I see him out of the corner of my eye entering Philip’s house. I didn’t make too much of it initially, as people have been coming ever since Paul arrived. They want one last chance to hear his voice or offer encouragement before he heads on to Jerusalem. But something is different about this man. He walks purposefully…on a mission…his face so serious. It is as if Paul is expecting him when he stands eye to eye with Paul. Without a word he reaches for Paul’s belt. Slowly and methodically he wraps it around his hands and his feet. Finally, he speaks, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”
Silence only for a split second before choirs of voices chime in. We all do our best to convince Paul not to go to Jerusalem. We beg, we plead, we reason, we cry out. We can’t bear the thought of his suffering. He still has so much work to do here. We need him. Christianity needs him. But I know it is only my will seeking to overtake that of God’s. And Paul knows it too as he interrupts us all with these words, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” I bow my head, silently praying that God would give me the courage and faith of Paul. This life isn’t about avoiding suffering, it is about stepping into God’s plans and glorifying Him in our obedience. My head knows it, but my heart and emotions…that’s a different story.
Fast forward over 2,000 years, and we still try to avoid the suffering. And more so for those we love than even ourselves. We want to step in and make the bad all go away…to fix everything. Remember when Jesus told Peter of His impending suffering, Peter rebuked Jesus insistent that he would never let something like that happen. Jesus’ response: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” It is a hard thing to realize that trials and suffering are sometimes a necessary part of the plan; that they have beautiful purpose.
Oswald Chambers says, “Choosing to suffer means that there must be something wrong with you, but choosing God’s will— even if it means you will suffer— is something very different. No normal, healthy saint ever chooses suffering; he simply chooses God’s will, just as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not. And no saint should ever dare to interfere with the lesson of suffering being taught in another saint’s life…One of the hardest lessons to learn comes from our stubborn refusal to refrain from interfering in other people’s lives. It takes a long time to realize the danger of being an amateur providence, that is, interfering with God’s plan for others. You see someone suffering and say, ‘He will not suffer, and I will make sure that he doesn’t.’ You put your hand right in front of God’s permissive will to stop it, and then God says, ‘What is that to you?’”
Staying in God’s Word and in communication with Him via prayer gives us discernment to know when to speak up and what to say. Our job is to maintain alignment with God’s will, not to try to eliminate all suffering.
I see the determination, faith, and commitment of Paul – even in the midst of suffering – and I wonder how he does it. But his faith muscle grew every time…every small time…he submitted to God’s will. It is hard to imagine what we will do in any given situation. It is hard to know what is truly in our heart. It is hard to know what really takes first place in our long priority list. It is hard to know how obedient we will be faced with a given circumstance. Perhaps this is why trials are so often lauded as good things in Scripture. Only by going through something will we know, peeling away at layers of us we can’t even see yet. And as long as we stay insulated, safe, comfortable, smack in the middle of comfort zones, we will never know what we don’t know…it will only remain the weak faith of academia and hypotheticals. Assurance is built through the fire.
C.S. Lewis says, “We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities. We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. Pain is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
I’m praying today for anyone in a season of suffering. That God’s presence feels so near to you. That not one ounce of the suffering is not used in a mighty way. Whatever you are going through…God knows. God cares. God can use it. And God loves you.
All 1 1 Corinthians 1 Peter 1 Thessalonians 1 Timothy 2 & 3 John 2 Corinthians 2 Peter 2 Thessalonians 2 Timothy Acts Colossians Ephesians Galatians Hebrews Info James John Jude Luke Mark Matthew Philemon Philippians Revelation Romans TItus