Finding God’s purpose
His word or two, and then comes night.
And isn’t it true that we start out to write one story and wind up being forced to write another?
The Apostle Paul was writing a letter to the church at Rome. In it he said, “When I go to Spain, I hope to see you in passing.” Paul’s fondest dream, you see, was to go to Rome. He wanted to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ there.
But, as you know, instead of an adventurous trip to Spain, Paul wound up in a cold and dirty prison cell in Rome. Instead of an opportunity to proclaim Christ, Paul became a prisoner of the emperor and eventually was executed for his faith.
But while dreaming of going to Spain and landing in prison, Paul didn’t lash out at God and blame him. Neither did he fold his hands in dumb resignation and do nothing. Instead, he looked at his situation and asked himself, “If I can’t go to Spain, what can I do?”
And as he always does, I think, God gave him his answer. Paul took pen and paper and began to write. Of the 27 books in our New Testament, 13 of them are letters from the pen of the apostle. And the ones that have been the greatest blessing to our world are the ones he wrote from prison.
Charles L. Allen used to say, “Our disappointments may be God’s appointments.” I don’t know whether God planned Paul’s imprisonment or not. What I do know is that God used his imprisonment. Paul knew it, too. He wrote to the Philippians, “I want you to know that what has happened to me has actually advanced the spreading of the gospel.”
And what God did in the life of Paul, he can do in your life and mine. To be sure, it requires faith. In spite of the fact that he was locked up behind prison bars, Paul still believed that God had a purpose for his life. Because he believed it, he held on until he found it.
An old hymn of the church voices this conviction:
He leadeth me! O blessed thought!
Oh words with heavenly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, where’er I be,
Still ‘tis God’s hand that leadeth me.
It’s an easy matter to sing it. But when we dream the impossible dream of some Spain, wind up in some prison cell, discover there some purpose of God for our life and fulfill it, then, we believe it.
Rev. Nichols is Minister Emeritus of First Christian Church, Temple, where he was senior minister for 23 years before retiring. He writes a religious column for several newspapers.