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(Part 2)


November 5, 2010

Paul went through a lot in his journey with God. He had been radically transformed from a staunch opponent of the gospel to the foremost proclaimer of the gospel. In serving Christ, he had many ups and downs. From winning to seemingly losing many battles. From being loved by brethren to being maligned and attacked by so-called brethren. Through all these, Paul simply persevered.

Towards the end of his life, Paul could rightly claim: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:7). Paul was faithful to God’s call to him, he gave it his all, and he could look with satisfaction at what God had allowed him to accomplish.

What was the key to Paul’s perseverance and strength? In the face of intense oppression and suffering (see 2 Cor 11:23-28), he simply kept doggedly plodding on. Paul had learned the secret. He was simply focused and centered on Christ, who was the absolute source of his power and effectiveness.

“I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.”
(Phil 4:13)

Our strength is in Christ! It is his Spirit who empowers us. If we live our lives for him, through him, in him, with him, then we also will have the strength for everything. Nothing will ever faze us in our life and mission. In fact, when the negatives come up, such as seeming failure or persecution, we can even rejoice. In Christ, we see that it was his seeming defeat on the cross that resulted in his victory in glory. And now we are called to embrace his cross and to proclaim the gospel of the cross. If we are deemed worthy to suffer for the cause of Christ, then we simply must rejoice.

We know that our life in Christ will be full of wonderful blessings, but there will also be suffering and pain. Jesus talks about the abundance of these blessings in this life, and how we can look forward to eternal life (now that will really be abundant!), but wedged between the blessings of this life and the blessings of the next are persecutions! (Mk 10:29-30).

So we do not look to being blessed, but to simply serving Christ. We of course know we will be blessed, because the blessings are part of the package. But they are not our goals. We do not serve for selfish purposes. Further, we do not define what blessings are, i.e., only the good things. In Christ and in the fulfillment of his divine plan for us, if we live our lives for him, then everything is gain. For Paul, the earthly gains have become loss, while the seeming loss of all things has actually become gain (Phil 3:7-8).

If this then is our posture, then we have taken hold of the secret to spiritual well-being as we serve the cause of Christ.

This is how Paul puts it: “I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.” (Phil 4:11-12). Notice how Paul talks of extremes--being well fed and going hungry, living in abundance and being in need. That did not matter at all to him. Whatever God allowed to happen in his life, he was content, for he had already learned the secret.

As the community of CFC, we ourselves experienced these extremes. We soared high in the first 20-25 years of our existence, but we were hit by a great crisis in 2007 when the community almost disintegrated. But even in the depth of our desolation, God was continuing to teach us and to form us. And I might say, God has been continuing to prepare us for greater things that are to come.

In fact, the key, or the secret, is precisely in knowing how to accept both blessings and tragedies, both spiritual abundance and desolation. Further, the key is in knowing that whatever happens, both high and low, good and seemingly bad, God is at work. Indeed, God intends such redemptive suffering to happen, in order to better prepare us for the greater work that is to come.

We are weak and sinful human flesh. On our own, together with our worldly reactions to good and bad, we cannot become the effective and powerful instruments of God. But because we look to Christ and the power of his Spirit, then we will have the strength for everything.

Then we can truly say: “my God is now my strength!”

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