I've always enjoyed watching sports, but I've never played. I never tried out for a sports’ team in school, or even had the desire to try out for a team. Even though I was something of a tomboy as a little girl, I knew I didn't have the hand-eye coordination needed to be a good athlete. There was no doubt in my mind that if I did try out and make the team, I would forever sit on the sidelines. I would be a benchwarmer.
I don’t have the personality to be a benchwarmer. I’m the type of person who likes to do things I know I can do well. The idea of being only mediocre has always bothered me. Because of this sentiment, when my lupus and Crohns forced me to quit work and move in with my parents, I really struggled. I felt like God was forcing me to sit on the sidelines, and I hated it.
Whenever I begin to feel this way and lose hope that I will ever get off the sidelines, I go to Scripture and read about others who were placed on the sidelines. There are the obvious people like Joseph and Job, but there are also people who were surprisingly put on the sidelines, like Paul.
I knew Paul spent time in jail. The book of Philippians was written while Paul was in prison. Yet I had no idea just how much time Paul actually spent in prison. As I've studied about Paul’s life, I've realized that the majority of his Christian life was spent in various prisons. The greatest missionary of all times ministered to people from the confines of four walls, and he didn't have a telephone or the internet. Paul may have been sidelined, but he was still valuable to the kingdom of God.
Having said that, I think Paul occasionally struggled like you and I do about being put on the sidelines. As I've studied various Bible passages about Paul, I've seen things he wrote that indicate he sometimes grew discouraged over his situation. For instance, 1 Corinthians 7:5-6 says, “For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus.”
Paul dealt with the same emotions we all struggle with at times, but he found comfort from the knowledge that God isn't restrained or confined by situations and circumstances. God has a plan and a purpose, and nothing can thwart what He wants to do through us – not sickness, not bills, not others, and not sidelines. In 2 Timothy 2:8-9, Paul writes Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned.”
Just because our situations sometimes look bleak doesn't mean God is standing up in Heaven wondering what He’s going to do. He can use all things for His glory. Paul may have had times when he grew discouraged, but he also knew that God can take the worst of situations and do something amazing. Paul learned an important truth - when we turn to God in our pain and discouragement, we will see God and come to know Him in a way we can’t even imagine. That is why Paul says in Philippians 3:8-11, “Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ and to know that I belong to Him. I could not make myself acceptable to God by obeying the Law of Moses. God accepted me simply because of my faith in Christ. All I want is to know Christ and the power that raised Him to life. I want to suffer and die as He did, so that somehow I also may be raised to life.”
As frustrating and disheartening as sitting on the sidelines can be, it is a gift from God. Because we are unable to constantly run around and keep busy, we have the time and energy to know God in a more intimate way. And when we truly know God, we can experience the power that raised Christ from the dead.
Sitting on the sidelines is a gift, but we must choose to accept it. Paul could have chosen to wallow in self-pity and despair, but he wouldn't have become the powerful man of God we all admire. The same is true for each of us. God has handed each of us a gift. What are you going to do with it?
“Thus says the Lord, “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
© October 28, 2012