I spent 2 summers during college as Facility Manager at the Historic Ward-Meade Park in Topeka, Kansas. (“Facility Manager” is the Greek phrase, I believe, for “he who puts up tables & chairs.) The Park included one of the oldest homes in Topeka, a train depot, a re-produced log cabin, a one-room-schoolhouse, & a brown-sided, one-room building. Roughly the size of a one-car garage, this simple structure contained a cot, a roll-top desk, & a typewriter. This was the study used by Reverend Charles Sheldon to write his sermons & books.
Dr. Sheldon came to Topeka in 1889. While writing a sermon the following year, he was interrupted by a scruffy looking man seeking work. Since he had nothing for the man to do, Dr. Sheldon abruptly turned him away. Upon reflection, Dr. Sheldon began to ponder what this man must be experiencing as he sought to support his family.
With Topeka experiencing a recession, Sheldon decided to conduct an experiment during the brutally cold winter of 1890. He dressed as a man down on his luck & spent a week seeking work. Many times his queries weren’t even acknowledged. Rarely did anyone make eye contact with him as he went in every establishment on Topeka Boulevard. As the day went on, Sheldon’s hands & feet began to become numb with cold. For someone unsuccessfully seeking work, the thermometer doesn’t accurately measure just how cold & dreary one can feel.
For 3 more days he wandered around Topeka seeking work. On the 4th day, he reached the Santa Fe Railroad yard. He so wanted to feel needed that he volunteered to shovel the snow off the tracks for free. He was thrilled when they let him work. He returned the next day & was offered fifty cents to shovel coal out of a train car into the coal bins. He felt such a great joy in working alongside others & just feeling useful. This experience would help Sheldon’s congregation support & comfort those seeking work. It would also be the inspiration for one of the best-selling books of all time, “In His Steps.”
Now, Dr. Sheldon would readily agree that his experiment pales in comparison with the sacrifices Christ made on our behalf. For a culture that seems to consider Frank Sinatra’s song, “I Did it My Way,” as a motto, it is rare to discover an example of someone voluntarily ceding prestige, comfort & power to serve others. It can be very hard for us to even comprehend Christ’s humbling Himself & becoming human.
While recognizing this challenge, Paul is still urging the Philippians (& us) to set aside our personal ambition, our pride, & our desire for wealth. He is encouraging us to imitate Christ’s example of trusting & following God’s will. Why does Paul recommend this? So, that we may come to enjoy & experience the benefits of a life with Christ.
Taking Paul’s challenge to heart, today may be a good time to tweak our theme song a bit. Instead of “I Did it My Way,” perhaps we would be better served singing, “I Did it Thy Way.”