Last Monday I attended my Uncle’s funeral. I travelled to a different city. I got an insight into the dynamics of a different group of people (it was a long funeral with some of the most interesting and engaging speeches I’ve ever heard at a funeral). I grieved with my extended family. In some ways, it was an overwhelming experience, with lots to process.
Life is a bit like that – at times, overwhelming. There is so much to learn, receive, hear, see and process. Then we need to weave all of that into some sort of coherent understanding of life in this world. Having joined all the pieces that life throws up at us together, we need to figure out the course we will chart through life. How are we meant to approach the task of interpreting our experiences? How do we get the most out of the different moments of life?
Sifting The Experiences of Life
One of my cousins told a story about his Dad, my Uncle. He was at a water park as a kid and was told the family were leaving. He cheekily ran back up the hill to the biggest slide for one last run. Unfortunately, in his haste to get one last ride in, he missed his footing as he started down the ride, fell face first, and knocked his front tooth out. When he got to the bottom of the ride, my Uncle grabbed him, saw what and happened and said with seriousness, ‘Sammy, see this tooth (pointing to one of his own front teeth), when I was your age, I did exactly the same thing as you, and the dentist was able to put it back in place. Don’t worry, we’ll get you sorted.’ My cousin recounted how this response totally reassured him. In an uncanny twist, later, when my cousin’s child was the same age, almost exactly the same thing happened. And so he was prepared, he knew what to do, he responded just the same way his Dad had all those years before. But as my cousin retold the story, he said, ‘there was only one difference, as I spoke of losing my tooth as a child, I was telling the truth. My Dad was just making it up. Lying so and so!’ There were lots of laughs about this story.
It’s a story that shows us lots about our experiences. Our experiences shape us. Our experiences often put before us examples as we observe the way people react in different situations. Yet not every example is a good example. Or maybe more to the point, we need to sift the good from the bad in the examples we observe. There are lies as well as truth. There can be right motives, with the wrong execution. Or wrong motives, hidden by right action. How do we appropriately sift the different experiences of life?
Sifting the Fruit and the Destination
One other interesting thing that is thrown up by the book of Philippians with regards to the inputs that life brings to us is the dynamics of fruit and destinies. We are meant to experience the fruit of the Kingdom: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22). But there is also the destination to keep in mind. Some are destined for heaven, while others are destined for destruction (Philippians 3:18-19). There is a trajectory, as well as a current reality. How do we levels of fruit? How do we make sure we’re headed for the right destination?
Noticing the Gold
In Philippians 4:8, Paul writing as a servant of God’s Holy People writes:
‘Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.’
Here he indicates that in any situation we find ourselves in, there are things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. Whether the funeral I was at during the week, or the testing moments of marriage and family life, the run in we have with the workmate or the church service doesn’t quite go to our liking - there are true things to focus on, there are excellent things to observe, there is a right way of thinking about the situation, that ultimately reflects the Lord’s perspective on that moment. We’re to think God’s thoughts about each and every moment. We’re not just to move through life passively letting it happen to us. We’re not to be fault finders and grumblers focused on error. But we’re to look for the good, the positive, the true and right.
I think of sifting through a pan of soil, looking for gold or a precious stone. You focus and recognise the good. You don’t treat the contents of the pan as if all things are equal: you deliberately value the soil and gold differently. You notice the soil, but you grab hold of the gold. We’re to do the same with the things we hear and see and experience in life.
Through the week, on my travels away, I had a couple of situations where people didn’t respond in a way that was the most helpful. That’s ok, but the problem being I was already feeling a bit emotionally fragile and I found myself being triggered by people’s responses heaps more than normal. I could have just sulked, got down in the dumps about it. But I believe that if I take God’s Word seriously, my job is to go looking for the gold. What was actually wrong about that persons actions? Why have I responded so strongly? I needed to give myself space to grieve, to forgive and to feel the feels. But it was done with a view to seeing things rightly and more than that, with a view to celebrating the good.
Are you facing a situation at the moment where you need to fight to think God’s thoughts? Well here’s a further suggestion.
Grabbing the Gold
I don’t know how much you do each day that you don’t really think all that much about it because you’ve done it before. You just go through the routine. It’s often when we face new situations that we are forced to intentionally think. Yet even then, often times we don’t have time to think every situation through. We default to what we’ve seen in others.
So Paul gives us a further crucial piece of advice:
‘Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.’ (Philippians 4:9a)
Now we of course can’t literally watch Paul walking around and talking. But in his letters, we do get a pretty good picture of his teaching and preaching and way of acting. As we’ve considered through our ‘Refreshing Joy’ series, Paul was one whose hearts desire was ‘to know Christ’ (Phil 3:10). As we see things in Paul, we’re encouraged to do them, to act on them, to put them into practice.
Also, earlier in the letter, Paul has said not just to do the things he does, but to also ‘keep your eyes on those who live as we do’ (Philippians 3:17). The context is that some people are headed for destruction as they have their mind set on earthly things. But we are to keep looking and listening to those who clearly have their mind set on the things of heaven. Those who ultimately have their eyes set on Jesus, who Paul himself seeks to follow as an example (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:1).
I have found this so essential in my Christian life. I spent time around older mature Christians as a new believer. They intentionally modelled Christ to me. Then I had the opportunity of a full time apprenticeship for two years, learning the life of Christian ministry. So many of the things I learnt in that time, I put into practice without really thinking too much about it as we started out on our own in Christian ministry. I’ve continued to look for examples to follow in each new season. It’s much easier to learn from someone else, rather than trying to figure things out from scratch for yourself.
But what if you don’t have good examples around? What if you’re struggling to think God’s thoughts?
Recognising the One Who Put The Gold There In the First Place
Paul finishes this section by reminding us that as we give ourselves to follow Christ Jesus, we are not alone.
‘the God of peace will be with you’ (Philippians 4:9b)
Jesus, the prince of peace, came into this world - God with us. He showed us God. He showed us love. He showed us sacrifice and suffering. He showed us power and glory. He showed us how to think and speak and act in this world. And having been raised back to the Father, Jesus then send the Holy Spirit, the bond of peace, to be the presence of God with us as we pursue all that God calls us to. We are not on our own - God is with us.
In the low moments, as we ask for God’s thoughts, as we request for godly examples to be provided, we can be assured that God has been with us in Jesus and He is with us in the person of the Holy Spirit. We don’t need to fear in the different moments of life we face.
About the Author
Jai Wright is a Christian Minister, who founded and leads MAKE Church in Mackay, Qld. He recently published the book, Life Plugged In: Connecting with the Source of Peace, Power and Purpose.
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