I’ve been reading through Acts recently and looking at the early church. It hit me the other day how long Paul is in prison. He is first put in jail to avoid death by the Jews in Jerusalem. I think if I was Paul I would have expected a release like Peter had gotten earlier in Acts. The jailer was brought to Jesus and his whole family. It was amazing. But God decided to do something a little different with Paul. Here’s what God tells Paul:
But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.” Acts 23:11
He is not freed from prison and sent rejoicing on to speak to many crowds of people. He is stuck in his prison cell for an indefinite amount of time. It isn’t just for a few weeks or months. At the end of Acts 24, we discover that two years later Felix (the first governor Paul spoke to) was succeeded by the next governor…and Paul was still in prison. He then goes through a shipwreck in which the soldiers are trying to kill him and on and on it goes. He does eventually reach Rome, and he speaks to many important leaders before then. He writes letters to various churches also, letters which continue to profoundly impact our lives today in the New Testament.
But he was stuck in jail the whole time. I think I would have been a little frustrated and asked God why He went about it in such a different way than with Peter. Why do I have to be in prison for years and years? Why do I have to write letters to places I would rather visit in person? Why does it have to take so long?
Paul may have struggled in that department a little, but he had no idea what God was doing in the middle. He had no clue that God was writing through Him what would eventually encourage Christians thousands of years later. Paul didn’t know that his imprisonment would spread the Gospel in a way that his freedom couldn’t. I think it would be hard to trust God in that.
We can see God’s direction in leaving Paul in prison for all those years now, but it’s very difficult to see God’s direction or purpose in our own prisons as we live through them. What situation feels like a jail to you today? Is there somewhere that you feel stuck? Like you will never be free?
There are prisons of depression, marriage, bad choices, jobs, single parenting, rebellious children, financial decisions, chronic illness and so many more. They make us feel as though we are missing out on what God planned for us—like we are stagnant and our lives are pointless.
Will you move forward in trusting your loving Father has a purpose in your pain? Will you choose to believe He does not allow these imprisonments without a reason? Isn’t it amazing that even in your prison, you can be free in Him? No situation can take away our Life in Christ. No circumstance can keep us from having all we need in Christ Jesus. Take courage, for you do not yet know the outcome of your prison.