Wednesday was Christmas, and I spent part of the day reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I’ve seen different renditions of it (with the Muppet Christmas Carol being my favorite!) but never read the book. It was well worth it!
As you no doubt know, the ghost of Marley
visits Scrooge, warning of the coming specters.
He is hauling a large chain, clanking and cumbersome. When Scrooge asks about it, Marley tells him,
“I wear the chain I forged in
life, I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my free will,
and of my own free will I wore it.”
I’ve also been reading through the book of Philippians each
morning, using different translations. I
plan to read it each day until the end of the year.
Perhaps because of the chains I’d read about the day before,
yesterday morning what stood out to me was what Paul had to say about his
chains: “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters that
what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel” (Phil
In one case, chains forged, link by link, by the wearer’s sins. In the other, chains forged and fastened by
the evil of others.
It makes me think about my own chains. There are chains that I have forged. Like Marley, there are choices I have made that
I carry with me. Unkind words and
attitudes, disobedience, callousness, worrying more about my own pocketbook, my
own comforts, than about sharing the Good News with others.
There are also those chains that are not of
my making. Pain and sickness, a body
aging. Living in a broken and suffering
world. Others’ expectations, sins, even misguided
good intentions. All of these can hang on
me, weighing me down.
Regardless of the origin, I have a choice about how I carry
my chains. Am I like Marley, weeping and
wailing, impotently clanking along in anguish and hopelessness?
Yes, often this is me.
It’s not fair. I just want them
gone. My prayers, my energy, my focus is
on getting rid of them. I cry out for
But, is there another way?
Paul’s letter, written in chains, likely reminded the
Philippians of the chains he wore in their city, too. Arrested for freeing a slave girl of the
demon who possessed her, Paul and Silas were locked up in prison, and this
after being severely beaten and flogged.
If anyone had cause for weeping and wailing, it was them!
Instead, the two spent the night praying and singing hymns
to God, with the other prisoners listening in (Acts 16:25). When the earthquake came, no one stampeded
out through fallen walls. Why not? Could it be the witness of these two
worshiping men? The story ends with the
jailer and his entire family saved. If
not for chains, this family would never have known Jesus!
With this history, Paul is writing to the church that grew
in that city. Once more, he is chained
up. Once more, he is seeing God work in
mighty ways, not despite his chains, but because of them.
When I contemplate my response to my chains, I hear my despair
and begging for release. Has my
faithless whining held back the Gospel?
It is a serious and scary thing to have to ponder.
In the end, Marley’s chain did help mankind
as Scrooge became “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as
the good old city knew…”
And, of course, because of Paul’s chains,
“most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare
all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” (Philippians 1:14)
I thank God for chains that others have
faithfully carried, allowing me to grow in Him.
And, I pray for the same courage for myself. Oh, that I would sing and praise God in
whatever chains He allows! That with
Paul I could rejoice whatever my circumstances, confident that in God’s hands,
all that happens can advance His Gospel.
That my chains can somehow be a part of making others ‘good’. That I would have the honor and privilege of
inspiring others to boldness! That they
would see past me, to the One who redeems chains, turning them from symbols of
punishment into the way to freedom and life.