In a recent meeting of a small group I attend, we each wrote paraphrases of the Scripture passage we were studying that week. The verses I put into my own words was Philippians 1:12-26. You can find the passage online here:
These verses record Paul’s thoughts while he was in prison, and wanting to encourage the Christians in Philippi. In the first chapter, he wrote, “what has happened to me (this imprisonment that was meant to stop me) has actually served to advance [the spread of] the good news [regarding salvation].” Paul reports how his incarceration “in (the cause of) Christ has become common knowledge throughout the whole praetorian (imperial) guard and to everyone else.”
I was busy and was writing a paraphrase about an hour before the group was to meet, so I didn’t really stop to think about my own context and how the passage applied to what I had been doing that very week. I completed the task and raced in, coffee in hand, ten minutes late (it was the stop for coffee, I confess.).
It is food for our souls–the reading of the Scripture passage for the week in several versions, and is always a blessing. The next step is to share our paraphrases. This part is always a blessing too, as I listen to Biblical concepts and principles worked into different words by my friends, some more contemporary, others amplified, and some have made concise summaries. The hectic pace of my week just slows down during this time and this Saturday was no different. I was aware of soaking in the ministry of the Holy Spirit through His word.
My Most Immediate Concerns
It wasn’t until I started reading aloud my own paraphrase that I realized that right in the midst of my harried week, without much conscious thought of my own, the Lord had pulled my own most immediate ministry concerns right into the writing of my paraphrase. Here is what I wrote:
“Knowing that what happens to me, in the end, furthers the good news of Jesus, this is my highest hope. To see the whole prison system, guards and everyone else, see the light—my purpose for the sake of the gospel—is a result I rejoice in. This serves to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to minister in word and deed, more boldly and without fear.
I know that there are mixed motives among you—some contentious for personal reasons: competition, jealousy—but there are others whose motives are higher, better, more motivated by the Holy Spirit. These latter are coming out of a place of God’s heart, seeing purpose in my struggle, the purpose of furthering of the gospel. The ones who are ministering from false motives are concerned with themselves, insincere, wanting to be oppositional, stirring up dissension and trouble.
But that doesn’t matter to me because whether false or good motives, Christ is being preached and I am so glad of that. And I will keep on being glad, because your prayers and through the power of the Holy Spirit, what happens to me will turn out for my good—deliverance out of the struggle one way or another.
I anticipate with eagerness, expecting no shame, but to be strengthened in my resolve, and with the outcome that God will be glorified through me—either my life or my death or both. For me, Life is Christ, death is only the better. If I continue to live, there will be good work to do.
Yet if I could choose, which would it be. . . . . pulled in two directions:
- Desiring to go and be with the Lord.
- Yet wanting to fulfill my purpose here in this life.
So, I will remain till He calls me home, continuing with you all, in faith and joy moving forward toward Him. I hope and pray this will result in your joy in Christ spilling over—what a blessing if I can have a part in that.”
Even as I prepare this blog post, I am caught up in wonder at how the Lord threaded my week together and validated key parts of my activities that are often difficult for me. I am strengthened and encouraged by our little study group and the way the Lord makes connections between His word and my daily life in Him. I will close by sharing just one of these connections:
Early this week, when I entered behind fence and razor wire for a visit with a woman in prison, I was filled with a familiar sense of inadequacy—how could I offer encouragement in this context—in the harsh reality of all that comes with imprisonment? As I read my paraphrase of Paul’s words, I am reminded of one of my escorts (my name badge says, “escort required”). At each visit, I wait to be ushered into the visiting area by a correctional officer, and I have come to know some of them. There is one the Lord brings to mind whose face lights up when he sees me and sometimes he asks indirectly about my motivation for these visits. And I get to tell him a bit. It also helps to remember that the “whole prison system” in Paul’s time or our own, is not outside of God’s sovereignty and I can simply relax and do what He has given me to do, say what He gives me to say, and He will take it from there!
I am so grateful for the continued ministry of His word; I am so blessed by the continued companionship of friends as we walk together in our journey with Christ; and I am so encouraged by the continued support of the friends of WGA—your prayers and financial support that carry the gospel of peace and the Lord’s comfort and encouragement into places where people need the Lord—they need to know He cares about them.
Note: If you are interested in knowing more about our ministry to inmates and parolees, we are glad to send you some information, or you can attend a volunteer training session to see how you can be a support to someone. We would love to hear from you at 303-863-7757 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mary is one of the founders of Where Grace Abounds and served as Executive Director from its inception on July, 1986 through March 31st, 2007. She speaks and teaches at churches and conferences across the country. She has also served on several boards of non-profit organizations, is a conference speaker on a variety of topics that include: Intimacy with God, Healthy Sexuality, and leadership development. She currently serves in leadership in her denomination. Mary’s favorite ministry roles are discipleship counseling, group facilitation, and leadership development.
Mary often characterizes herself as “a seeker of Truth” and has a long-standing fascination with human behavior and motiviation. Her education consists of lay and discipleship counseling, indepentent study about the integration of psychology and theology, counseling and human sexuality. She also holds a BS in Human Services and an MA in Psychology from Regis University.
Mary attends a Friends (Quaker) Church.
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