When things seem bleak...
God always has a plan. Philippians 1.12-14
Things were definitely bleak: Christianity was in trouble, or so it seemed. The Gospel had come to a screeching halt, or so it seemed. The teacher, the pastor, the main man had been arrested, transported to Rome in tight security, and faced death. Was this the end of the faith already? There seemed to be no hope. Paul knew his Philippian brothers wondered about all of these things.
Certainly as Nero's power grew, things grew worse for the Christians. Yet Paul says, 'Take heart, Christian...God is at work.'
Listen to his 'take':
"Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually advanced the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is because I am in Christ. Most of the brothers have gained confidence in the Lord from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the word fearlessly." Philippians 1.12-14, CSB
So Paul's imprisonment would not extinguish the gospel, but further it! It seems his incarceration in Rome was part of God's plan. Paul was shackled to a member of the Praetorian guard, (from Caesar's household), at all times.1 Every four hours, there was a changing of that guard, while Paul was awaiting his trial. Ultimately, Paul was permitted to arrange his own private lodging while he waited for two years for his 'court date', but he was still chained to a soldier at all times.
Think of how many of these guardsmen heard the Gospel over the span of two years!
All the Praetorian Guard knew why Paul was imprisoned, and they saw his courage, conviction, and undying loyalty to Jesus Christ. They could not help themselves--
many of the guards came to know Paul's Lord ... also their families ... even extending to Caesar's house. Remarkable indeed. God always has a plan.
So it has been throughout history. When it seemed that the faith would be eliminated-even as countries pass(ed) laws to make Christianity illegal, the light of Christ cannot be hidden or extinguished. While Communist China sought to wipe out the faith, the numbers of Christians multiplied mostly underground, until Christianity flourishes today. It is predicted that by 2030, China will have more Christians than any other country.2 God always has a plan, it seems.
And in your life-does it seem dark or even hopeless? Do not lose heart, believer! God is on the throne, and even when you do not see it, he is at work. And I do believe it is oft darkest just before the dawn. Do not grow faint in believing, do not stop praying.
"Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act."3
My loved one hits the skids and finally turns around again... gets honest with himself, turns to God for answers, for help. And in God's kindness, he somehow uses what has been suffered by one to help another. I've heard it said 'nothing is wasted in God's economy,' and it has certainly been true in my experience. Again, brilliant Paul: 'All things work together for good for those who love the Lord'4...
It seems God always has a plan . . .
for the Philippian church,
for an imprisoned Paul and
for the spread of Christianity-in the first century and today.
God also has a plan for your life and mine, and while it seems like he is slow to act, or slow to show up, he is working it out. Look at this sweet verse:
The Lord values those who fear him,
those who put their hope in his faithful love.5
And from The Message: Those who fear God get God's attention;
they can depend on his strength.
God always has a plan, my beloved. Do not lose heart.
p.s. Sometimes I see this principle more clearly in someone else's life... I can see that the trauma faced by a young person can be healed, redeemed for its value in strengthening her faith, and helping another.
I watch as a breast cancer survivor says 'I know...oh, I know. Have hope, you will feel better, you will get stronger, and what's more, you will be a stronger woman for your children and for others.'
There are a few incredibly painful things I have experienced in my life I would not wish on my worst enemy, but hear me - I WOULD NOT TRADE THEM EITHER. Doubt me? Ask me!
Even when things seem bleak, God always has a plan.
1) Acts 28.16
3) Psalm 37.5
4) Romans 8.28a
5) Psalm 147.11