Have you ever asked kids around you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The preschooler in my house seems to have a different answer every time I ask him! That’s because usually his answer has something to do with the direction life is taking him in that moment. But as soon as his little life goes in a different direction (or different toy, or different movie, or a random bug flies by…), his new answer simply reflects the new direction of his life!
Preschoolers aren’t the only ones this happens to. Ask someone with gray hair and grown-up kids, “What did you want to be when you were in high school” or “What’s different in marriage that you didn’t expect” or “What’s different between how you thought parenting would be and how it was” or “How is being single different than you thought it would be” and I bet they have a story or two about what they thought life would be like, what life became as they went along, and what life is like now! There might be a few who knew everything beforehand and it worked out exactly like they thought, but for everyone else that’s being honest life often takes twists, turns, or leads to dead ends that causes us to do something we never saw coming!
This is normal life, isn’t it? It’s full of redirection caused by unexpected turns. If anything, Covid has caused us to realize that if someone eats an animal wrong in another part of the world, your job will stop being normal, church can’t meet like it did, and our kids will not be able to go to school! If it wasn’t that, it’s a new job, a lost job, a sick family member, a new family member, a broken relationship, a new relationship, or a million other things that cause redirection in our lives. If we’re not careful, we can find dismay in a redirection. But is there a way to redeem redirection for Gospel purposes instead? What do we do in our lives when we can’t do what we thought we’d be doing?
Thankfully, God has not left us without wisdom to answer this!
Paul in Philippians 1:12-18
Paul’s example in Philippians, given to us as a way to learn how to live as Christians (4:17), is a beautiful lesson on how to redeem redirection. After all, his salvation (just like yours) began with a massive life redirection and continued to be that season after season. Instead of wallowing in self-pity or being frozen in fear, he learned something about redeeming redirection that we all need to know! As a seasoned Christian who has seen his share of redirection, what can we learn about our own redirection to redeem it?
Keep your eyes on Christ’s kingdom (v.12)
Paul was sitting in jail. Jail wasn’t the plan, but it is now. Though Paul is still unsure of how it will all work out, he is sure of one thing: it’s working out to advance the message of Christ. Read the whole book and you’ll see this as a recurring them! I am not overstepping the context of Philippians to summarize it like this: whatever Christ has for Paul, Paul is resolved to have it for himself. And now, because Paul was in chains, we have the beauty of this passage of Scripture handed down to us forever.
What does it look like to maintain a kingdom perspective in your new direction? Well – because of this redirection, you’re in a new place. You wouldn’t be sitting in that meeting, another room, a new grocery store, or an unemployment line if it weren’t for this new change. Why it all happened may always allude you, but what to do with your new direction remains clear if you maintain a kingdom perspective: know Jesus more and make Jesus known. You get to know Christ like you haven’t known Him before and you get to live out life in Christ in a new place. God has a purpose that He may never tell you.
Look for new ministry (v.13-14)
When Paul left for this missionary journey, there was never any mention of a ministry to those in the jail-system by becoming an inmate! But as way leads to way, Paul found himself in jail. His ministry of preaching the Gospel and church-planting among the Gentiles took a new direction, but the mission didn’t change! Though it wasn’t the plan, those who are now around Paul are now hearing the Gospel – and this is because Paul saw this new redirection as a new ministry.
It isn’t an accident you are where you are now. God is not worried about what to do with you now that life took a turn you didn’t expect! Look for Gospel work. You can’t do what you were doing, but what can you do? Live out the Gospel for others to see!
Trust God with what you can’t control (v.15-17, 20).
On a macro level, Paul had no more control over those outside of his imprisonment than he had control over how his Roman guards were running the military. On a micro level, the ministry that others were doing was done in a way that minimized Paul and maximized their own egos. What does Paul do? He trusts God to take care of all the details of others! Paul’s trust of God allowed him to think beyond what others might be doing – even if it caused harm to his reputation.
Do others who are on your former path whisper of your demise because you aren’t there anymore? Does your child’s behavior give another a reason to think they are superior to you as a parent? Does someone at work whose position stayed the same seem puffed up because yours changed? As T. Swift once said, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.” (“Hate” is a modern way of saying “look down on you in an egocentric way.”) It’s what people do sometimes, but you don’t have to. Trust God both in your new direction and for those who are left on your old one. Walk faithfully in your new direction while trusting God to act faithfully everywhere else!
Choose out-loud joy (v.18).
Related to trusting God, Paul rejoices in the fact that the preaching of Christ is happening. The irony in this passage is incredible – Paul was in jail because of preaching Christ, and some were self-validating a feigned ministry superiority because they weren’t like Paul! It’s sinfully human to think we are spiritually superior because another’s ministry is numerically diminished, but God does something divine in Paul’s heart – Paul rejoices at Christ being made known, even if it leads to his own demise.
Rejoicing is simply “out-loud joy.” Just like joy, rejoicing is not a denial of the pain or an ignorance of the difficulty. It isn’t a mindset that tries to avoid talking or thinking about the difficult of a new direction. In fact, sometimes trying to “get your mind right” or “think positive thoughts” instead of embracing the situation can be reckless. To rejoice means that in the face of your redirection and all that that means, direct the source of your joy in Jesus – and be LOUD about it! Remember, He chose you. He knew what He was going to do with you. He isn’t caught off guard by this. He’s with you until the very end. Allow the truth of Christ’s purpose to fuel the out-loud feeling of joy – aka, rejoice!
Make it known to God in prayer (v.19)
So at this point I’m asking, “Well, what do I do to change this?” New directions can cause discomfort at best – if not extreme difficulty. Are we to passively accept our new location in the process of redirection? NO! But what we act on is different than what we might think: we pray and tell others to do so as well.
Paul makes it known to God, through his own prayers and the prayers of others, that he would like to be delivered from this difficult direction. Paul does not suffer in silence! His redirection is made known, and Paul is not afraid to make sure God is hearing all about the chains he is in. He is telling others – literally writing to entire churches (cf. Ephesians 5:19-20), to ask for prayer that his current imprisonment would be finished. In other words, God is not only hearing about it from Paul, but by entire churches, their leadership, and the community of faith he is in!
When we are given a new direction, there is a tendency to put on a brave-face, suffer in silence, and not say anything to others. Christian – tell somebody! But don’t tell them in order to complain, tell them in order to communicate on your behalf before God. Wouldn’t it be cool if, when you see Jesus face-to-face in heaven, one of the first things He said with a smile on His face is, “You wouldn’t stop talking to me, and you just kept sending messengers to be on your behalf every time something happened in your life.”
So has life given you a new direction in this season? If not, one is coming at some point! When it comes, keep your eyes on Christ’s kingdom, look for new ministry opportunities, trust God with what you can’t control, choose out-loud joy, and make sure God is hearing from lots of people about it! In these days where life has changed, the Great Commission has not. It might look different to love God, love others, and live the mission today. But this redirection can be redeemed!