“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)
Friend to Friend
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 phoropter (I had to look that up. Who knew?), and then the doctor flips down first one lens, then another, while you say which of the two helps you see the letters on the wall more clearly. Lens one or lens two? Lens three or four? Which one is better?
As I looked through those various lenses, I wondered if I was looking at my life through the correct lens. Could it be that I was looking at my story through the wrong lens, and if I would simply flip down a different one, I would 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 of preaching the gospel, he had been flogged, whipped, and stoned many times. He had been shipwrecked, snake bit, outcast, and ridiculed. Several times, he was in lockdown in one place or another. Part of the time he was under house arrest in Rome, part of the time he was in a dirty dungeon chained to a guard—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)
Lens one or lens 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 been able to do had he continued to travel about.
Paul also wrote, “I am put here for the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:16, 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 could have joy even in a difficult situation.
Paul was a master of lens-flipping. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed,” he wrote, “perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9). Can’t you just see the lens flipping back and forth? Lens one or lens two? Which helps me see the situation more clearly.
Even though Paul was seemingly stuck in a cycle of one bad thing happening after another, he still had joy. I’m sure he wasn’t happy all the time, but he was still joyful. There’s a big difference. Joy can be a happy feeling, but it’s also more than that. It’s a point of view.
I wish I could tell you that I have this perspective all the time. I don’t. It’s a struggle. I pout. I get huffy. I get downright discouraged when my plans fall apart, or people don’t respond the way I’d hoped. But after I settle 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 then I have a better story. Not because the storyline changes, but because I see it differently.
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 that my circumstances will work to mold and make me to be more like Jesus. Help me have joy in the journey.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Now It’s Your Turn
What lesson can you learn about interpreting your story from Paul’s attitude while in prison
More From the Girlfriends
Many of us feel broken. Our mistakes, the pain others have caused us, and circumstances outside our control taunt us every day, though we long to turn a new page. My new book, When You Don’t Like Your Story, challenges us to ask: What if God doesn’t want us to rip out our difficult stories but repurpose them for good?
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© 2021 by Sharon Jaynes. All rights reserved.