“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NIV)
I sat in the dimly lit room with soft music wafting through the air and began to relax. No, this was not the prelude to a romantic evening with my husband. It was the aftermath of my yearly eye exam!
If you’ve ever had an eye exam, you’re familiar with the refraction test the doctor uses to determine if you need glasses, and if so, what prescription is right for you. You place your face up to a tool called a phoropter, and then the doctor flips down the first lens, then another, while you say which of the two helps you see the letters on the eye chart more clearly. Lens one or two? Lens three or four? Which one is better?
The eye doctor’s vision test made me wonder if I was looking at my life through the correct lens. Was it possible to flip down a different lens and see a better story?
The Apostle Paul was a man whose physical eyesight waned with the passing years, but his spiritual eyesight remained exceptionally clear. During his time preaching the gospel, he was flogged, whipped and stoned many times. He had been shipwrecked, bitten by a snake, outcast and ridiculed. Several times, he was in lockdown in one place or another. Some of his life was spent under house arrest in Rome, as well as chained to a guard in a dirty dungeon — all for preaching the gospel. And yet, it was during one of those stints in prison that Paul wrote the most joyful book in the New Testament: Philippians.
“I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14, NIV)
Lens one or two? Paul didn’t see himself as stuck in prison because of Jesus; he saw himself as stationed in prison for Jesus. He didn’t see himself as chained to a Roman guard; he saw the Roman guard as chained to him. The guards had to listen to Paul talk about Jesus day in and day out. Paul had time to write letters to all the churches, something he might not have done had he been free to travel.
Paul also wrote, “I am put here for the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:16, NIV, emphasis added). Who put him there? From the outside looking in, it appeared the Roman rulers put him there. But from the inside looking out, Paul knew God had positioned him there. He didn’t see himself as stuck at all. He considered himself stationed. And because he was looking through the right lens, he had joy even in a difficult situation.
I wish this was my perspective all the time, but it’s not. It’s a struggle. I pout, get huffy and become downright discouraged when my plans fall apart or people don’t respond the way I’d hoped. But after settling down, I try to remember to flip the lens and look at my circumstances through the sovereignty of God rather than the selfishness of Sharon. And that gives me a better story. Not because the storyline changes, but because my perspective does.
Heavenly Father, forgive me for grumbling and complaining about my circumstances. Help me to flip the lens and look at my life through the lens of Your sovereignty. I know my circumstances will work to mold and make me more like Jesus. Help me to have joy in the journey. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
TRUTH FOR TODAY
2 Corinthians 4:18, “As we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (ESV)
Everyone likes a good story, but not everyone likes their own story. What if your worst chapters could become your greatest victories? Sharon Jaynes’ new book, When You Don’t Like Your Story, will be available January 26. Preorder your copy by January 25 and receive bonus gifts with your purchase.
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REFLECT AND RESPOND
What lesson can you learn about interpreting your story from Paul’s attitude while in prison?
What is a perspective or “lens” you need to flip today to see your story differently? Share with us in the comments!
© 2021 by Sharon Jaynes. All rights reserved.
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