Seasons Greetings From the Jailhouse

by Andy Wood on December 15, 2014

in Esteem, Exploring the Possibilities, Five LV Laws, Life Currency, LV Cycle, Principle of Freedom

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It’s one of the highlights of the season – going to the mailbox and seeing who may have sent a card or annual Christmas letter and spending a little time catching up or reflecting on special people in our lives.  I especially like the ones that have family photos, to see how the kids have grown and changed.

It’s also interesting to see how lives have evolved and changed, too.  Ours certainly have in the last year.  And it was in that frame of mind that I read a different kind of greeting recently.  It had nothing to do with Christmas, yet it had everything to do with an updated snapshot into somebody’s life and how that life had evolved.  Check this out:

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother… (Colossians 1:1).

Seems like pretty basic stuff.  Season’s greetings from the mission field.

Would it change your perspective to know this was written from a Roman prison?

True that.

Now “Roman prison” could mean “house arrest,” where Paul was confined under guard to someone’s home, and that’s probably the case.  Or it could mean the dirty, smelly dungeon, chained on either side – the image of your prison nightmares.  Not as likely.  We do know that Paul could have visitors and companions.  We also know he wasn’t free to check out the latest match at the Coliseum or see the sights around town.

In his greeting, Paul identifies himself as an apostle – a “sent one” of Jesus Christ.  The term carried a sense of authority, to be sure.  This was an official letter, and he didn’t mind letting them know it.  But more than that, he saw himself as Christ’s servant-representative.  What he adds here, that he doesn’t in other places, is this little phrase:

“by the will of God.”

That can be pretty important when you’re in chains.

For 30-plus years, Paul had been doing a dance with the will of God.  First he tried – fiercely – to push against it.  Until that day that Jesus body-slammed him, blinded him and told him he was kicking against the goads.

Ouch.

But to his credit, from that time forward, this man who had so relentlessly persecuted the church now pursued the will of God for his life, wherever that took him.

It was the will of God that had arrested him, long before the Romans did.

It was the will of God that led him to abandon his own agenda, long before he got himself thrown in prison in Jerusalem, then later shipped to Rome.

Now, accompanied by friends and visitors to be sure, but also limited to house arrest at best, chains at worst, Paul still remained carried by – and standing on – the will of God.

Interesting… when he was putting people in prison himself, his heart was in chains.  Now bound to someone else’s legal system, he was freer than ever.  Why?  The will of God.

Whoa-ho-hold it!  Needle-scratching-the-record sound!  Just wait a minute!

Seriously?  Is that what he signed on for?  Is that what apostles to the Gentiles do?  It seems like a very inefficient way of doing business if you ask me.  How many churches could Paul plant from prison?  How many sermons could he preach, cities could he visit, or miracles could he perform?

And if he’s not doing what apostles are supposed to be doing, where does he get off calling himself one?  Shouldn’t he just resign and let Timothy or Dr. Luke take over?  Apollos seemed to be a pretty dynamic fellow – why not put him in charge?  I mean, there’s no doubting Paul’s influence in the past, but he no longer appeared capable of performing the duties required of an apostle.

Why didn’t he just hang it up?

The will of God, that’s why.  And as long as you are walking in His will, He reserves the right to shape your job description.  It’s part of the breaking process of many a man of God.

It’s easy to cherish the will of God when it produces feelings of peace, love, and harmony.  It’s another matter when it lands us in jail, isolation, or loneliness.  It’s one thing when the will of God appears to liberate us; it’s another when it seems to limit us.  Oswald Chambers says:

God buries His men in the midst of paltry things; no monuments are erected to them, they are ignored, not because they are unworthy but because they are in the place where they cannot be seen. Who could see Paul in Corinth? Paul only became marvelous after he had gone. All God’s men are ordinary men made extraordinary by the matter He has given them. God puts His workers where He puts His Son. This is the age of the humiliation of the saints.

In all our talk about finding God’s will for our lives, it may be wise to look for the ways His will has already found us – and learn, by His wisdom and power, to flourish in it.

Are you looking for God’s will?  How do you know it hasn’t already found you?

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