I’ve been preparing for a Bible study I’m leading this summer on the letter of Paul to the church in Philippi, but before we were to get into the book itself, we needed the backstory, which went all the way back to why a man like Paul would be preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in Macedonia in the first place.
It starts with a transformed life.
Paul (then Saul) would have had no motivation to go into Gentile land without that initial transformation. After meeting Jesus on that road to Damascus, the course of his life completely changed from Saul the Persecutor to Paul the Proclaimer. Now on his second missionary journey to the nations, Paul is led by a vision into new territory. We know the story of his encounter with Lydia by the river, but there were also some troubles in this Roman colony of Philippi, landing Paul and his cohort, Silas, in jail.
The joy Paul knew in Christ kept him singing in prison.
Again, that initial transformation secured his hope and future in Christ, so that no matter the danger, struggle, persecution, or pain, Paul had joy in the midst of it all. The source of that joy was Jesus Christ, his rock and salvation.
Our joy in the darkness gives us glimpses of the God who is still shaking things up.
In the instance of Paul’s story, as Paul and Silas prayed and sang, confident of God’s presence with them, that same God shook the earth to loosen their chains and open the prison doors. This act of God was not to enable Paul’s escape but to open the door to the heart of one man and his entire family—the jailer. Now he too would be able to rejoice in the fact that he had believed in the God who saved him.
Fast forward over two thousand years and ask yourself this question: Am I rejoicing in the hard times, knowing that God is still at work in our world, shaking things up for his purposes and glory?
While we may go through seasons when we don’t have a clear picture of how he’s working, there are other times he gives us serendipitous moments of what he’s about. I recently had the chance to get away and be with former colleagues and friends who have served in cross-cultural ministry. As we gathered, ate, and fellowshipped, we heard the news from the places we used to call home: God is on the move in the hearts of men and women in our world today.
Though disheartened that some of the countries we loved no longer have ex-pat boots on the ground, that doesn’t mean God’s not at work, because his shaking of this world has literally put people on the move, taking them out of their home environments to lands where they can be loved and served in the name of Christ, many hearing the for the first time the good news that Jesus loves them and gave his life to save them.
In one country, where six million people have scattered to the nations, over 15,000 have come to Christ. In another part of the world, we’re hearing of over thirty-five million who claim to be followers of Jesus. A third-world nation, which suffers from poverty and much more, now has church leaders who are looking for ways to send their own missionaries to the nations. The pandemic, which brought despair and devastation in more ways than we can count, has also proved an open door to serve almost two million people, involving over five thousand churches.
Don’t let the prison of trials keep you from singing to the God of your salvation.
Paul and Silas sang even when things looked bleak. They didn’t know what God would do, but they knew God, and they rested in him. Even if you don’t see anything good in your present situation or a world in crisis, rejoice in the joy of your salvation. Stand firm in Christ, first and foremost.
Find a believer to pray with and find encouragement in each other’s fellowship. Don’t go through trials alone. Satan loves to isolate—God joins together. Seek prayer when you are feeling a sense of despair, but then also look together for ways you see God at work. Find joy in the seemingly small blessings of life as reminders that God will many times use the small to bring him the greatest glory.
Find encouragement in the global work of God. When we minister in one location, our view of God’s work can become myopic. We find ourselves praying only for our work, our area, and our people group. Don’t lose sight of the big picture of the gospel mission among the nations. Praise him for what he’s doing in different areas and you’ll find it encourages you to press on through your particular time of trial.
H. Ernest Nichol’s great hymn “We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations,” says it best and is a good one to sing when the prison of darkness closes in. Look at this verse:
We’ve a Savior to show to the nations,
who the path of sorrow has trod,
that all of the world’s great peoples
may come to the truth of God,
may come to the truth of God!
For the darkness shall turn to dawning,
and the dawning to noonday bright,
and Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth,
the kingdom of love and light.
May the joy of his kingdom of love and light shine bright through you today.
Grace and Peace