Acts 16:25-26 (AMP)
But about midnight when Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; suddenly there was a great earthquake, so [powerful] that the very foundations of the prison were shaken and at once all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.
The apostle Paul writes quite often about the mystery of the gospel. He reveals truths to us about why Christ came and what His Kingdom means. The disciples were short-sighted enough to think that He was going to overthrow the Roman government and bring the Jews back to power in Israel.
Jesus told them all along the way that they were made for more than an earthly king. He said, “The Kingdom of God is near,” repeatedly.
In Luke 21:34-36 (NIV), when Jesus speaks of the signs of the temple destruction and end times, he warns the disciples:
Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.
Paul understood why Jesus used this peculiar statement: “The Kingdom of God is near.” Jesus said it so that when trouble comes, we can access its power. It’s near because when you receive the gift of salvation, you become a member of the Kingdom. You take on the Spirit of Christ. That Kingdom lives within you.
Jesus wants you to access it when the “anxieties of life” weigh you down.
In today’s focus scripture of Acts 16:25-26, that mystery Jesus revealed to His disciples is exactly what keeps Paul and Silas going through a tragic time in their ministry.
They were en route to a time of refreshment and reflection at Lydia’s house (she was a businesswoman) and a servant woman with a demon in her followed them on their way. She’d been following them for days and kept yelling at them.
Acts 16:17 reports that she is following them, screaming and shouting: “These men are servants of the Most High God! They are proclaiming to you the way of salvation!” (Acts 16:17, AMP).
That’s actually good news, but it was becoming a major distraction to Paul’s mission—to preach the Gospel. He reacts and casts out the demon.
The townspeople turn on him and Silas because they profited from this woman’s ability to tell fortunes. So, the two disciples are arrested, beaten, and thrown in jail.
They’re in prison for preaching the gospel and freeing a woman from a spirit that twisted her spirituality. Paul and Silas are in an uncomfortable situation—beaten, under guard, and uncertain of their future because of what they preached.
However, instead of dwelling on their misfortune, they do something mysterious and remarkable. Let’s recall the second part of today’s passage, which reports that “…suddenly there was a great earthquake, so [powerful] that the very foundations of the prison were shaken and at once all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened” (Acts 16:26, AMP).
It’s easy to get caught up in the miracles here. Chains broken. Doors opened. A prison destroyed. But the really great stuff here is the peculiar thing Paul and Silas were doing in their circumstances of misery—they were praying and singing instead of fearing, worrying, doubting, or lamenting.
Our lives all have that annoying voice—circumstances, trials, emotional turmoil, physical ailments—following us around, yelling at us. It’s enough to make you snap. But Paul and Silas do something different. Here’s a guideline for all of us for how to find God in the midst of all of the distractions around us:
1. Fight for your position as a child of God. When you are saved, you are given an inheritance as a co-heir with Christ. Own that identity. When circumstances scream at you, scream back with this truth.
2. Live in the Kingdom of God. You are full of the Spirit. That’s His job in you—to remind you whose you are and for whom you were made—eternity with God.
3. Remember the Spirit is a permanent resident in you. Surrender to the Spirit and not your problems and circumstances. That’s how Satan grabs a foothold with you.
4. Make your eternity more important than your today. Take care more of eternity than you do of time. That means it’s your job to focus on faith today instead of the minutia of this world.
When you simply keep your focus on God, He will be your protector, and the troublesome days you experience will only be temporary!
Colossians 1:9-10 (AMP)
For this reason, since the day we heard about it, we have not stopped praying for you, asking [specifically] that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom [with insight into His purposes], and in understanding [of spiritual things], so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord [displaying admirable character, moral courage, and personal integrity], to [fully] please Him in all things, bearing fruit in every good work and steadily growing in the knowledge of God [with deeper faith, clearer insight and fervent love for His precepts];
In this text, the Apostle Paul is in a state of thanksgiving. He is presenting the saints with strong commendation on several levels. He commends the saints for leaning on God with absolute confidence and trust in His power and wisdom. He commends them for how steadfast their faith has made them. He commends them for their unwavering love as they anticipate the Lord’s return. He commends them for holding the line.
The question then becomes, what else could possibly be needed? As a Christian, what else should you be doing when you have been unwaveringly faithful? The following verse should say, “Keep doing what you’re doing.” Instead, Paul explains that there is a necessary next stage of spiritual maturation that comes into play. “We have not stopped praying for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom.”
