A Prison of Victory

“Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs…” Philippians 1:27

Picture this: Scars cover your entire body, constant reminders of your dedication and devotion. The air holds such a stench that you can taste the mildew, stale waste, and odor of weeks without a shower. The verbal insults hurled at you hourly try to strip you of any dignity you have left. You haven’t been outside in, hmm, you can’t remember, but you know it’s been just as long since you’ve had a good meal and a nice, hot shower.

How would you be feeling? Better yet, what thoughts would be racing through your mind each day? Would you be planning revenge on those who caused you pain? Maybe you’d feel like giving up, a “what’s the use of living, anyways,” attitude. Or maybe, you’d be on your knees praying for those whom you love, turning the focus off of you and onto others. Wait, what? You might be asking, “How can you expect me to expend the energy on others when I’m barely surviving, here?” Am I right?

Because that’s exactly what Paul did. Even from jail, Paul’s heart was for the saints, his brothers and sisters in Christ. Because of the help from the Holy Spirit, He was able to turn his focus away from his own hardship and to helping his friends who were struggling with issues of their own. “Stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” And not to be afraid of their adversaries. He told them he prayed for them to, “be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ.” (Phil. 1:27, 1:10) I believe letters like this one kept him going each day. He wasn’t consumed with his circumstances, but on how he could help his friends.

Blog prison credit to Denny Müller

Does It Matter What We Think? What better model for us to follow than the lives of Jesus and His disciples? While you might not currently be in Paul’s predicament, are you in a spiritual prison? Does it feel like the walls are closing in around you with no way out? You are NOT alone. God is with you, just like He was with Paul. He will help you.

How? We can start by praying a prayer of thankfulness to God every time we think of our brothers and sisters, “making request for (them) all with joy.” (Philippians 1:4)

What else? When we are tempted to fold our minds in on ourselves, ask God to put one person on your heart. Then reach out. Encourage them through a text or phone call, letting them know you think about them and pray for them.  It is only when we turn our eyes away from ourselves that we can truly have the victory. Remember, if God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

Hiking Out Life Lessons

“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” I John 5:4

“You have to go through the muck.” Behind me, Michelle was of course speaking about the spiritual parallels for the current situation we found ourselves in—specifically, my two dear friends and I were going through, well, the muck. Literally.

Our families recently visited Vermont for a long weekend, staying in a house together that sat nestled in a community filled with trees, dirt roads, and, to our joy, hiking trails. This particular morning all twelve of us decided (well, ok, the moms kinda made an executive decision) that we would spend an hour or two hiking the four-mile trail to the top of a mountain.

Within minutes the kids had disappeared, leaving the six adults in their dust. As the adults journeyed, we commented on the change in the terrain the further we walked. Slowly the wide path narrowed. Slowly the small rocks and graveled path grew large roots and sprung ginormous rocks right in the middle of the path. What was that about!? There was no sign posted that said, “Warning, this path will become dangerous.”

We made it pretty far successfully, but then the men decided they’d had enough and would meet us at the bottom. We were about a quarter-mile to the top—or so we had been told. As the three of us brave women continued, the path turned mucky. Hence, the beginning of our spiritual parallel inspirations.

“You have to go through the muck to get to the end, and the end is glorious.”

“We all fall down (ok, none of us actually fell, but admittedly, there were slippings and three pairs of wet feet), but we have to pick ourselves up and stay on the path.”

“Keep going because there’s a great reward at the end.”

“There will be roots that pop up and the rocks will make you stumble, but press on.”

The parallels were endless. Michelle and Jill began to spew them out one after another. It was just enough for me to keep up with them as I typed my notes into my phone (thank God for cell phones). This continued until we found ourselves making references to the straight and narrow path that was not very well traveled. Because, uh, well, that’s just where we realized we had landed. The first indication was the overgrown ferns that our legs swished through. But it wasn’t until the “no trespassing” signs posted to trees that we really knew we were on the wrong path—another spiritual parallel!

Fortunately, it was easy enough to retrace our steps, and, with the help of one of our teenagers (thank God again for cell phones), we made it back to where we had missed the turn-off. A little late, but after more climbing and huffing and puffing, we made it to the summit. Exhausted, we grabbed a quick selfie and rested on the rock, soaking in the breathtaking view of God’s creation.

View from the top 2

Does It Matter What We Think? I have a T-shirt that displays a mountain, and the words “You Claimed the Victory” are written across it. I got it for free last year at a Christian music festival to support a band (I’m embarrassed to say I don’t remember who, but I am eternally grateful, for this is one of my faves). The shirt is a constant reminder of what happens when we persist through the muck. On that mountain, we persisted through the muck, the annoying flying bugs, the steep rocks that required support from nearby trees (I am so thankful those roots remained deep in the ground), and getting lost. But as we kept our mind on the reward, ignoring the wet feet and mucky pathway, our spirits remained high. We knew what awaited us at the end. We claimed the victory, and saw it! And let me tell you, it was worth every hardship.

What about you? Has God shown you a spiritual parallel somewhere in nature? Drop me a comment. I’d love to hear it!

Overcoming Fear During Times of Trouble

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely…if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:8

“The death toll has risen to …”. “Over a thousand new cases since yesterday.” “Stay home.”

How do you feel reading those statements? Yucky? Depressed? Anxious?

Me too. There’s a reason Paul encourages us to think about certain things. And not just think about them, but the New King James Version uses the word “meditate.” What does it mean to meditate? The Strong’s Dictionary defines it as, “to attend to, practice” or “be diligent in.” In other words, consistently practice, focusing all your attention on something.

When we practice something it’s so we can improve. When we study, we are diligently reading the material or practicing math problems. I can tell you it probably won’t be easy in the beginning. You might have to think about what you’re thinking. But over time, as we practice and purposefully think about the good things, those things that are praiseworthy, the feelings of fear and worry will be replaced with peace and joy, even as we continue to go through a difficult situation.

Blog pic lovely

Does It Matter What We Think? If I’ve learned one thing during this time, it’s how utterly important it is to take each and every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. When I allow myself to meditate on the statistics and what the media is bombarding us with, fear quickly pushes itself in. Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”

So, what can we think about when there’s a pandemic surrounding us? How can we meditate on good things when all we see are bad things? Here are a few suggestions. First of all, turn off the news. Stop Googling every ache and symptom you feel. Think about the goodness of God in your life. Are you healthy? Is your family healthy? Do you have a job or are you receiving an unemployment check? Do you have food on the table? If you said no to all of those, look outside and it won’t take long to find God’s love and mercy all around. Is the sun shining? Is the rain watering our earth? Are the trees budding and flowers beginning to bloom? Do you hear the birds singing? God created these for our enjoyment as well. If you still find it difficult to meditate on any of these things, call a friend or family member just to say hi. You will be amazed at how good it feels to let someone else know you’re thinking about them.

What are you doing to meditate on the good things? I’d love to hear from you!



Photo by Alan Emery on Unsplash