Tuesday, February 1

You're Gonna Need a Quality Shoe

If we expect the road of our life to be all freeway, or even all paved sidewalk, we're going to be disappointed. Jesus warned his disciples that in this world they would have trouble. Why should we expect it to be any different for us? Eventually something nasty is going to happen to everyone of us. We're all going to run into difficult circumstances, and we may have to endure them for a long time. It's just the way of the world, and we are in the world.

Of course, Jesus didn't tell his disciples how difficult things would be for them because he wanted to scare them, but rather to prepare them for it. When persecution and difficulty came, he didn't want them to be blown away by it. When I read how the apostles responded to the persecution they faced, I can't help but think that they remembered what Jesus had said.

Do you remember Jesus' words of warning?
In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage--I have conquered the world. (John 16:33 NET)
He told them that they could expect to experience extreme difficulties in the world, and that the reason they could face those expected trials courageously was because he had been victorious over the world. So what happened the first time the disciples faced trouble after Jesus ascended? How did they react?

It's all recorded for us in Acts 4. Peter and John were held in jail overnight, and then brought before the Sanhedrin where they were threatened by the rulers in an attempt to get them to stop preaching. When they were released, they joined together with their brethren and prayed this prayer:
Master of all, you who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them, who said by the Holy Spirit through your servant David our forefather,

Why do the nations rage,
and the peoples plot foolish things?
The kings of the earth stood together,
and the rulers assembled together,
against the Lord and against his Christ.

For indeed both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together in this city against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do as much as your power and your plan had decided beforehand would happen. And now, Lord, pay attention to their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your message with great courage, while you extend your hand to heal, and to bring about miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus. (Acts 4:24-30, NET)
It's their very first persecution, and you might expect that since they, of all people, knew the power of the Lord, they would ask God to make the road easier for them--to take the persecution away. But that isn't what they asked. Instead, they asked God to give them the courage to keep on speaking the gospel in the face of the persecution.

They expected trouble. And from the gist of the whole prayer, I think we can say that not only did they expect trouble, they viewed their trouble as part of God's plan for them. Their prayer opens with an acknowledgement of God as creator, and continues by recognizing that not only did God predict what would happen to Christ, he planned it and was the deciding power behind it. So, instead of asking for their troubles to be taken away, they accept them as something God has purposefully allowed them to suffer, and ask him for the boldness they need to keep on going as they face these threats.

Jesus had told them they could expect trouble, but to be courageous; and what they ask for is courage. "I have overcome the world," Jesus said, and they understood that. I think they also understood that just as God had worked Christ's victory over the world through his suffering, he would also spread the news of Christ's victorious work through their suffering. The threats made against them were part of God's plan to bring good things to them and to the world.

So, too, it is with us. As long as we're here in this world, we will face suffering, but we can face it with courage because Christ has overcome the world, and our suffering is bringing about the fruit of his victory. It is working God's good purpose in our own redemption and the redemption of the world. Our troubles help conform us to Christ's image, and they make us better servants of the gospel. In many cases, they work in the same way Paul's imprisonment did: they turn out to advance the gospel.

All our troubles--and we'll have them--work together for good purposes, because Christ has overcome the world. We'll need our sturdy shoes, but we can hike on knowing that the difficult trail is the best way to reach that perfect end. We can take courage, and when we don't have it, we can ask for it, knowing that a prayer for courage in trouble is a prayer that pleases God, and one that he is pleased to grant:
When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God courageously. (Acts 4:31, NET)

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