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Confidence and Realism

Philippians 1:18b-20
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. (NIVUK)

Paul is suffering in prison and being slandered by critical Christians (Philippians 1:15-18), but rejoicing is one of the great themes of this letter.  Although he rejoices that his circumstances have provoked a much wider public debate about Jesus, he is not passive and waiting for the end as a condemned man.  He wants to be released to get on with his gospel ministry in more places. But rather than longing sadly for a better tomorrow, he is rejoicing in all that God is already doing each day.  

At the same time, he knows the church in Philippi have been praying for him when Epaphroditus risks his life to bring news and with physical necessities from Philippi (Philippians 2:25-27), and the Holy Spirit had given him confidence that he would be released.  This curious interplay of the work of believers in prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit in assuring God’s power to change the future is not to be dissected, but to rejoice over.

However, Paul knows that the immediate future may be difficult; he will need courage to keep standing up for Jesus.  He does not 'put his head in the sand'; he is a realist and knows that death could come at any time. The prospect of fighting with lions was a real possibility, and if that was to be his end, he did not want to disgrace the Lord in his last moments. So Paul was both an optimist, knowing that in all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28), and a realist.  He was confident that prayer would be answered, but also confident that God would give him courage whatever the circumstances.  Some might say that he was not fully trusting.  He was!  But his faith was in the Lord, to give strength for whatever might come; rather than faith in one specific outcome.

Lots of believers get muddled about this. They think that anything less than 100% certainty that something will happen is doubt, and therefore God will not answer. No, faith is in a person and not an event. We trust in the wisdom and kindness of the Lord, trusting that He will only allow what is for our good and His glory (Psalm 37:5). When faith is fixed on a specific solution, it will lose its credibility when God has other ideas. Neither can we force God to do what we want, despite many people praying and our own inner confidence.  The key to faith is to present our needs and desires to the Lord, and then trust Him to provide the right outcome (Philippians 4:6).  Perhaps a colleague or friend in trouble might also be helped by this reading; why not share it?

Dear Lord. Thank You for Paul's wise understanding of how to relate to You in faith. Forgive me for being so weighed down by the criticism of others that I fail to rejoice in Your sovereign power. Help me to be both realistic as to the possibilities and yet confident in Your loving mercy to me and Your unseen plans to use my circumstances for Your glory. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams