No Stranger to TroublesDaily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
The Apostle Paul was no stranger to trouble. He was, according to the New Testament, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, chased by bandits, jailed repeatedly, starved, and even at one point, bitten by a snake.
Despite his afflictions, however, Paul never lost hope. He had a remarkable ability to persevere, fueled by his faith in Jesus. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed … ” he writes in his second letter to the church at Corinth.
But today’s scripture comes from an earlier time in Paul’s ministry. Things are not much better.
Paul is in jail once again. Some of Paul’s rivals have taken advantage of his imprisonment to undermine his ministry. In the midst of his troubles, Paul writes this remarkably cheerful letter: “Rejoice in the Lord always,” he says. Don’t be worried about anything. Tell God what you need, and he will give you peace.
As a newspaper reporter, I received many letters from prisoners as part of my work. Never did I receive a letter that sounds anything like this one from Paul. No prisoner I’ve ever heard from has had this much joy.
While the Bible doesn’t tell us the exact circumstances of Paul’s death, we know things didn’t turn out well for him. At the end of the book of Acts, Paul is living in Rome under Roman guard. According to the earliest Christian traditions, he was later crucified for his faith in Jesus. Still, his words remain with us.
Rejoice in the Lord always, no matter your circumstances, Paul seems to be telling us. The Lord is near, even when you can’t see him.
About twenty years ago, my wife Kathy and I were in a fix of our own. We’d been married for eight years and had been trying to have children without success. A visit to the doctor’s office ended with a diagnosis of infertility. I still have a copy of the doctor’s letter in my files. It was “highly unlikely” that I would ever father any children. About the same time, a pastor friend named Leith Fuji offered to have our church pray for us. “That’s fine,” I told Leith, “but it’s not going to work.” We had a medical problem that wasn’t going to go away.
“Let’s pray anyway,” Leith said. So we stood up at the front of the church and our friends gathered around us and called out to God on our behalf. I have never felt more vulnerable or loved at any time in my life. In the days following that prayer, Paul’s word stuck with me: Tell God what you need, and he will give you peace.
This scripture doesn’t say that if you ask, God will give you all that you want or need. But he will give you peace, Paul tells us.
Kathy and I got peace. And about a year later, we received another blessing—our daughter Sophie, who turns eighteen this December. She was joined a few years later by her brother Eli and eventually her sister Marel.
I’d like to say that, after receiving such a blessing, we never worried again or doubted that God would provide for us. But worry doesn’t disappear after a miracle. It remains a constant companion. But hope remains with us as well.
Whenever I start to be overcome with worry, I remember that doctor’s letter and how God stood by us in the past. I don’t know what the future holds for me or for you this Advent. We wait in hope for the coming of Jesus.
And he promises to be with us always.
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION:
What fills you with joy this Advent season? Can you recall a time when God provided for you? What are you worried about today? What would it take for you to experience God’s peace, no matter what you face in life today?
Lord God, we thank you for your presence in our lives, no matter what our circumstances. We trust that you will give us peace. Help us to not lose sight of your coming this Advent season. Amen.
READ THE PASSAGE IN CONTEXT:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.