Want to know your real passion? Your real priorities? Your real source of strength? There’s nothing that reveals the real you like tough times. But, not only do difficulties reveal who you are, so does it reveal who God is – and is often the opportunity to see His amazinlgy creative problem-solving skills at work.
This message is from my Twitch channel’s Devos & Chill series where, on Thursdays, I give a short message before we get into the gaming. Please join us!
So, there sits the Apostle Paul – passionate, traveling missionary, wandering evangelist, pastor of over a dozen churches – in a rented house in Rome, under house arrest for two years, not allowed to go anywhere as he awaits trial before the worst Caesar to ever to rule, not knowing whether he would live or die. And he’s just gotten a visit and a letter from some of his closest friends and allies, the church he planted in the city of Philippi.
When they heard the news, they got worried about him and immediately send help, supplies, money, and some people to take care of him.
It seems that part of their letter – or something he heard from the helpers – was that the church was pretty bummed out that Paul wasn’t able to go anywhere because that meant his missionary work had stopped, churches weren’t being planted, and people weren’t hearing about Jesus. I mean, he’s in Rome, the capital city, and there should be so much awesome work he could be doing – but he’s chained to a guard 24/7 and not allowed to leave his rented room.
Now, let’s pause for a moment and I want you to put yourself in Paul’s place. Like, what is your greatest passion? What is the thing you feel like you were put on earth to do? What is it that gets you up in the morning? Maybe it’s art or science. Maybe it’s gaming or streaming. Maybe it’s taking care of your family and friends. Maybe it’s writing or computers or singing or building things.
What if, as you were doing it, right in the middle of your greatest project, through no fault of your own, you were arrested and stuck in a one room apartment in a city you’ve never been to. No internet, no electricity, no family around, no friends to visit, and you lived every day unsure if that day would be your last.
Now, say someone came up to you and started grumbling with you. You know how some friends like to support you by just repeating your miseries and saying, “Man, that sucks. That’s so unfair! You don’t deserve this! You were on the verge of a breakthrough! You’ve never hurt anyone! Your work is super important! People need you!” – What do you do? Where’s your heart in that situation?
Now, put yourself in the place of being the friend that’s come to visit. How do you comfort that person? Do you do the misery loves company thing and just tell them how unfair everything is – or do you tell them it’ll all be ok – or do you just bring a plate of cookies and hope to talk about something else?
Would it ever occur to you to say, “Do you know what? This is just the right spot for you to be.” Probably not, right? That seems rude.
But let’s read Philippians 1:12–14 and see what Paul says to the people who are so concerned for him, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (ESV)
He says, “Friends, don’t get bummed out because you think that God’s plan is hindered by this. In fact, you would believe what’s going on. Every four hours I get a new guard to share the gospel with – and all of them agree that I’m not a criminal, that I’ve been falsely arrested, and amazed by my story. Some of them are now talking about Jesus to their fellow soldiers, and the gospel is spreading like wildfire among the entire imperial guard! Plus, as people in Rome hear my story, it’s not scaring them, it’s emboldening them to talk about Jesus even more! In fact, it is because of my imprisonment that my missionary work is making inroads in places I never would have dreamed it would. So don’t think that God’s done with me, or that my work is stopped because I’m under arrest. In fact, this was God’s plan all along!”
When I read this, there are really two take-aways that I want to grab onto.
First, is that it is during difficult times that what you believe and who you really are come out. In other words, you don’t really know your own worldview, or how strong your character is, until it’s tested.
We can say that whatever it is is our passion, our purpose, our reason for getting up in the morning – but if we only do it when it’s easy, then we’re fooling ourselves. That trial, that time of frustration, or opposition, or lack – that’s going to reveal what your real passion is, what you really believe you’re on earth to do. And – for some – you might discover that your real passion is to just consume. Food, tv, internet, gossip, whatever. When things are going well, you put the work into your passion – but when you hit a bump, it’s not long before it’s given up.
The Bible calls those times a “refining fire” and it refers to how gold or silver is purified. In other words, as you are heated up with things going wrong, as the fire is put to your feet, all of the yucky stuff inside you… all of the what they call “dross”… starts to show. That’s when you find out what’s really going on inside you. You find out what your real worldview is, where your faith really is, what your priorities really are, how much you actually value your friends, how much your promises is really worth, how good of a worker you really are.
Paul was a missionary who loved and trusted Jesus, and talked to others about Him, when he was traveling, staying with friends, standing before the greatest minds in Athens, under arrest on a pirate ship, in prison, or stuck under house arrest for two years. It didn’t matter where he was, Paul was the same person.
That’s one of the benefits of tough times. They show us who we really are.
And the second take-away I want to share is that God is far more creative than we are and can make things grow in ways you’d never expect. We look at a situation and see nothing but hopelessness, frustration, impossibility. We see all the ways it’s gone wrong, how broken it is, and all the things opposing what we thought was the best plan. And it makes us want to quit, or panic, or complain.
But, a lot of times, that’s when God’s plan is just starting to warm up! That’s when things happen that we could have never expected. That’s when opportunities we would have never explored start to be presented. As long as we are being consistent with our faith and character, like Paul was, just plodding forth being who God called us to be no matter the circumstances, things start happening that we would have never predicted.
We don’t have plants in my house because I keep killing them. Which is impressive considering the places I’ve seen plants grow. You’ve probably seen a flower poking through a sidewalk crack or in the middle of a parking lot. The world slapped 4 inches of concrete over top of that thing. That seed was in the dark, under massive a massive weight, and people were stepping on it constantly – but it grew, it flourished, and it bore seeds and spread itself all over the neighborhood.
No one would ever suggest that the best way to grow that flower would be to burry it under asphalt and let cars drive over it – but it worked!
In the same way, there is really nowhere that God can’t plant seeds and bear fruit with a person who is willing to just humble themselves, stay consistent, and keep doing what they were put on earth to do. Whether that’s sing, share, create, encourage, teach, serve, organize, administrate, or whatever He built you to do that serves others and brings Him glory – nothing will stop Him from making it work as long as you’re willing to keep trusting Him, listening to Him, and doing things His way.