As I was challenged to dig deeper into Phoebe, this woman from the Bible, I couldn’t help but think: “She is only mentioned once in the Bible. What could I possibly gain from Phoebe’s story?” My God, I was so wrong. Though she is only mentioned once in the Bible, this was a woman of phenomenal Godly character, a woman who knew her worth, a woman who had an encounter with Jesus Christ.
Phoebe is revealed in Romans 16:1–2 where Paul writes,
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.” NIV
In biblical times, letters of introduction to strangers were common. The mention of Phoebe in this way means that she was probably the bearer of the letter that went to Rome. The name Phoebe means bright and radiant. From Paul’s comments about her, it seems that those words characterized her personality and her Christian life.
This gives so much context as to who Phoebe was, and if God would use her, He can use us too! Paul writes, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe.” This is super profound here. This speaks volumes of the intimate relationship in which she and the apostle Paul had. Paul associates himself with Phoebe like a brother. An authentic partnership, one without hierarchy between them. The gender difference didn’t restrict either Paul or Phoebe from the mandate God had on each of their lives.
We so often will allow the fact that we aren’t this or we aren’t that to stop us, and we miss the opportunity to be used to the ultimate level God has ordained over our life. Here we see Phoebe being Phoebe, not allowing societal norms to hold her back from everything God has called her to be. Phoebe isn’t waiting for permission to fill the needs she sees within the body of Christ. Instead Phoebe just does.
The word commend is expressively loud and a word of praise. With an exclamation of admiration, this is how Paul affirms all that she is and all she has been. He immediately gives her title, so no one is deceived that though she is a woman, she is less than a leader of the Cenchreae church. Her discipleship counts. Any brother or sister who has confessed Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior has discipleship that counts, in Jesus’ name.
There I was sincere, genuine, Jesus-loving me going into a full-blown meltdown! And it was getting ugly! I wanted to blame everything – my household responsibilities, my husband, being an entrepreneur, and most especially my hormones! Yet I knew, underneath it all, I was letting my thoughts get out of control. That’s what mindshifting is – letting your train of thought take you from logical to illogical thinking OR vice versa.
Unfortunately, our thought life always seems to be hanging in the balance, ready to come unraveled at any time. It takes practice to learn how to control those thoughts and images that come into our minds. Since they are so tightly connected to our emotions, if our emotions are yo-yoing, chances are our thought life is as well.
So how do Christians finally break this cycle?
First, we must remember that God has given us control over our thought life. Through the power of Jesus, we need to use our authority in this area daily. In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul states: “We are destroying sophisticated arguments and every exalted and proud thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought and purpose captive to the obedience of Christ.” (AMP)
Paul had learned that it not only takes effort, but warring against negativity, to control the thoughts that entered his mind. Though there will be some trial and error, we must not give in to a nature that tries to convince us we cannot win in this area.
Next, we must allow God’s Word to come in and replace those thoughts that are trying to distract and destroy us. Paul instructs us in Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (NKJV)
Third, in Ephesians, Paul gives us a picture of the armor of God, which every Christian should use to defend themselves from the enemy. To assist us in controlling our thoughts, Paul states “put on salvation as your helmet” (Ephesians 6:17 NLT). By knowing who we are in Christ – the saved and redeemed – we can proudly turn away any thoughts that try to convince us that we are still trapped by our past.
Lastly, we need to replace bad thoughts with good thoughts. Again, Paul gives sound advice in Philippians 4:8 when he states: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (NLT)
How did Paul get so smart about mindshifting? Well, he had some serious challenges to work through.
We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. 2 Corinthians 6:4-5 (NLT)
Can you imagine being in even one of those scenarios? Yet, Paul suffered them all. Was Paul some kind of Biblical superhero? No, he was just a man who had placed his faith squarely in his Savior and after enduring one trial after another had also learned to control his thoughts. We would do well to study Paul’s life and receive the advice he gives us, and while we practice mindshifting, allow Jesus to guide us one thought at a time!
What kind of thoughts have you been struggling with lately? Do you have a favorite go-to verse that assist you in regaining control of your negative thoughts? Feel free to comment below, and let’s work on moving our thoughts from ugh! to hallelujah!
Blessings to you and yours!
Amplified Bible (AMP) Copyright © 2015 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA 90631. All rights reserved.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc.
Prayer is simply talking with God. Seems like a simple concept, doesn’t it? But oh, how we complicate it!
All the usual questions come to mind – Where should I pray? Is there a specific position of prayer that really expresses my sincerity? How long do I pray? And most importantly, what should I pray?
The Bible provides some great examples of prayer from both Old and New Testament characters, like:
Personally, I don’t believe that God is so much concerned about the place, position, or length of prayer we pray. In those areas, do what comes naturally to you, because most likely, He is concerned about the matters within in our hearts. Would you agree?
Therefore, if we take the first three elements of prayer discussed above off the table, that leaves the content of our prayers. Today, I propose that we look at the prayers of Paul as an example of what to pray. (And, of course, I would suggest that we do it in light of the teachings of Jesus).
