A Strait Betwixt Two: Heaven and Earth

Devotional from Philippians 1

 

Heaven must smell like vanilla, he thought.

Grandfather lay in his hospital bed thinking of family and friends.  He knew they would miss him if he left for Heaven; but, oh, how he wanted to go.

Grandfather missed his dear wife of sixty years. Every time he caught the scent of vanilla he thought of her placing it behind her ears.  He wondered why she always smelled so when she passed through a room until he caught her doing it one morning.  Heaven must smell like vanilla, he thought.

“Grandpa, are you awake?”  It was one of his grandchildren come to visit.

“Yes, Jeremy.  I’m awake.  Just lying here thinking about your grandmother.  I sure do miss her.”

“I know, Grandpa. It must be hard without her around after so many years.  But you’ve got us to keep you busy.  Your breakfast is cold.  Did you not know it was here?  Let me get you something hot from the cafeteria.”

“No, Jeremy. I knew it was here.  I just didn’t feel like eating.”

“But you’ve got to eat so you can keep up your energy.  Please, Grandpa.  You’ve got to eat.”

“I know, Son. But I’ve got other things on my mind.”

“Grandpa, we love you.  Please get better.   We need you.  Dad is going crazy trying to keep up the business. Sarah and Joe need you to help with their first garden.  And I, well, I need you too.”

“I know, Jeremy.  I know.”

“For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:

Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.

And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith;

That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again.

Philippians 1:23-26

During a time of imprisonment in Rome, the apostle Paul revealed his desire to depart this earth and be with Jesus in Heaven.  His longing is often interpreted as his desire to no longer endure the sufferings that he bore.

However, I believe Paul had a deeper longing than merely escape.  His personal relationship with the Lord was only made stronger by the sufferings which he endured.

The Christ that Paul met on the road to Damascus had become his sole purpose for living.  Every breathing moment was lived intently to bring honor to Christ’s name.

For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  Philippians 1:21

Knowing that others needed the same grace, mercy, and forgiveness that he had received kept Paul busily sharing the gospel.  The thought that anyone would die without the knowledge of Christ was unacceptable.  The world must know Jesus Christ and His resurrection power.

Just like Grandfather in our story, Apostle Paul lay in his cell desiring to go to Heaven.  He knew his family and friends would miss him.  But, more importantly, there were many whom he had never met who needed to hear of Christ.

Paul thought of the Philippians who had ministered to him in his time of need although they were experiencing poverty.  Suddenly he realized that his bondage in Rome might be a discouragement to them.

Epaphroditus was in Rome.  Whether he was in the same cell with Paul or just visiting, I do not know.  But I do know Paul dictated an important letter for Epaphroditus to pen down.

That letter sent to the Philippians expressed that Paul’s current imprisonment was only a display of Paul’s bond to Christ.  His bondage served as an encouragement to the brethren to speak boldly of Christ.

But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel.

So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places;

And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Philippians 1:12-14

Was it Paul’s time to leave for Heaven?  Not yet.

Paul realized his purpose on this earth was not yet met.  Heaven would come, but now was not the time.  Souls needed to hear the gospel.

Cell doors were not a deterrent to the gospel message.  Being behind cell doors gave Paul time to pen letters which we can read today.  These letters are now part of the New Testament that you and I can read for ourselves.

Don't let what you perceive to be cell doors hinder your missionary efforts. (Photo from Pexels.)
Don’t let what you perceive to be cell doors hinder your missionary efforts.  (Photo from Pexels.)

Grandfather knew that his family needed him.  It gave him comfort to know that one day he would be in Heaven and see his lovely wife again.

But today, well, today was not his day to go.  Today was his day to get better.

©2018 by Peggy Clark


Questions to Consider:

Are you torn between two paths that loom in front of you?

Which path seems to more fully support God’s direction for your life?

What Scriptures support your decision to take one path over the other?

Uncovering Paul’s Secret to Strength

The Horse:  A Picture of Strength

I love to see horses galloping across a mountain ridge, muscles bulging, nostrils exhaling steam in the crisp air. What a picture of strength and power to anyone who views such a sight.

The horse is a symbol of strength and beauty.
The horse is a symbol of strength and beauty.

The Strengths We Lean Upon

Mankind has depended upon the strength of the horse to defeat his enemy in battle, but it is a strength upon which we are commanded not to depend.

The strength that we must depend upon can only come from the Source of All Strength who desires to bestow us with power that confounds the unbelieving onlooker and draws their attention to Almighty God.

We each have leaned upon our horses of money, family, friends, and societal status. Our experiences have taught us, however, that these horses will not sustain us.

