I’ve been bouncing back and forth between two faith-giants who spoke of obstacles on the path to fulfilling their purposes. The first is David. Pulled from the sheep field, anointed by God as king, and then forced to run for his life for years until he ascended the throne, David poured out his ups and downs through the Psalms. I’ve found strength and comfort in these songs of the faith and continue to work them into my prayer life just as the women and men of the Bible did. One passage that’s been particularly galvanizing for me as I’ve faced things like chronic anxiety, depression, or fibromyalgia pain is Psalm 142, especially verse 7:
Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me.
David was imprisoned by his circumstances, stuck hiding in a cave from murderous King Saul, and he called out to God for deliverance. However, he wasn’t only calling for rescue; he was linking that rescue to the purpose God had ordained. David’s purpose was to magnify and glorify the name of God, leading a kingdom of righteous people that would reflect God to the whole world. His cry to God, born from his unwavering belief that the Father would free him to continue on the pathway He ordained, has been life-giving to my soul in times of trouble.
However, as life-giving as the promise of deliverance from imprisoning circumstances has been, I’ve also found joy in the apostle Paul’s assertion that God can bring about His purposes in the midst of imprisoning circumstances. Look at what Paul says about his time of Roman imprisonment:
Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Phil 1:12-13
So while I firmly believe we are to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16) and I will never hesitate to ask Jesus to move on my behalf, I take great joy in knowing that my very circumstances may be the key to advancing God’s truth in the lives around me.
That’s also why I like to look at another popular “life verse” from Philippians in the context of Paul’s imprisoning circumstances. In its bigger context, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” becomes richer and more powerful than just a pleasant, inspirational saying we’ve gotten used to seeing on coffee mugs. Paul shares the one secret he’s discovered whether in times of suffering or deliverance, in moments of sorrow or joy:
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Phil 4:12-13
Paul trusted God.
David trusted God.
I trust God.
The secret has always been that whether God chooses to deliver from the circumstances right now or to advance His purposes through those circumstances, we can trust in His promises to be present with us, to be strong within us, and to transform those times into something glorious. We can rest contentedly, taking comfort and courage in Who He is, even when we can’t yet see what He’s planning.