Is it possible to feel stuck and yet be totally in the will of God? Is it possible to be in grave danger and yet in the safest place possible? Is it possible to feel caged and yet be completely unhindered?
Welcome to God's amazing world of "You See, I See."
Take Acts 21-23 for example. Paul sees himself going to the temple to purify himself and pay for those who have taken sacred vows so that his enemies, the Jews, will see that he lives in observance of the law. This was the advice that the elders in Jerusalem had given Paul (Acts 21:23-24). Surely you'll be blessed if you heed the advice of the elders of your church, right? The next thing you know, Paul sees himself being dragged from the temple and beaten by a mob in the street (21:30-32), only to be arrested and bound with chains by the people who should've been protecting him as a Roman citizen (21:33)!
Seems pretty bad. Paul had gone to Jerusalem with the hopes of then going on from there to Rome, and now he was stuck in the custody of a Roman authority that was bent on doing favours for the Jews just to keep the peace. What Paul could see from those Roman barracks must have appeared rather grim.
But what very slowly unfolded before Paul's eyes must have made it even harder for Paul to remain confident that his hopes of taking the Gospel to Rome would be fulfilled. After being sent to Caesarea for his own protection, Paul remained stuck in confinement there for two long years. It wasn't until Paul finally appealed to Caesar due to a governor's plans to send Paul back to Jerusalem to please the Jews that God provided Paul with a trip to Rome, courtesy of the Romans who had held him up for so long!
Can you relate to any of that? Do you too feel stuck - maybe in some dead end job rather than in some barracks, but still stuck - unable to pursue hopes you thought God had put in your heart, and those you thought would help you seem unconcerned or even unhelpful? Or do you feel that what you courageously offered to God in hopes of blessing seems to have backfired and left you stuck in some unintended consequences? Or is year after year passing you by while you wait for an opportunity to pursue hopes and dreams, all the while knowing that no doors are opening for you? Or at least that's how you see things.
But in God's amazing world of "You See, I See," God has a different point of view. As Paul waited in those barracks, the Lord came to him in the night and said, "'Take courage, for a you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome'" (Acts 23:11). Paul saw chains and enemies surrounding him, and saw two long years pass him by. But God saw an opportunity to have the Gospel clearly proclaimed to key leaders of the day, as well as step one of Paul's journey to Rome. God may have even caused the initial ruckus Paul endured resulting in his long confinement, just as He once caused Joseph's because God "meant it for good" (which Joseph certainly didn't see until in hindsight). Because God sees things differently than the way we see.
The story in Acts goes on and the ship God provided for Paul to get to Rome eventually hit a terrible storm. Once again, Paul's hopes were being threatened. But God sent an angel to speak to Paul, telling him, "'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you'" (Acts 27:24). Paul could clearly see the storm that threatened the lives of everyone on that ship including his own, but God made sure that Paul also saw what God could see: Lives saved and hopes fulfilled! This should remind us that we can't always rely on what our eyes see, and we will do well to seek God for what He sees when all seems lost.
Eventually Paul made it to Rome, but he was never freed before he was finally executed. How could that feel like hope fulfilled. Through earthly eyes, that has the distinct appearance of failure. But God doesn't see the way we see. The book of Acts concludes with these amazing words: "He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance" (Acts 28:30-31). We see a cage, but God sees no hindrances.
How did Paul manage to live in such unshakable hope in the way God saw his circumstances, despite bumping up against so many barriers and being delayed for so many years? The story reveals the answer:
1. Paul was listening whenever God spoke to him.
2. Paul trusted God in whatever He revealed to him, despite the circumstances.
3. And Paul was committed to serving God at every stage and in every delay and despite every barrier on the journey toward the hopes that Paul felt God had given him. Paul's obedience wasn't dependent on the outcome of his dreams, but was a constant expression of the trust he chose to walk in as he trusted the One who put those dreams in his heart.
© 2015 by Ken Peters