platform of usefulness. When difficulty came his way, Paul was not asking why it was happening, but rather how the challenge would become the springboard for more significant usefulness in God’s world.
It does remind me of a question I asked the Lord the day I learned that someone had murdered my brother. The tragedy made no sense, but I knew the Lord was up to something. I asked Him what good was He working because I could not see it. I did learn that there was a long list of things He wanted to accomplish. The rearview mirror provides that perspective—it was more than thirty years ago.
This brings us to the most extraordinary question a Christian can ask. Who or what will be your preeminent aspiration to live for in your life? I have written out a response to this question, as I have wrestled with God about the vacillation of my heart when it comes to fully submitting to Him. I’m not suggesting I have arrived; I continue to wrestle.
Trouble has come into my life. I have been a picture of suffering. I know you are the sovereign God of the universe, and you’re working all things into my life for your glory, my ultimate benefit, and the good of others. I am your servant. You are my God. I’m the clay in your hands, and you’re doing good work at this moment for more excellent work later. Though I cannot perceive all of the goodness you’re bringing because of the trial, I trust you.
I’m learning to rely on you, who is omniscient and omnipotent. Thank you for caring for my life. Thank you for always turning my bad into our mutual good. Thank you for not answering my questions the way I wanted you to but consistently driving me into a deeper trust in you. Rather than me being on this endless hunt for the perfect answer to why bad things happen to people like me, you have given me a trust that transcends my trouble.
This perspective sets my mind and my life aright and sends me in a better direction. It’s not a direction that provides the reasons for trouble, but it helps me to find more significant discoveries about your person and power. I no longer have to put you on trial. I don’t have to have all the answers. All I need to know is that you are “for me,” and you have forever answered this by the death and resurrection of your Son.
I have one job, which is to trust you and you alone. This single thing, by your grace, I will do. Please keep me from being a problem-centered Christian, where my friends and enemies know more about my problems than I’ve expressed to you. Each time I exalt my struggles above you, may your sweet Holy Spirit penetrate the darkness of my heart and relieve me from this self-induced torture.
Release me to love you fully. It will only happen when the winepress of your love crushes me entirely. What I’m asking will not remove my problems, necessarily, but it will transform them into a sweet wine of joy that will benefit me, bring healing to others, and glorify you. This hard work from you will adjust my attitude, thoughts, and actions. It is my preparation for the day when there will be no more sin, death, or suffering. Dear God, I don’t want to wait until that day to find release from the tentacles of evil in my life. Could you free me today?
Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
Though this thinking is other-worldly, it is not outside of your purposes or your power. You can bring transformative grace into my life. I want to be more of a man of love, more of a man of grace, and more of a man of humility. I need what you are doing to me to make me the man I need to be. It won’t come easy. I have a rebellious mind who wants to thrust off your ways for my ways. I’m in a lifetime battle that will challenge me as each trouble, adverse circumstance, and disappointment comes.
Your divinely prescribed and timed trouble teaches me not to depend on myself but on you, the only person who can raise the dead. Please elevate me to this higher level of living. “For me to live is Christ.” Make that real for me today. I want to live for Jesus right now, knowing the best life I can have and the only one that I should desire is Him.
Because Jesus is in me, I desire to live for Him. The only way I can live for Him is by dying to myself. Let this prayer, my Lord, be my life’s definition. To live a life apart from Christ would have no meaning. To live is Christ has not always been my passion. I have lived for many false lovers that have given shape and definition to me.
- To be wealthy
- To be healthy
- To be strong
- To be approved
- To be safe
- To be superior
- To be comforted
- To be pleased
- To be successful
- To be happy
Though the Lord Jesus has been with me, He has not always been the singular purpose of my life. Cornelius Plantinga said, “In an ego-centered culture, the self exists to be explored, indulged, and expressed but not disciplined or restrained.” Dear Father, I am guilty of this crime against your sovereign highness. This error in judgment has made me vulnerable to life’s vicissitudes. It has left me licking the earth. Please let Christ be my most precious treasure.
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free.
I’m not living this prayer the way that I desire to. I’m a work in progress, though there is forward momentum. If this prayer resonates with you, my appeal is for you to make it yours. Find a comfortable place and read it to your heavenly Father. Plead with Him to change you. After you finish with your interchange, begin working through these action items. A journal would be great; a trusted friend would be heavenly.
No Big Pictures – Ask the Lord to stop you from the need to see the big picture. You don’t need to know all the contours of the story. You need to know God. Understanding the reasons and the answers would tempt you to place your faith in what you know rather than who you know. The Lord is calling you to trust Him rather than the mysterious facts that make up your trouble.
See the Real Struggle – The thorns the Lord brings into your life will tempt you to not deal with the right thing. If you focus on the wrong thing, your problems will be more complicated. Ask the Father to show you where you must fixate—the real idolatry of your heart. Don’t mask it, deny it, or shovel blame onto others. Own it.
See Jesus Mostly – If you don’t exalt the Lord Jesus over your trouble, your situation will swallow the Savior’s grace and truth. He will become small, and your problems will become massive. Do not become a problem-centered Christian. If you talk more about your issues than the sovereign God over your troubles, you must turn and think differently about what’s happening to you.
Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.Net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and in 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).