Content in Chains

As long as I live I will never forget Osbiel Matsabula. I shared a small, simple cottage with him on the outskirts of Mbabane in Swaziland in 1975. We  worked for an animal charity helping to develop a mobile clinic in the region, and Osbiel and I worked side by side driving the blood red dusty mountain roads. He was my translator, but more than that, he demonstrated a joy and servant spirit that I have seldom seen expressed with such simplicity and radiance. Osbiel stored all his belongings on a few boards fastened in a doorway that served as his cupboard. He loved Jesus and he quietly and unashamedly acknowledged that reality without clutter or many words. He didn’t even realize that his life was speaking so loudly to a young man in his early twenties; apparently so much more privileged and yet significantly poorer in spirit. When I returned years later I tried to find Osbiel but he had moved on, though I continue to drain the cup of memories we once shared with humility and much gratitude.

I’m thinking about Paul’s attitude and disposition expressed in his letter to the Philippians. He is in chains but there is not a hint of bitterness or ‘victmization’ in any phrase he writes. Instead he boasts about his joy in what God was accomplishing among them. He boasts about how those guards to whom he is chained have been impacted by Jesus – because Paul has learned how to be free while physically confined. He is confident that whatever he is enduring will be used by God for a greater purpose, consequently he rests in that truth.  “Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” (Phil.1:14)

I find myself challenged by Paul. What a remarkable transformation has taken place in a man who once arrogantly rode toward Damascus to persecute Christians and ‘do the will of God according to the Law’! Twenty or thirty years later his character has been reshaped by the same Jesus who knocked him to the ground and struck him blind for a while. Tough love with a gentle motive unfolded and Paul’s heart was changed from religious stone to beat in rhythm with the heart of the living God. Everything changed and he learned not to strive, and how to be sensitive to the spirit of a God not even he could out-think. He wrote to the Christians in Philippi: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances….. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…… I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil. 4:11-13)

So what? So how contented are you right now? Let’s face it our circumstances will never line up peaceful and idyllic for long. It’s hard work trying to keep everything in order so that we don’t have to worry. Jesus slept during a storm while his friends panicked and were extremely discontented (even seasick?). He lived from the inside out – confident in the faithfulness and provision of his Father. The key to overcoming the roller coaster of circumstancial changes and challenges is to be rooted in the unchanging and unconditional love relationship found in Jesus. Sound super-spiritual for the ‘real world’? Not at all…. doesn’t get more real than chained to a ruthless Roman soldier and eventually getting your head cut off… then being voted one of the top intellects and writers in all history. What’s good enough for Paul is good enough for me…. 🙂

John Cox

Christian Author

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