I have enjoyed reading Philippians ever since my first semester at Divinity School. It is Paul’s letter to one of the earliest European Christian communities, which was located in Greece. The Christians at Philippi were generous in supporting Paul’s mission even though many lived in poverty. He was fond of the community. In this letter, we once again meet Timothy and we are introduced to Epaphroditus. Both played a key role in Paul’s life at the time of this letter.
One of the most instructive passages in Philippians is found in the second chapter, verses 12-13: …work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
This is powerful.
Once again, Paul is telling us that our Christian lives are our own. We aren’t required to follow the same path as anyone else. Sure, we look to others whom we trust for guidance just as others look to us, but it is our personal duty to find our own path to salvation, to create our own relationship with God and once we find our path, to follow it within that relationship.
It reminds me of an adage from the long distance riding community: Plan your ride and ride your plan.
I learned this first-hand on Parker’s Ride V, which was an Iron Butt Saddle Sore attempt – a 1000 mile ride to hit the four corners of NC in 24 hours. I did my research. The plan was good and it worked, at least on paper. Starting in Calabash, NC, I would drive up the coast to Corolla. Leaving Corolla, I would ride across the state and get to Farmer’s Store in the northwest corner before dark, then an easy finish at Wolf Creek on Highway 74 near the NC/GA line. The plan was to finish in 18 hours, leaving me a 6 hour buffer. If I got below a 4-hour buffer, I would stop. I knew my limits and it I didn’t want to compromise safety.
I was making good time when I reached the Outer Banks. It was a great day for riding. I saw an interesting sign for an area that I had never seen, so I decided to make a quick detour. Just a couple of miles. What could go wrong? I got off the plan.
I then found out just how many 4-wheel drive SUVs can fit on NC Highway 12.
I got my receipt and photo at Corolla, but ended up losing 4 hours in traffic. At a time that I should have been getting close to the mountains, I was still at sea level with too slim a buffer to safely complete the ride in 24 hours. Hindsight is 20/20. I should have stuck with the plan, salvaged the weekend and taken a nice leisurely ride home.
Yeah. You guessed it.
It was dark when I reached the mountains and I wanted to make up some time. Once again, I left my planned route and trusted my GPS down a shortcut taking me deep into the woods. I went 90 minutes without seeing a single vehicle. I finally got off my bike at 1am, exhausted and lost on a one-lane gravel road in a wooded area near the Virginia border with no cell service. After a warm Red Bull, I retraced the route back to pavement, found my way to the interstate and got a room.
I had planned the ride, but failed to ride the plan. I rode past my limits.
Paul tells us to work out our own salvation in fear and trembling, with God at work in us and enabling us to work at God’s pleasure. It’s a moving target. As you learn and experience more, you adjust your plan. But the destination remains clear.
Plan the ride … with God. Then ride the plan … with God.
Further Reading …
This post referenced Philippians 2:12-13. Read the whole chapter if you have time. It offers a reference to what is thought to be an early church hymn or affirmation of faith.