The Horse of Religious Pride

The Bible tells us about a man named Paul who leaned upon his horse of religious pride. He was a Pharisee of Pharisees, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, and considered himself blameless concerning the law. Some might say he was a bully who used the law to hide his own weaknesses.

Paul’s intention was to destroy the followers of Jesus. Yet he was brought to his face in the dirt on a road to Damascus. The brilliance of God’s presence stripped him to the foundation of his religious beliefs. The walls of his resistance were broken down by a voice from heaven, “[I]t is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 9:5). Left blinded, Paul’s companions led him by the hand into Damascus where he was left on Straight Street. When the dust settled, three days had passed before he finally regained any sight.

“[I]t is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”  Acts 9:5

The Horse of Self-Sufficiency

It was there on Straight Street where the Master Architect in Heaven began to reveal His plans for Paul’s life. Through the disciple, Ananias, God began laying a new foundation that would enable Paul to truly know Christ and the power of His resurrection.

Following God’s instructions, Ananias lay his hands upon Paul speaking words that opened the windows of Paul’s understanding. His life’s calling was revealed to him. He would be God’s witness to all men, experiencing great things “for Christ’s sake” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Sometimes our view is obstructed by our lack of understanding.
Sometimes our view is obstructed by our lack of understanding.

Paul’s experiences “for Christ’s sake” soon revealed a path that would take him through mental, physical, and emotional suffering. Having a weak body and contemptible speech, his horse of self-sufficiency toppled.

Seeking deliverance from his weaknesses, God’s words of wisdom came to him, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

The True Source of Strength Revealed

Humbled to submission, Paul realized that he could do nothing without the indwelling power of Christ. He became thankful for his weaknesses because those weaknesses revealed Christ’s strength at work through him.  In fact, his weaknesses became the tools that God used to make his ministry powerful.

“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

The Transformation That Must Take Place

What transformation must take place before we can truly become strong? With Paul, this transformation began with prayer, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6).

God gave Paul a simple instruction, “Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.”  Paul obeyed and was led to the city of Damascus, and there the cracks in his foundation were replaced with the solid foundation that enabled him to truly stand for Christ.

As Paul yielded to God’s plan, his life was transformed. He found that he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him. The horses that he had previously depended upon were laid aside.

“And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:35).

The Weakness That Drives Us to the True Source

Many are the stories that one could tell of those who “out of weakness were made strong” (Hebrews 11:34).  Weakness is the catapult that drives us to God’s presence. It is the horse that bucks us into the arms of God’s abounding grace that is given to us as we submit to its transforming power to conform us to the image of Christ. We learn to embrace this misunderstood friend as we lay ourselves prostrate before a holy God and wait for His enduement of power from on high.

Circumstances of life may have left us in difficult places. Yet as we yield to God’s transforming power, we will discover that He can make our lives fruitful regardless of any handicaps or weaknesses that hinder us.

Emptied of our own strength, we must acknowledge that the horses of this world cannot empower us. We must then choose to embrace the Source of All Strength, our Almighty God, who enables us to do all things through Christ.

My prayer for you today is that you will focus not upon your weaknesses but upon the One who can accomplish great feats through you that will confound unbelievers and draw them into the arms of the true Source of All Strength.

When you feel weak and defeated may the following verse be an encouragement to you. It has helped me tremendously when my weaknesses have tried to overwhelm me.

“And God is able to make all grace abound toward [me]; that [I], always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).

Prayer

Dear Father in Heaven, I realize I have no strength of my own. I confess that I have depended upon the horses of this world and they have failed me.

I now lay them aside and embrace You as the Source of All Strength. I yield to Your transforming power. Enable me to fulfill Your purpose and follow Your plan for my life.

Thank you for Your indwelling presence that will make my life fruitful and will empower me to do Your will through Christ my Saviour. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

©2018 by Peggy Clark

Questions
  • In what ways do we allow our weaknesses/handicaps to hinder us from doing God’s will?
  • How is God’s strength perfected in us?
  • What horses have I personally leaned upon to strengthen me instead of leaning upon the strength that only God can give me?

All Scripture quotations above are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.

Apostle Paul and His Ministry

Preacher and Missionary

Apostle Paul was a first century preacher of the Word of God. He was converted while traveling on the Damascus Road. Later, he was ordained a missionary by the church at Antioch.

The Apostle Paul conducted three missionary tours extending from Antioch through Asia Minor to modern-day Greece. After arriving in Jerusalem on his third tour, he was arrested and taken to Rome, Italy. After a period of imprisonment, he was beheaded for his faith.

