If you had to summarize your life in one nutshell sentence, what would you say? Perhaps you would talk about your background, schooling, and degree. You might mention family. Some would talk about career. Others would reflect on additional things they cherish. You might talk about very real struggles that have changed your life. Boiling life down to one statement is hard. But if you had to do it, what would you say?
Paul’s Nutshell Sentence
Paul said this – “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21) What an interesting one-line life statement. Paul had a full and prestigious life before Jesus captivated his heart. When he met Jesus, everything shifted. He became so resolved in trusting Jesus and being faithful. Life became opportunity to tell about Jesus. Yet, he was often persecuted severely and struggled even to the point of death. Still, being alive meant he could invest in people’s lives. But he clearly preferred to be with Jesus in Heaven.
Paul’s life was filled with adventures and sufferings. He had numerous close calls, was constantly in jail and often beaten, had interviews with famous people, and enjoyed global travel – most often while in chains. He was very familiar with struggles of every kind. But Paul willingly embraced suffering and persecution for Jesus. He had a purpose of encouraging believers, training them in righteousness, promoting progress in their faith, and enhancing their joy in Christ. This is what motivated him and gave perspective in his struggles.
Struggles Are Real
How many people do you know that get excited about struggles? Why did Paul focus his energy tenaciously on how to struggle? He knew struggles are real. Paul also figured out Jesus is everything He claims. That’s pretty significant – in fact, a life changer. Paul, who started as Saul, was smart. But God had to “get in his face” a bit to show him some things. As he listened and responded to God, his journey of real struggles took form.
Paul expresses what a true follower of Jesus desires. A deep love for Jesus and resolved commitment to God’s agenda. A life that revolves around Christ firmly sets one’s own desires and pursuits. And this makes struggles easier to navigate.
Jesus helps His true followers set three critical areas – affections, priorities, and values. These keep you balanced. In this place, feelings, emotions, and attitudes (and moods) are less vital. Managing them is do-able because focus is clear.
Affections, Priorities, and Values
Let’s look at affections, priorities, and values and why they are helpful markers to live a godly life.
Affections – Desires are set on Jesus, alone. They are a testimony that He is your highest gain and greatest love. Everything else is second.
Priorities – Jesus is first, most, and best. He establishes what is important in your daily issues. In other words, He’s interested in every single thing in your life, and He helps you match all things up with God’s agenda.
Values – What you esteem must flow from what God values. You adopt His motives and agenda as your own.
Just to be forthright at this point – these three things, fixed on Jesus, change everything! Even struggles. Jesus said in Matt. 16:25, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will find it.” Paul said his struggles were trash compared to the treasure of Jesus. So, struggles can be redeemed in this arrangement. What you “lose” in struggles can show up in a very different way as a “win.”
Even so, life is full of difficulties, hardships, disappointment, and lots of unknowns. The struggles are real. Often painful. They run alongside life’s good experiences and the adventures. Even on a good day, you can wrestle with a strange kind of sadness. You may be slandered, ostracized, and persecuted – many times unfairly. Some days, you may even feel you have lost everything! You’re not alone. Paul felt all those things.
God Knows and Cares
Ps. 40:5 says God’s thoughts toward you (which are already bountiful) are multiplied as you go through real struggles. (ESV – “You have multiplied, O Lord my God, Your wondrous deeds and Your thoughts toward us…”)
Life was never intended to be so hard. God created life to be very good – in fact, perfect. Everything changed when people began to question God’s goodness and His intentions. That, of course, was the original sin, and it remains the temptation under all sin. Sin tarnishes your life story. Your life e-pistle – what people look at and virtually read as you live – becomes a different story than you planned.
A believer in Jesus can rise up to a place of excellent character. No matter what happens, if they are fully surrendered, they will conduct themselves in a manner worthy of God’s affections, priorities, and values. That’s not saying you can earn those things. Instead, it’s saying your character can be lined up with what God desires. People resolved in these things will bring what is theirs to manage into congruency with the undeserved gift of holiness from Jesus. These people stand firm! They also have a nutshell life statement of affections, priorities, and values – despite real struggles.
The sign that sets these folks apart, that they will be saved while others who don’t trust God’s grace will be destroyed, is courage. (Phil. 1:28) They stand firm in opposition, willing to suffer for Christ – because they “get” who He is: absolutely everything He claims. This is a common theme among serious Christians.
The most amazing insight these folks have is their understanding of two gifts. One gift, so undeserved, is the incredible opportunity to believe on Jesus and know Him intimately. The other gift, that doesn’t seem like a gift, is to suffer for Him! These gifts are mentioned in Philippians. Believers can see both as a privilege to receive. Their struggles are for real, but their heart is so in love with Jesus, that they would die or live, to accomplish whatever He values.
Application Questions and Ideas
Do you love Jesus enough to suffer for Him – and for your faith in Him? Do your endeavors line up with God’s affections, priorities, and values?
Where have you set your affections? Have you clearly identified your priorities and values? Write them down and review them often to clarify focus. This helps to stay balanced when you struggle.
If typical i-generation individuals (people of this highly-skilled technology generation) summarized your life in one nutshell sentence, what would they say? If God were to summarize you, what would He say?
Article developed from Phil. 1:21-30.
Description – It’s hard to change habits and establish new patterns. Old, unhealthy patterns can feel like a ball and chain you drag around. It seems to take a mammoth effort to dump the old and introduce the new. Practicing new strokes takes energy, focus, and resolve. It almost seems easier to just put up with the old even though you know it’s not your best – or the best for you. So, what do you do?