No matter how long you’ve been saved or how active you are in the ministry, this is where your spirituality is taken next. At some point, you have to graduate from being poured into to practicing what has been poured into you. The church’s role was to pour into you to mature your faith and foster your hope, but once you’re matured, you’re far from done. Expectations have shifted. Now the church’s role is to challenge, encourage, motivate, push, and point to where the power for your living comes next. The pouring into your life will never stop, even though your role changes.
Paul prays that the saints be given all wisdom of the knowledge of God’s will. He prays for both knowledge and wisdom because wisdom is the practical side of knowledge. Knowledge without wisdom is like walking around with power without knowing how to use it. Wisdom gives us the capacity to apply the knowledge of God’s will. With this wisdom comes challenge. God matures you when He gives you knowledge, and then He puts you in the place where you can practice it. He doesn’t want you to get comfortable; He wants you to learn to appreciate the skills He pushes you to develop.
If you’ve ever wondered why God lets adversity get to you, this is why. In certain seasons, He might let bitterness get to you. He might turn serenity to stress and sunshine into storms. Without these difficult times, we have no place to exercise the skillset maturation we need. God doesn’t want you to go to battle if you haven’t learned how to use the weapons first. He wants you to be inspired, but He also wants you to practice the very things He has poured into you by proclamation. When He says He’s given you a gift, He’s going to bring a challenge to the gift so that you can practice and build confidence in the gift He has given you.
God has poured so much into you. He may not pour into you in the same ways at all times, but we need to begin to use the knowledge that He imparts to us to walk in the purpose that He has placed in our lives.
Luke 2:25-35 (NIV)
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
God makes a promise to Simeon, so he appears in the temple to behold Christ’s manifestation. Luke tells us that Simeon is a devout and religious man, living with the promise from God that he would not see death until his eyes were cast upon the Messiah Himself.
While God’s promise is awesome to receive, it is frustrating to endure. There is a reason that Aristotle said patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet. The time a promise is first articulated to you and the time it comes to fruition could be a mighty long time as we can see was the case for Simeon. But no matter how long Simeon had to wait, he knew that God hadn’t forgotten.
It’s hard to wait for our dreams and exercise patience in this instant, everything world. It’s hard enough waiting for a website to load or our lunch to finish heating up in the microwave. We want instant spirituality. Instant faith maturation. Instant spiritual manifestation.
Maybe you aren’t passively waiting, either—maybe you’re praying, attending church, forgiving your enemies, waking up and giving God praise. God owes you, right? But still, He is making you wait. The text shows us that God is powerful enough to do some things immediately, so why hasn’t He given you what you want? Evidence shows us He can. We see it when our neighbors have their desires fulfilled. We see it when our friends receive all that they asked from God—even when we asked the same of God at the same time and we’re still waiting.
If God makes you wait, you have to offer patience and endurance, knowing that He hasn’t forgotten. You might struggle not to shout when you see Him fulfilling your same desire in another person. Instead, you need to shout because He is working it out. He is lining everything up, just as He lined everything up for Jesus’ arrival. Don’t deny your feelings of anger, frustration, nervousness, and jealously. God knows you’re struggling. Open up to Him. Go to church anyway. Pray anyway. Be kind anyway. Be patient anyway. Keep believing God and keep making an effort.
You might think you can wait a little longer if God would just tell you why you’re waiting. Let me ask you this: did God tell Simeon why he was waiting? No, He didn’t. When patience can’t feed on confirmation, it has to rest on God’s providence.
We don’t know why God makes us wait, but patience is an offering we give God as an expression of gratitude. Simeon remained faithful while anticipating the coming Messiah. He felt blessed to be trusted with a vision and a promise that required patience. We would all do well to do the same.
Sometimes the waiting ends up being more important than the outcome. Sometimes we grow more by the waiting than we do by the receiving. Perhaps waiting is the gift He gives you.
Ephesians 1:11-12 (AMP)
Sometimes it’s hard to comprehend the grace of God. Paul spends an enormous amount of the New Testament aiming to convince different groups of their place in eternity. He was up against tough debate in first century Ephesus—specifically, more than fifty gods and goddesses as well as a number of philosophical arguments for spiritual truths.
Yet, he knew what he was talking about when he described what Christians have in the promises of Jesus. And this is timeless truth for you today. You can count on God’s divine providence and amazing grace for your life. This is why it’s all going to be okay. Actually, it’s going to be better than okay; it’s going to be glorious, according to Paul.