Though Paul would not have the opportunity to learn about prayer directly from Jesus like the other apostles, his prayers were completely God honoring. They show a level of spiritual maturity that was also reflected in the overall behavior of Paul. And the subject of his prayers provides real guidance for Christians attempting to further their walk with Jesus.
Ready? Let’s jump in!
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. Eph. 1:16-20
In this prayer, Paul is praying for those new to the faith to be given wisdom. You can bet that before Paul ever started praying for God’s wisdom to be given to the Church that he was in constant prayer that God would give him wisdom. And he would be right, because as the saying goes, you can’t give what you don’t have. To help mold and shape the Church, Paul would need wisdom.
When God provided that wisdom, Paul was eager to share it with others. In our walk with Christ, we should first seek the foundational building block of wisdom. From there, our understanding of everything else will grow.
2. Praying for Spiritual Strength and Growth
I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. Ephesians 3:16-18 NLT
Right after praying for spiritual wisdom, Paul prays for spiritual strength and growth. Knowledge of God’s ways is life changing in and of itself, but it takes inner strength to carry out God’s instructions daily. Paul knew firsthand what it meant to come face to face with the truths of God’s Word.
He also knew how the daily grind of life as well as the challenges of being of a believer could wear away at the soul. So, he prayed for strength, knowing this in turn would give room for spiritual growth on more than a superficial level. And in tandem, the believers’ spiritual growth would fortify their spiritual strength, allowing the cycle to repeat.
3. Praying for Knowledge Regarding God’s Will
So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. Colossians 1:9-10 NLT
In this prayer, Paul repeats some of the same themes he has used in other prayers (e.g., wisdom), but he also adds a new line. Paul asks that the Church be given complete knowledge of God’s will. So, what’s the difference between knowledge and wisdom? Knowledge is simply the information you have been given. Wisdom is the ability to take in information, make sense of it, and then apply that knowledge correctly when making decisions.
Initially, Paul would seek from God the ability to understand His will and then once fully prepared, ask God to reveal His will. I like to think of it this way. Had we not been prepared in 2nd grade to take on the information coming in 3rd grade, once we reached 3rd grade, we would not have been able to fully use what we were being taught. To know God’s will on a level that makes it useful to us, we must be ready to receive it.
4. Praying for Partners in Ministry
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Phil. 1:4-6 NIV
What I love about Paul was his insatiable appetite for all followers of Christ to be active proclaimers of the gospel. As one person who took as much territory for Christ as possible, Paul was keenly aware that if his efforts were doubled by others also taking ground for Christ, the gates of Hell would be completely crushed sooner than later. Likewise, we should be constantly in prayer for our fellow Christians and rejoice when they succeed.
What would happen if we prayed these types of prayers? What if we could stay others-focused? I am the first to admit, I struggle with those questions. However, I have also been a witness to what can be accomplished if we pray with conviction for wisdom, strength, growth, knowledge, and ministry partners. To that end, I will repeat Galatians 6:9 –
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (ESV)
I’ll be praying for you!
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
I love to read the writings of the Apostle Paul. Here is an example of a person radically changed by the love of Christ. Following his Damascus Road transformation, he was willfully consumed by the task of proclaiming the Good News. But to appreciate Paul’s new found attitude, we have to remember who Paul was before that extraordinary day.
Paul, formerly named Saul, was a Pharisee. This means he was not an ordinary Jewish citizen, but in fact a well-educated, highly intelligent student of the scripture. He knew the written laws of God intimately and would have strictly followed them from an early age. Yet, he lacked genuine knowledge of the Word made flesh.
Saul began his life as one of the most notorious characters of the Bible. Not only did he once hate the Church and all it stood for, he was determined to drive Christ followers out from among the Jewish people. He believed it was his responsibility to jail them, to terrorize them, and even murder them in the name of righteousness. He was someone to fear and someone far from Christ.
Then something miraculous happened –Jesus confronted Saul on the road to Damascus. In His grace and mercy, Jesus did not do to Saul what Saul had done to others. Instead, He speaks to Saul in a tone of offered forgiveness.
Recently, I did a speaking engagement in which I spoke on the Christian walk. Please hear me, it was meant for all –both you and I. The main premise of the discussion was what occurs on the Christian walk (e.g., family tragedy, job loss, financial problems, addictions) can sometimes have folks wondering, “Does Christianity really work?” Within the topic introduction, I attempted to lay out the crossroads that Christians will reach –resist and turn back or continue on with Jesus.
Here is a little excerpt from that speech:
… let me state the first truth about Christians in general. No matter how long you have been a Christian, you can remain in the very early stages of your faith for a long time, can you not? What I mean by that is we initially have high expectations for dramatic life change. We have mustered up enough courage to let go of our past sins and have experienced the taste of freedom that comes from being saved. But then we realize, we have no earthly idea what we just walked into or what exactly to do next.
The second truth –At that point, one of two things will happen to a majority of us:
1. Some of us will blossom for a while. We’ll dig into our church and our faith, and life is relatively good. We’ll say to ourselves: “This Jesus thing isn’t so hard. I’ve got this.” Then life turns on us, and we stand shell-shocked that our new-found fortune has come to a screeching halt.