The Comma Series: This Is Not The End
What is your “this?” Is it a tainted past? Is it a broken marriage, guilt from an abortion, or maybe you’ve cheated, stolen, or lied? When you look down and see the shackles around your wrists, what do they represent? Maybe it isn’t something from your past at all…perhaps you are going through it right at this moment, but the pain is too raw, too hard to put into words? But they’re there. The heaviness of those shackles weigh you down. It impedes on the everyday things that we need to do, like getting out of bed or connecting with others. And what will others think when they SEE my shackles? What will they say? That makes me sink even further into shame and guilt and fold my bound hands down and and want to turn away and hide my face from the world.
Let’s imagine another scenario… let’s imagine sitting in our prison and looking down at chains around our ankles and looking around us for a moment…I envision a large, dark hole with sounds of water dripping along a stone wall. I can hear the chains scrape across the floor as I move. Every breath is heavy, every movement weighted, and time stands still as the days become weeks that become years. Despair. But wait, there is something else…
I hear chains scraping against the stone cold floor of the prison, but they aren’t mine. I take a closer look and notice the slightest movement in the darkest corner of the room and realize, someone is there with me. I listen. I can hear them whimpering as a child, not knowing where they are or how they arrived there. They aren’t even aware that I’m there… until… I speak.
What would I say? Let’s take a look at someone who actually experienced this hardship many times, Paul (also known as Saul of Tarsus.) In Philippians 1: 12-14 we read Paul’s words…
“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters,that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.”
Paul wrote to the Church of Philippi in what is believed to be his last prison epistle. He saw his imprisonment as an opportunity to advance the gospel! Paul, who was just as human as you and I, could’ve yielded to his flesh and complained to the church of the conditions that he was in, but instead he chose to focus on Jesus. By focusing on the light instead of the darkness that surrounded him, he accomplished three things.
- He was an encouragement to the church body. His trust in the Lord and deep faith in Jesus Christ is what fueled Paul during his darkest times. He could’ve evoked fear and written “go into hiding and save yourselves!” But he didn’t do that! He encouraged them and urged them to continue to spread the gospel. By doing that, he also encouraged unity and let them know that he remained in this pursuit WITH them. His immediate circumstances did not limit him. Only thoughts of hopelessness and fear could shackle him and the minds of other followers and Paul wanted no part in that deception. Instead, Paul greeted them with “grace and peace” (Philippians 1:2), not gloom and doom! He also prayed for them. He looked beyond his prison to meet the needs of others. He also prayed for their “love to abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” (Philippians 1:9)
- Other prisoners were brought to Christ! Paul was able to minister to others that were imprisoned with him. Paul saw the chains of others and instead of wallowing in fear and doubt, his chains gave him courage! The prisoners saw Paul’s chains and could relate to him because of it, but then to hear Paul tell all about the love of Jesus Christ was something new to them. Their hopelessness was turned into hope. Some who were released went on to spread the gospel, while others who spent their last days there were released from their prisons into the arms of Christ.
- Paul remained steadfast and by encouraging others, he also spoke life into himself. His thoughts remained focused on the gospel. He could not forget that fateful day when he lost his sight. The kind of darkness that Paul experienced on the road to Damascus was more poignant than any darkness that a prison could hold. It was in that darkness that He received Christ and accepted Him as Lord. No prison, no darkness, and no shackles compared to the man Paul was when Jesus said to him “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) Paul was blind but now he saw light in every corner of that prison because He knew Jesus.
What chains are weighing you down? Are you paralyzed by the dark prison walls that are built up around you? Wherein lies your hope? God can break every chain and illuminate the dark. He can take those shackles and give you the ability to see other’s pain so that you can say to them, “let me tell you of someone whose love is greater than anything you are facing. His blood paid the price for your past. You no longer have to be imprisoned by the guilt and shame you’ve been carrying.” There is hope.
Dear Father, I come to you broken. I’ve carried around these chains for so long. I don’t want to embrace this shame anymore. Your love gives me courage. You are my hope and my salvation, Lord. Amen