I received a card in the mail that said, “I hope one day soon you will be well and able to live a good life.” This is not an uncommon sentiment, as I found myself saying, “Amen, sister” as soon as I read it. But I knew this well-intended comment was not quite right. Believing that my life in its current state is anything but good is a trap that I fall into more often than not. It’s so easy to believe that sickness and disability mean an inferior or wasted life. It’s nearly impossible to convince myself otherwise on most days, so I write this as much for myself as for anyone else who views illness as a curse.
I was such a do-er prior to illness. I think it’s safe to say that I was a workaholic. I found so much of my worth in doing my job to perfection and I only felt ‘enough’ to God when I was serving Him in a tangible way. I was involved in every service project possible and actually felt guilty when I wasn’t available for one. Now, I watch others get their hands dirty for the cause of Christ and it feels like a knife stabbing my heart. I wonder if He looks at me in disappointment. I look at me in disappointment. Since my ability to do has been taken away from me, God is shifting my entire way of thinking. He is slowly drawing my eyes from my perspective to His and dragging my heart to find worth in Him. God never intended for us to prove our adequacy through our works and yet that is a belief many of us struggle to overcome. For whatever reason we are afraid of disappointing God if we don’t do as much as we can, as if doing more for Him proves our love. I often think, “Wouldn’t I bring God more glory if I could do something? Wouldn’t I be more useful if He finally just healed me?” And God’s answer, as difficult as it is for me to comprehend is, “No”.
When I get stuck in my human mindset, one of the verses that helps to shift my perspective is Philippians 1:6b:
"he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."
God is good. Everything He created is good. He began a good work when He knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13) and He has not stopped working on my heart since that time. He will not stop working on me until I see Jesus face to face. Even when I don’t see, feel, or understand what He is doing, God is working on me in a more beautiful way than I am able to comprehend.
Paul goes on to talk about the good work that God is doing in our lives as we wait for Jesus’ coming. Verse 7 says we “share in God’s grace”. Grace is undeserved help and mercy from God for the purpose of our sanctification. Grace is the reason that we have the privilege of becoming holy. As I let go of my striving and wait for God, He is making me holy.
Paul prays in verse 9 that “love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight”. He is praying for God’s love and discernment to be poured into the Philippians. As we allow God’s grace to make us holy, we gain in love and discernment. Our love for God and others grows as God’s Spirit within us opens our eyes. As we let God work in us, we deepen our relationship with Him. When we are not doing, we sit at His feet, learning and growing in love just like Mary (Luke 10). And Jesus said, “Mary has chosen what is better”. Though I never would have chosen this- and still often try to fight it to the death- what I am able… what I am allowed to do now is better, “and it will not be taken away” from me. What I gain from simply sitting at my Savior’s feet is a precious treasure that I will keep with me forever. This gift of resting in Jesus has eternal value. The earthly value of working and striving certainly pales in comparison.
In verse 10, Paul prays that the Philippians will be “pure”. Pure means “unmixed with any other matter”. Part of God’s good work in us is removing the things in our lives that have no eternal value. He doesn’t want the allegiance of our hearts to be split between earth and heaven. God is stripping away from us the things that hinder our relationship with Him. He will never take away anything that we need for eternity. We have to let Him purify us, believing that He has a watchful eye on the refiner’s fire (Isaiah 48:10).
Paul continues in verse 11 praying that the Philippians will be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” I heard a sermon that gave me a different perspective on the fruit of the Spirit. I had always assumed that we have to work to obtain each of these fruits, but now I know that we already have these fruits within us when we become attached to Jesus, our vine. When we remain in Him, the fruit of that vine will grow in us (John 15). This fruit will increase as God continues this good work in us.
Paul concludes this section by declaring that all of this is “to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:11). I loved discovering this tag line at the end of the passage because it is reminiscent of the prayer I have been praying. I am ready to be healed whenever God is ready, but I don’t want Him to heal me until the moment that will bring Him the most glory. Sometimes I regret this prayer, but not when I remember the good work God is doing in me and the fruit He is growing in me as I endure through suffering. Paul confirms here that allowing God to work in us, no matter how difficult it is, brings Him glory. It reminds me that I am glorifying Him, even when it feels like I’m not doing anything at all.
And I think that is the point. None of this is about what I can do. It’s all about what God is doing in me. Accepting God’s grace, allowing Him to make me holy and pure, receiving His love and discernment, letting Him water and grow the fruit He already planted in me – none of this is me doing anything. Honestly, I’d rather do. It’s more difficult for me to just wait, remain, and rest in God, allowing Him to work in me. My heart often needs to be reminded that time resting in God is not wasted time. Instead, it is the most precious use of time. It is my opportunity to allow God to work in me rather than me working for Him. It’s not possible for me to become more like Jesus if I don’t allow Him to pour into me.
Later in Philippians, Paul reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” – Philippians 3:20-21. This life and my current broken and exhausted body are not what matter. I eagerly await the completion of God’s good work in me and the transformation of my body to be like His. No more sickness and no more earthly things marring the purity of Christ in me. This life allows me to look forward to that day.
When I remember that life is purifying me for eternity and bringing God glory, I gladly endure. And this endurance allows God to grow His fruit in me. I do not have to be healthy to live a good life because a godly life is not about doing. A godly life is one of faith, one of remaining connected to the Vine, one of allowing God to do whatever work He is doing to bring Him glory. Resting and waiting is uncomfortable and painful for me. It is the complete opposite of my striving default but I have a suspicion that this is God’s purpose for me. The spirit of striving in me is marring the purity of God’s good work and it needs to be stripped away. When I learn how to stop doing what I think is best and start letting God complete His work in me, that is when I bring Him glory. A good life has nothing to do with health. A good life has everything to do with God’s good work in me for His glory. Thanks be to God that I am able to live a good life right now.