If you've ever been to the circus, there's a good chance you've seen an elephant tied with a chain to a stake in the ground. The elephant is so large, she could easily break free, yet she never tries. The reason for this is because when she was tied to the stake as a baby, she did try to escape. Unfortunately, as a baby, she wasn't strong enough to break free, and the chain and metal collar physically wounded her. Because of this, the elephant stopped trying to escape. As the elephant grew older, she didn't forget the pain she endured as a child; therefore, she was held captive by the memory of being hurt.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, partakers of grace means a person is "protected and sanctified by the favor of God." It's hard to believe Paul was writing about experiencing God's favor and protection during a time of imprisonment. I doubt few of us would choose to have such a positive outlook while being wrongfully confined. I've often wondered how Paul was able to continually praise God. The only conclusion I can reach is that he always remembered how Jesus suffered on the cross just to save him from spending an eternity in Hell. Because Paul constantly reminded himself that he would one day spend an eternity in Heaven, being imprisoned didn't seem so bad.
I hate to admit it, but I'm guilty of not thanking God every day for saving me from my sins. It's not that I forget what Christ did on the cross, but I become too focused on the circumstances of my life. When I do this, I set myself up to experience Circus Elephant Syndrome. Christ's death and resurrection made it possible for me to break free from my personal chains. Unfortunately, all too often I focus on the suffering and pain I've endured and remain a prisoner to my many doubts and fears.
Anyone who is sick is prone to experience Circus Elephant Syndrome. Sickness and suffering are our own personal prisons. Anytime a person is sick, he is confined to the limitations his disease places on his life, but just because he lives with a physical prison doesn't mean he must live in a spiritual prison. Like Paul, anyone can rise above his circumstances emotionally and spiritually. The key is to focus on what Christ endured on the cross and let it serve as a reminder that He truly does love every one of us. When we do this, we will also be able to say we are partakers of grace.
As we celebrate Independence Day and the freedoms we have in this country, I can think of no better time to survey our lives to see if we are free in every sense of the word. We can all claim we have political freedom, but what about the other areas of our lives? Are you free emotionally and spiritually, or are you suffering from Circus Elephant Syndrome?
It's been said that an elephant never forgets, but maybe it's time we start forgetting the pain we've endured and break free of some chains. Then we really will have something to celebrate!
"For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you are all partakers of grace with me." ~ Philippians 1:7 (NASB)
(c) July 2, 2012