When we misunderstand what Christianity really is and the desire of our hearts are amiss, we can often think and feel that we’re losing when we’re actually winning.
In the biblical account of Acts 16 we observe how Paul and Silas have devoted themselves to the work of the Lord. There is no question that they are where God would have them to be, doing what God would have them to do.
Yet, by verse 22 of the same chapter, they find themselves having their backs beaten open, their feet shackled and being thrown in a dark jail cell.
Admittedly, were it me, I would have thought,
“What have I done wrong?”
“I’m trying to do the right things.”
“Then, why is this happening to me?!” as though obedience and living for Christ should only result in pleasant things and a life of ease without hardship.
But where did that idea come from? Jesus certainly did not teach that.
By the Spirit of God the Apostle Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:12,
“Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”
This, I believe, was born out of Jesus’s own words in John 16:33,
“In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Obedience and living for Christ as a means of gain, attaining worldly pleasure and a life of ease without hardship is an insidious deception that Satan harvests from our own unregenerate, fleshly hearts so he can inoculate us with it later, a deception that can be reintroduced casually, subtly and imperceptibly –even from the pulpit as preachers tickle our itching ears with what we want, which infects our heart and causes our desire to be amiss.
It’s a Christianity that makes God merely a means to an end (“the good life”), when He should be everything.
This is why it is imperative to stay immersed in the Word, to submit to the Word, to stand on the Word and watch, guarding against my own heart because it is deceitfully wicked. His heart should be the pursuit and the Word is the seed of His heart being formed in me by the work of the Holy Spirit.
So, I repent.
The true aim of Christianity is TO BE WITH GOD.
That results in us:
Going where God goes,
Doing what God does,
Loving who God loves,
Wanting what God wants.
Where does God go? Everywhere. (Psalm 19:1-4, Matthew 24:14, Mark 16:15 )
What does God do? Making Himself known and giving life by doing so. (Isaiah 11:6-9, Habakkuk 2:14, John 17:3)
Who does God love? The world, especially those who love Him. (Exodus 20:5-6, 33:19, John 3:16)
What does God want? His creation redeemed, all things reconciled to Himself, Us conformed to the image of His Son, His children to be part of His work. (Genesis 12:3, 2 Corinthians 5:18-20, 2 Peter 3:9, Ephesians 2:10)
He did that.
All that He desires, He has done. (Isaiah 55:11)
Jesus’s last words from the cross, “It is [was/is/shall be] finished” recorded in John 19:30 was the cry of victory.
God has won.
And it is this reality and Jesus’s words in the latter part of John 16:33 that I believe Paul and Silas have confidence in and that allow them to respond to tribulation in the manner that they did -“praying and singing hymns to God” (Acts 16:25). Again, those words from Jesus were,
“In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” -John 16:33
“I have overcome the world.”
The hearts of Paul and Silas were not amiss. Their desire was not for a nice house, a successful career or easy going. Like Jesus, their heart was to be with God, to the extent that they WANTED to share in Christ’s sufferings to be with Him and to see God’s will done –a will they were confident was being accomplished even in the midst of what appeared to be a setback.
And, God’s will was being accomplished.
“Then he [the jailer] called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?'” -Acts 16:29-30
That night, the entire prison was witnessed to, the jailer and his entire household (which may have extended well beyond his immediate family, potentially including servants and their families, etc.) were saved and baptized.
Would this have occurred if Paul and Silas were sulking, crying, complaining and begrudging their circumstances?
But Paul and Silas were operating from a position of winning.
Their example in Acts 16 encapsulates Romans 8:28-29,
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”
Paul and Silas were confident in the victory of Jesus Christ and they knew that even their imprisonment would work together for good.
And, what was that good?
That “whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”
Said another way, Paul and Silas knew that the good that would come of a seemingly bad situation was that either they (or another) would be made to look more like Christ (“conformed to the image of His Son”) and/or the family of God would grow (“that He might be the firstborn among many brethren”) which pleased God and therefore pleased them.
The Apostle Paul writes victoriously,
“So [at the end of the day] when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written:
‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’
‘O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’
The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
-1 Corinthians 15:54-58
When my heart is amiss, it can feel like I’m losing even when I’m winning.
But when I center my hope and expectation in Christ, seeking those things which are above and eternal such as being with Him and being like Him, rather than seeking those things below and temporary such as worldly goods and pleasure, I can live joyfully in any circumstance to His praise and glory, knowing because He’s won, I’m always winning.
What do you see?
A prison cell to complain about or a platform to glorify Christ and secure a crown?
For those of us in Christ, everything is an opportunity “for we know ALL things work together for good to those who love God.”
Whether we seize it, depends on how we see it.
Delight yourself in the Lord, make Him alone the desire of your heart and you will see
Because He’s won, I’m always winning
Resulting in growth and life in Christ.