August 1, 2019

Can I rejoice in suffering?

If I were tossed into prison for preaching the gospel, how would I react? It happens these days. Many Christians are persecuted. Some are tortured or killed. Some hide or flee. In the time of the New Testament, many suffered and some died for their faith.

The Apostle Paul was not spared. He was thrown in jail and “lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him” (Acts 28:30) This is a clue to his reaction. He did not lament or whine that being a free man would allow him to continue his missionary travels and be far more useful to God. He firmly believed in the sovereignty of God and that He was involved in his situation.

Most Christians today would think not, but Paul’s activity during those years were rich. He was given an entrance into the household of the emperor and wrote these four letters that some say are the most profound and Christ-exalting examples of all his epistles: Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians, Philippians.

As for his reaction to being in prison, here are a few examples of what he said about it:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. (Colossians 1:24)

To the church in Colosse, he said he was full of joy even as he suffered because he considered it an honor to identify with the suffering of Christ for His church.

Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus . . . to Philemon our beloved fellow worker . . . for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus . . . I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Philemon 1; 9-10)

In this letter, he shares that he led at least one person to Jesus Christ and was now writing to appeal that this slave be restored to his master as an equal in Christ.

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles . . . (Ephesians 3:1) I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, (Ephesians 4:1)  . . . (and pray) also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:19–20)

To the church at Ephesus, he considered his situation ‘of the Lord’ and encouraged his readers to be worthy followers of Jesus Christ. He also asked for prayer for his own boldness in sharing the gospel, even while he was in prison. If God put him there, He had a reason and Paul was not going to miss any opportunities by feeling sorry for himself. He continued that vein in Philippians as he told the church in Philippi how God was using him in prison:

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. (Philippians 1:12–13)  . . . All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. (Philippians 4:22)

People were saved because Paul was in jail, people of power and influence that this brave Christian man would never have been able to talk to had he not been in prison.

My hubby has medical issues that would deeply alarm many folks, but he decided to use them to speak to others about spiritual matters, including his doctors and other medical workers, people he would not otherwise encounter. He read an article by John Piper called “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” that has affected both of us. God is sovereign. Whatever happens to His people happens for His purposes. Throwing myself a pity-party isn’t one of them.

Lord Jesus, some days are difficult, not just because of external events but also internal with the thoughts that go with those news stories, sad issues in the lives of friends, and personal challenges with aging, down-sizing, and the many fiery darts of the enemy who continually tries to take my mind off truth and discourage me. Today I need to think about Paul and his positive attitude in negative circumstances. I also need to think about using my time well, not wasting it with worries, regrets or ‘if only’ thinking. Please grant me the fullness of Your Spirit for I cannot do this without You.

Today’s thankful list . . .
Prayer time with people who consider prayer vital for all Christians.
Another good workout with my trainer.
Her great attitude.
Discernment for what to keep and what to toss from a file cabinet.
Supper with a young couple expecting their first child as they remodel their first home.
Encouraged by a friend who told me how I encourage her.
Your love Jesus, as I sense the enemy taking big whacks at me.

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