Weekly Bible Devotional
“The World Ahead: Flexibility and Openness”
August 15, 2021
Scripture for Sunday: Philippians 4:12-14
I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.
Notes on the Text:
This week we are looking at the importance of staying flexible and open as we move into the world ahead. We turn to a biblical character who learned how to stay open and flexible for the sake of the kingdom of God while finding true contentment. The Apostle Paul gives us a great example. Before his transformation, he was a rigid man. He fought to protect the status quo and what he believed to be the only way to be Jewish and faithful. But after his mystical encounter with Christ, Paul learned to be flexible and open to God’s leading.
In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul was trying to help them see that the love which God embodies in and through us can heal our divisions and help us find our way through into the future with flexibility, openness, and grace. Paul was very aware of the cultural conditioning of the Philippians. He knew how they saw the world through the lens of the Roman Empire, a world where the rich and powerful were seen as blessed by the gods, while the rest were seen as destined to a life of misery and submission to the will of the elite. He knew that the people of Philippi saw that the ruling elite had to use violence and religion to control the masses. In order to find one’s way into the future, people believed that they had to follow the rigid norms and values of the world where there were winners and losers.
Paul was writing these words from prison. He knew about the rigidity of the system and that he was fighting an uphill battle. It is easy to say that change and flexibility are good when life is going well and we are successful, but when change means loss and risk, it is much harder to embrace it. How could Paul who was a man of considerable power find peace and joy, even when he found himself in prison? He came face to face with a rigid system of domination and yet he didn’t let it define him. The key to this passage from Paul is in these words, “I have learned.” Paul learned how to find peace in all circumstances. Instead of looking back to the good old days, when he was the one who had power to imprison and persecute people, Paul learned to look within himself to focus on the kingdom of God and the mission of Christ, even in times of scarcity and pain. Instead of looking for the culture around him to define life for him, he found in the way of Jesus a path forward that was open to new possibilities of love and care.
I really appreciate that Paul wrote about this experience telling others that it is possible for others to learn living in this state of acceptance, flexibility, and openness when they learn to rely on God’s grace. He never stopped changing, growing, and exploring new ways to fulfill his mission. Every obstacle that came his way became a new opportunity for growth, learning, and expanding the mission of Christ. His life was not conflict free or always successful, but his contentment came from the deep well of God’s love in his heart and nothing was able to take that away from him.
As we look at the world ahead, we know that we have to continue to be flexible and open to change. Yet, we also know that most of us resist or struggle with change. Todd Bolsinger says (screen), “People don’t resist change, they resist loss.” Change often requires loss of what we know and what is comfortable, predictable, and seemingly safe. Loss requires attentiveness to our pain which is in itself very uncomfortable. Yet, without change and openness to new possibilities, we would miss out on so many of the opportunities ahead of us. Think if Jesus played it safe and stayed in his family business instead of becoming a teacher!
Staying open is key to our spiritual growth and faithfulness. God is always doing new things and we have to be willing to explore them, even if we stumble along the way. The world around us often misleads us into believing that playing safe and staying with what we know are the ways to fulfilment. Yet, the Spirit of God often nudges us to grow, to take risks for the sake of love and justice, and to always follow the ever ancient, ever new ways of divine grace.
Openings by David Adam:
O Lord God, Creator of all
Open my eyes to beauty
Open my mind to wonder
Open my ears to others
Open my heart to you. Amen.