The wisdom in Philippians that can help us get through another lockdown

(Photo: Unsplash/Aaron Burden)

Well, those of us who live in Wales are just about through our latest lockdown or 'firebreak' as we've learned to call it, and I'm grateful that I personally haven't found the restrictions so difficult to live with, although I very much appreciate that the financial and mental consequences have proved pretty devastating for lots of others. 

As a pastor charged with caring for others, I have been seeking a Christian perspective on 'lockdown' and as a result I have been revisiting Paul's letter to the Philippians. That will come as no surprise to those who know me well because I often say that if I could only possess one book in the Bible, it would have to be this fabulous little letter. I find myself returning to it time and again particularly when I need a bit of inspiration.

The distinguished Bible teacher William Barclay must have felt something similar because he once said, "For many of us, Philippians is the loveliest letter that Paul ever wrote." 

I suppose I am drawn to it because it is saturated with a sense of confidence and joy even though Paul was 'locked up' and well aware that he could be executed at any moment. That in itself should put our experience of 'lockdown' into perspective.

Paul, you see, was convinced that his story would have a happy ending and he would have readily agreed with the words of the Romero Prayer that says, "It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view."

Paul had come to the conclusion that Jesus is Lord and that he is going to return earth one day and when He does, people will be raised to life again and become carbon copies of Jesus. CS Lewis captured the awesome nature of this claim when he suggested that we should "remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship".

This kind of faith can clearly give you resilience and a willingness to put up with anything that life might throw against you. That is why, like any serious athlete, Paul was wiling to press on. He knew the prize was worth the pain and we would do well to remember that as we seek to cope with the onslaught of this terrible virus.

In addition to this, the letter to the Philippians clearly shows us that Paul had discovered a reason for living that transcended his personal circumstances. He summarises it in these words: "To live is Christ but to die is gain." In other words, Paul's faith did not make him so heavenly minded that he was of no earthly use.  He knew he could serve his risen Lord anywhere and anytime, even from a prison cell.

I heard a Jewish rabbi say on the radio the other day that more and more people are beginning to question the meaning and the purpose of life even if the distinguished philosopher John Gray seems to think it's futile pursuit. Gray suggests we should learn from cats and simply live for the sensation of life. Gray's advice certainly made me 'paws for thought' - sorry, I couldn't resist!  But only for a moment because I rapidly concluded that I would much prefer to listen to the One who teaches us that to 'live is to love', and 'to love God is to live for ever'.

As the apostle Paul knew, real joy comes when we know that far from being meaningless specks of cosmic dust, we are children of God, and that He has a wonderful plan for our lives, Cats may have nine but I only have one life and like Paul, I intend to make the most of it by serving Him - even in 'lockdown'.

Rob James is a Baptist minister, writer and church and media consultant to the Evangelical Alliance Wales. He is the author of Little Thoughts About a Big God.