January 11, 2015
“Moving Your Mindset”
As the story goes, two salesmen were sent to a remote place in Africa to sell shoes. The first salesman sent a message back to the home office, saying, “I can’t do anything here. No one wears shoes!” The second salesman also sent back a message. “What a great opportunity here! No one wears shoes!” Both salesmen were dealing with the same circumstances; the difference was their attitude. It all depends on your perspective.
Attitudes are powerful influences on how we act and what we believe. Attitudes shape our expectations, and drive our emotions. Attitude can be both positive and negative. We develop certain attitudes from the culture where we live. Certain attitudes that were prevalent in our country’s history can change or disappear over time, again some bad, some good.
Paul was amazing in his drive and passion for ministry, and in his ability to harness his attitude to accomplish great things for Christ. Any one of us might be tempted to complain about our present situation in life, or to despair when a door of opportunity is slammed in our face. Not Paul. He knew that what mattered was not whether he remained in prison or not, but how the kingdom of God was advancing. By faith he could see progress rather than problems.
As we begin this morning’s scripture lesson, we hear Paul rejoicing that his time in prison has served to advance the gospel. That’s outside of the norm, certainly. Most times it is those outside the prison who are glad someone is incarcerated, rather than the one who is locked up. Keep the drug dealers, rapists, arsonists, murderers and other convicts away from others. Paul is in a different category than most jailbirds, one because he is influencing his guards to become believers.
The customary practice at the time was that someone like Paul would be chained at the wrist to a guard, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Soldiers would relieve the guards in regular shifts. Imagine if you were a guard assigned to Paul. That’s like being chained to someone like Billy Graham or Rick Warren or even Joel Osteen! How could you not be influenced by someone like that, whose personal faith and persuasive speech had the potential to change your life? God gave Paul the opportunity to minister effectively to each soldier with whom he was chained. Over time this had a ripple effect on the entire city. I seriously doubt most people in jail would seize this opportunity to witness to the gospel the way Paul did.
The second reason Paul rejoices at being in prison is that believers in Rome became more confident about their faith because of Paul’s example. His attitude brought about a shift in their attitude as well. These believers became more bold in speaking the word without fear. They saw in Paul someone who would share his faith no matter the circumstances. He was courageous and did not let fear get the better of him. If Paul could be an effective witness despite being confined in a dark and rat-infested prison, certainly others would be encouraged to do their part, out of respect and love for Paul.
It takes a certain mindset to bring good out of what seems at first glance to be challenging circumstances. I remember long ago reading the book Christy by Catherine Marshall, about her work as a teacher in a remote area of Appalachia. Christy had just started her work there, but she became frustrated by a young girl who constantly followed her around, jabbering away about one thing or another. She wore Christy down by her nonstop talking. Christy had no idea how to get rid of this girl, but as she prayed about it, she came to realize this young person was actually her entry ticket to get to know people better. This young girl contained a wealth of information, and Christy came to appreciate what a gift God had given her in this chatterbox.
Paul goes on to speak about certain people who were preaching Christ out of envy or rivalry, while others were serving out of goodwill. This group of people understood why Paul was in prison, and they preached out of love for all Paul was doing to further Christ’s cause.
We know how true it is that some people are motivated by a desire to serve out of a deep and abiding love, or a passion to fight against injustice. Others may have a particular history or upbringing that has influenced them to act in certain ways – in how they react in a crisis, or because of things that are important to them. Paul writes that some people preach Christ out of selfish ambition or worse, thinking they can stir up trouble while Paul is in prison.
Certainly there were those who were jealous of Paul – because of his status as a Roman citizen, his background as a Jew and education as a Pharisee, his dramatic conversion, his excellence as a writer, his dedication as a missionary, and the respect he was given. He was like the stellar scholar from your high school days, who got everything right. Paul was like the one who got above a 4.0 GPA, lettered in several sports, was good looking, got more than his or her share of scholarships, got accepted at a really good school, was part of the popular crowd and dated someone really hot. I’m sure there were those who rejoiced when Paul was put in jail, so that now they would get a chance to shine.
Paul understood that some preached Christ for wrong reasons, or wanted to stir up trouble for him. But he goes on to say, “What does it matter? The important thing is that Christ is preached. And because of that I rejoice.” Let God judge the motivations of one’s heart. For us, the most important thing is to see results. If Christ is preached with God’s truth and lives are changed, we need not worry if they chase after celebrity status or pastor a megachurch.
Paul gives us a good lesson about avoiding resentment and a judgmental attitude. Paul chooses to cultivate an attitude of peace and rejoicing over the accomplishments of others, no matter what their motivation.
Paul continues to rejoice, because through the prayers of his friends and the help of the Holy Spirit, he knows that all will be accomplished according to God’s purposes. He is confident he will be released from prison through the strength of their prayers. And yet, whether he lives or dies, he prays for the courage to exalt Christ in all circumstances.
So, how’s your attitude doing these days? Do you find yourself being resentful or despairing at the situations where you have gotten stuck? Do you feel hopeless or resigned to functioning in emptiness, only half of what you could be? Have you gotten angry at God or someone else, because it must be their fault you’re in this not so great place? What drives you these days?
I want to invite you to make a change in attitude and move your mindset, by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Allow prayer to work a shift in your thinking. If God can use Paul to change the hearts of the palace guard when Paul is in prison, God can use you too, just where you are. Maybe it’s not the best place you can think of, and maybe in your mind it’s as bad as a rat-infested prison. Just because your body is stuck there doesn’t mean your heart must be stuck too.
God can use us, wherever we are, and whatever circumstances we are in, if we can move our mindset to let God work through us. I know this has been a hard year for some of you, and I can’t presume to completely understand what pain you have endured. Each of us has a path where we walk, and it can be a lonely place. Jesus knows better than anyone else.
But I also believe it is true that God gives us the capacity to rejoice despite the burdens we have to carry. Paul writes that through the prayers of those who love him and the encouragement of the Holy Spirit all that has happened will be to his deliverance. He expects that he will have sufficient courage so that Christ will always be exalted in him, whether he lives or dies. He lives to proclaim Christ and will die to see Christ face to face.
Let’s pledge to continue to pray for one another, and especially for those whose burdens have been heavy. Pray also that if your motivation has been dragging and resentment climbing, that you may have an honest conversation with God in prayer. As Paul puts it, let us stand firm in one spirit, and contend as one for the faith of the gospel. Don’t be afraid of your struggles, but find ways to rejoice. Move your mindset, to the glory of our savior, Jesus Christ.