Moved by the Holy Ghost

Being moved by the Holy Spirit, Paul also wrote the New Testament books of Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Hebrews. Six of his books or epistles were written while he was imprisoned at Rome, Italy.

 “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21).

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Steward of the Gospel

Paul used every opportunity to present the teachings of Christ. He saw himself as a steward of the teachings he received from Christ.

“Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1).

“[D]eclaring unto you the testimony of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1).

Three-fold Ministry

In his epistle to the Colossians (1:28), Paul’s preaching ministry is described as three-fold: warning, teaching, and presenting.

His messages warned believers and non-believers alike of the deceptive tactics of Satan. Believers were warned of the possibility that they could lose rewards for not following Christ’s commands. All were warned of the judgment to come.

Paul teachings revealed the mystery of Christ “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). He sought to clearly present the gospel message, establish believers in their faith, and ground each in Christ’s doctrine.

Christ tells us to seek that we may find, to knock and it shall be opened unto us. Our searching should be for eternal things because those things will last beyond this life.
Christ tells us to seek that we may find, to knock and it shall be opened unto us. Our searching should be for eternal things because those things will never see corruption.

Evangelist and Minister

Paul’s goal was to “present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:28). Not only was Paul an evangelist who preached the gospel of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, but Paul was also a minister who instructed his converts to continue in the faith and grow to maturity in Christ.

Product of His Ministry

Paul took the responsibility of his ministry seriously. He labored in preparation for the day that he would present to Christ every person to whom he had preached as a product of his ministry. His desire was that that product would be acceptable to Christ.

Every preacher, evangelist, and missionary today should take that same mindset: that the products of their ministry will be those to whom they have presented the gospel of Christ.  May those products be mature Christians who also share in Christ’s ministry.

Copyright©2017 by Peggy Clark


Join in the Conversation:

What do you find intriguing about Paul’s ministry?

Have you ever thought about being a missionary?

Paul continued his ministry while imprisoned in Rome. Should we allow obstacles to prevent us from fulfilling our calling?

How can we “remember” those who are imprisoned for their faith?

An Exercise in Prayer

Formulate Your Own Prayer with Paul’s Example

 

In chapter one of The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Colossians, we see a godly example of prayer on the behalf of the body of Christ. This particular prayer grew out of a desire to see the Colossian brethren grow and mature in the faith.

As Paul and Timothy labored in prayer, their regard for the Colossians and their spiritual needs gave them purpose and direction.

Following the format of their prayer will aid us in praying for our beloved brethren.

  1. Give thanks to God.

Verse 3 begins with thankfulness to God for what He has already done in the lives of the believers.

2. Daily intercession and supplication is a must.

In verses 9-12, we learn that Paul and Timothy ceased not to pray.  They were committed to the task of prayer for the spiritual needs of others.

3.Pray specifically.

This was not a general prayer, but one with detailed petitions. We will discover what those petitions were as we do the exercise below.

4. Give thanks to God. In verse 12, these men began sharing their thankfulness to God and to their brethren for what God had and was presently doing in and through their lives.

 

1. What did Paul and Timothy desire for the Colossian brethren?

Paul and Timothy prayed and desired. Their desires became a list of specific requests.

List these requests given in verses 9-12 separately.

For example: a) that you might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding  b) that you might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing c) that you would be fruitful in every good work, etc.

 

2. Add your own requests to the list above.

You may sense other spiritual needs of the individual or group that you are praying for. Add these to your list.

 

3. Use your list to form the body of your prayer.

After listing the specific requests, use your list to create a prayer. You may be specific for individuals, a spouse, or for your church family as a whole.

For example:

Lord, help me to pray for my brother (or sister) in Christ.  I pray that he would be filled with the knowledge of Your will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. Help him to walk worthy of You. May he be pleasing in Your sight. May he be fruitful in every good work that he tries to accomplish. Increase his knowledge of You. Strengthen him with all might according to Your glorious power unto patience and longsuffering. Give him a joyful attitude and countenance.

4. Give thanks. Use the rest of the chapter to help you with your list of thanks.

Paul and Timothy recorded a list of things for which they were thankful to God. That list begins in verse 12.

You may use the rest of the chapter to make your own list of things for which you are thankful.

 

5. Use your list of thanks to form the ending of your prayer.

Don’t forget to give God thanks for the work that He is doing in the lives of those for whom you are praying and for the work He is doing in your life also.

I hope this prayer exercise has helped you to formulate your own prayer. However, no prayer is answered until it is prayed. So keep your prayer handy and use it to help you as you grow in your prayer life.