Leading up to my diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, my ability to stand unassisted and walk had deteriorated greatly. After over a year of symptoms, I submitted to them and saw a doctor which resulted in my diagnosis. In addition to diagnosing me, the doctor prescribed a series of steroid infusions to help “cool off” the attack and advised me to exercise according to my ability. I despise walking just to walk, so I decided to run “routes” and catch the football with my pops as a means of exercise. I ran in slow-motion, reminiscent of my days as a kid playing “slow-motion football” with my brothers or other kids in the neighborhood. We would each create daunting scenarios for one another, taking turns being the hero. Speaking in my best announcer voice,
“It is 4th down and a mile to go, 2 seconds left in the game, the Steelers are down by 5. How is Jeff, I mean Jerome Bettis, going to propel his team to victory? ‘They would be crazy to hand the ball off here, John.’ And the ball is snapped, it’s handed to Bettis!, he breaks a tackle in the backfield, spins around a defender, ohhh my! He has the edge, to the thirty, to the fifty, to the twenty, he-could-go-all-the-way TOUCHDOWN! The crowd goes wild! The Steelers have won the Super Bowl.”
Who hasn’t done that as a kid, right? No one? Wow, that was awkward….Let’s proceed. Unfortunately, this time there were no pretend scenarios, no crowds going wild, and no Super Bowls being won; just a 30 year-old man forced to “run” in an awkward, slow-motion fashion to keep his balance. No matter how hard I concentrated on telling my legs what to do, they weren’t getting the message fast enough and remained completely out of sync with my arms. I was stunned. It never dawned on me that difficultly walking would translate into such a loss of athletic ability. I have only cried a few times since my diagnosis, and that day was one of them. Since then, I have become keenly aware of my new limitations and at times have dwelt on them (And by “at times,” I mean all-the-time, haha). I believe this is a natural response, at least at first, but a Christian cannot remain in a state of self-loathing (1 Kings 19, Elijah; Gal. 6:9-10). At some point, we have to see the opportunity in our limitations. Otherwise, we are not only limited physically and emotionally by trials, but we also squander great opportunities to make a difference in the Kingdom of God (Matt. 25:24-27).
Paul was in a “hired house” at Rome as he wrote the book of Philippians. According to other letters he wrote during this time, he often found himself shackled in chains (Eph. 6:20; Col. 4:3, 18; Philem. 9-13), though he did have the freedom to receive associates (Acts 28:30). For most, this would have been a long, limiting two years. “Imagine what I could be doing, if I wasn’t so limited!” I can visualize myself saying, if I were in his position. Conversely, Paul didn’t have such a negative attitude about his limitations; instead, he seized every opportunity to succeed within his limiting circumstance.
Paul affectionately wrote, “But I would ye should understand, brethren,” (Philippians 1:12a). Paul had an intense desire for Christ’s church in Philippi (“brethren,” 3:1, 13, 17; 4:1, 8, 21) to be aware that his present circumstances had not limited his ability to fulfill his life’s vocation (1 Cor. 9:16; Eph. 4:1-3). Paul continued, “that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel” (12b). Instead of being negative, Paul wrote that his circumstances, namely, imprisonment for two years, had actually contributed to the “furtherance of the gospel.” The word translated “furtherance” is a compound word “derived from pro, “forward,” and kopto, “to cut” (Jackson 46).
Hawthorne added that the word translated “furtherance” is “a metaphorical word that pictures “pioneers cutting a way before an army and so furthering its march” (34). Paul did not write that the Gospel was not hindered as much as anticipated, or even that the Gospel continued on the same trajectory; rather, he writes that his imprisonment had advanced the reach of the Gospel message! Yet the Gospel did not “blaze a trail” itself, it still relied upon the embattled apostle to preach (Acts 23:11; 1 Cor. 1:21). Paul used the opportunity to preach the Gospel to entire praetorium guard(BDAG, “palace”) which was a unit of ten thousand soldiers who served as the emperor’s body guards (Jackson 47; see Acts 28:31), and the Gospel progressed throughout Rome (“and in all other places”). In a similar manner, when we find ourselves limited by a disease or a different type of trial, we must diligently look for opportunities within the “limitation” to perform good works to the glory of God (Matt. 5:13-16). Sometimes, the works we carry out in the face of adversity are not just good but greater than what would have been accomplished in the absence of encumbrances. The attitude that “I have been limited, therefore, I cannot accomplish anything worthwhile in the eyes of God or my fellow man” is not true. Will a limitation change our course? Absolutely. Will the limitation prevent us from being useful servants? No, but a defeatist attitude will certainly derail us.
One significant benefit of persisting within a new limitation is it allows us to positively influence others. Paul wrote, “And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (14). When the brethren in Rome heard of Paul’s imprisonment for preaching the Gospel, they were likely fearful. Nevertheless with Paul’s excellent example of preaching the Gospel during difficult circumstances, many of the brethren were emboldened to do the same “all the more” (“much more”). They now had a spirit of confidence to continuously speak the Word of God. As Shepherd wrote, “Courage as well as fear is contagious” (162). If you find yourself facing illness or a different type of trial, you, similarly, have a tremendous opportunity to embolden others by the way in which you respond to adversity. All is not lost! You may find yourself in a terrible situation where you cannot do anything physically; I am sorry if you find yourself in such a condition. Yet I can tell you that some of the greatest lessons of faithfulness I have ever learned were taught by faithful Christians who were incapacitated in nursing homes or in some deplorable condition; they didn’t do anything but set an example of faithfulness in the face of adversity which, come to think of it, is everything (Heb. 11:6). Yet I Trust.
Great read. Thanks for sharing and encouraging others. Powerful title, “Limiting circumstances make for Great Opportunities”. The title alone was a powerful reminder to me.
Jeff, so we’ll done. So honest and authentic; the real secret to blogging! I will be a follower for sure – thank you to Jen for posting on Facebook – I can only check so many sites. We are thankful you and your family are here in Charlotte with us, at Mountain Island Church.
A great post with such a powerful message. It’s easy to turn inward with these challenges rather than look for the the opportunity. A great reminder. BTW the first part was not awkward at all…as I think we have all imagined ourselves as the “against all odds hero” at some point in our youth. Who knows, maybe that is part of what prepares us for how we may respond in the future. I do wonder if it would be helpful to advise our children to imagine fumbling the handoff sometimes.with the fans booing or silently walking away…a little prep for reality. Thanks again.