Thursday, February 14, 2008

Time to Burn?

“The following night, the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Have courage! For as you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’” (Acts 23:11 CSB)

The Lord does not appear to people very often. In fact, it seems that that has happened only when there was some critical juncture in the life of the church or the work of the kingdom. So, here we have the Lord appearing to Paul. We have to ask, what was so important here that this appearance was crucial? We may not actually be able to pin anything down, but the circumstances may help.

Paul had finished the third missionary journey and had made his way to Jerusalem. At the advice of James and others, he assisted four other men in fulfilling a vow in the temple, but some Jews from Asia saw him there, had seen Trophimus with Paul at some point, and wrongly concluded that Paul had desecrated the temple by taking a Gentile inside. The crowd was about to kill him when Roman soldiers intervened, and Paul was arrested. They were about to scourge him to find out the truth until he told them he was a natural-born Roman citizen. The next day, the commander took Paul to the Sanhedrin for an “interview,” but the group there erupted into near-violence. So Paul was taken back to the barracks. It was then the following night that Jesus appeared to Paul and gave him those words of encouragement and promise. It may well have been that Paul was somewhat fearful for his life, and he may have wondered what purpose all this might serve. He very likely felt that he could be more effective outside of prison rather than inside.

The Lord promised Paul that he would give testimony in Rome. He did not say when, however. All Paul had was the promise, the word of the Lord. As it turns out, he then had about five years on his hands there under what amounted to house-arrest first in Jerusalem briefly and then mainly in Caesarea.

So, what purpose would that serve? Well, while Paul was in prison, he wrote several extremely important letters referred to as the “prison epistles.” He witnessed to everyone in sight, particularly the praetorian guards, and many came to faith. But mainly, he wrote letters to churches. And some of those letters have been incorporated into our New Testament.

What may have seemed like nothing more than “time to burn” actually turned out to be some of the most constructive time of Paul’s entire ministry, especially in the sense that what he did then is continuing to minister to us 2,000 years later! That we can call an “enduring ministry.”

There may be times when we may wonder if the time we spend engaging in a particular activity or circumstance is really productive, but the truth is that whatever the circumstance or activity, if it is what God wants of us at that time, it will bear fruit well beyond the time spent. That should be an encouraging thought.

Lord, Help us today to trust Your purposes in all circumstances and activities in which You place us, and to understand that when You are in it, the results will always achieve Your fruitful purposes beyond our capabilities. Amen.

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