“In Him also we have received an inheritance [a destiny—we were claimed by God as His own], having been predestined (chosen, appointed beforehand) according to the purpose of Him who works everything in agreement with the counsel and design of His will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ [who first put our confidence in Him as our Lord and Savior] would exist to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:11-12, AMP).
Paul was so excited about the potential of the lives of the saints that he opens this debate with a great statement of praise to God’s amazing grace. And this is fuel for when it doesn’t seem like life is going to be okay.
Let’s unpack these two verses that are full of hope and God’s sovereignty.
We have received an inheritance. Unlike human inheritances, we receive God’s gift of grace without any effort or righteousness. We can’t earn it. We can’t purchase it. We can’t manipulate God to extend it to us. It can’t be taken from us by human strength. God decided before we existed that we would receive His Kingdom.
We have been predestined for grace. Isn’t that amazing? God chose His grace for you when He created you. He had His eye on you. He has a design and a purpose for your life.
You are worthy. God saw you as worthy of His gift of grace through His Son’s sacrifice. He loved you so much that He knew you would need the gift of salvation. You are worthy of His grace, even when you don’t feel like it.
You have free will within His providence. God loves us so much that He offers His will as a counsel for our life. He knows our choices, but He lets us make them. He lets us approach Him with our questions and decisions. He’s working out everything for His purpose and you are part of that. You are a valued member of the Kingdom of God.
You have the resources of the Kingdom. Jesus instructed us to seek first the Kingdom of God. But what does that mean? It means that we have the reality, the resources, and the eternity of the Kingdom because of Jesus.
In the Amplified version of Matthew 6:33, we find that seeking the Kingdom brings us resources of “His way of doing and being right—the attitude and character of God.” That’s powerful stuff when we’re faced with not okay circumstances. It’s going to be okay because when we ask for God’s help through prayer—we receive it. We receive His attitude and His take on a situation that seems impossible in our human weakness.
So, when things aren’t okay, remember, nobody and nothing—not even your own stupidity—can block God’s plan for your life.
Proverbs 19:21 (AMP)
“Many plans are in a man’s mind, but it is the LORD’s purpose for him that will stand (be carried out).
Do you ever feel like your plans are completely opposite God’s purpose for your life? Do you ever struggle with discerning whether a decision lines up with His will for you? You’re not alone. This is a major tension in the Christian life—my will versus God’s will.
Comedian Woody Allen says, “If you really want to make God laugh, then tell God about your plans.”
Solomon is writing to us to show us that we’re not supposed to be separated from God in our planning. He is clear about His intent. Every believer should know that God’s providence should always govern his or her life.
That may sound heavy-handed at face value, but let’s explore five reasons why God has a place in your planning.
1. God created you to plan. He gave you a piece of Him with your creative brainstorming and imagination. That’s a trait we share with Him. He didn’t create you to be docile or mediocre. He created you to carry His image and His likeness. He’s asking you to join Him in His plans for you.
2. God wants your burden to be light. God didn’t want you to fill your days with your own purposes. He has a specific purpose in mind for you. He didn’t want you to bear the weight of the world on your own shoulders. That’s why He wants an intimate fellowship with you to discuss your hopes and dreams. He didn’t make you to be broken; He made you to live.
3. God doesn’t want you to have regrets. When you talk to him about your plans and seek out the advice of other Christians, you are discerning His plans for you. He wants you to grow to the point where His plans are better than any you could imagine. He has your endgame in mind. He doesn’t want you living your life missing out or regretting that lost opportunity. Trust that He wants only good for you.
My parents couldn’t afford to send me to college. The implied, safe option was to enlist in the military just like my dad. I imagined a life in the Marine Corps because I liked the uniforms. My plan was to go the officer’s training route. My parents were supportive. And in the midst of all that planning, God was laughing, and my aunt was working on His behalf.
My aunt had filled out the paperwork for financial aid and enrolled me in Morgan State. The acceptance letter was mailed to her house. I was informed that I was going to college a day before I was to sign my Marine papers.
Hint: Don’t trust any of your plans you haven’t prayed about.
4. God made a valuable investment in His plan for you. I want you to remember the investment made in you. His sovereignty in your life came at the expense of His Son’s blood. God invested His Son’s life for you and me to accept His purposes for your life.
5. God always has something better in mind. It may not feel like it, but God loves you so much that He will protect you from your own plans. He will fight your will fiercely.
Only execute plans God lets live after God has wrestled with them. If God gives the plan back to you and it’s choked out, let it go.
Here’s a good summary: Write your plans in pencil and give God the eraser.