Paul stands trial before Governor Felix in Acts 24. After the Jewish leaders make their case, he responds in his defense. The passage says he responded “gladly” or “cheerfully” and it’s obvious he’s confident. Here’s a man who’s been wrongly accused with multiple lies and wrongly imprisoned, which for anyone would be angering, but for a passionate and spirited person like Paul, I could easily see him bringing down the roof with a hot-headed offensive aimed toward the corrupt. (I kind of wanted to see that!) Yet we don’t see that from the context of this passage. He’s cheerful and in all likelihood cool and calm, though no doubt he speaks with as much strength and passion as ever.
Later in this chapter we see Paul unjustly imprisoned for at least two years. Felix doesn’t want to make a decision on the case and release him; he’s hoping for a bribe. And when that doesn’t happen, he continues to hold Paul captive with hopes to bargain among the Jewish leaders politically. Felix calls for Paul over and over to talk with him. While Paul had to be frustrated knowing there was little hope for his release, we see Paul faithfully continue to witness and teach. His circumstance doesn’t appear to drive his feelings or his will. He faithfully stays the course for his purpose.
When I find myself in a deep, dark trial (maybe I’m in the deepest one yet or maybe it’s my one-millionth trial in the last two years and I’m weary), am I staying the course like Paul? Am I doing it with cheer, joy, and confidence? Before we discuss the “how to” we must first adress the “what.”
TRIALS HAVE A PURPOSE
So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. (IPeter 1:6-7 NLT)
Peter is very clear here. Trials have purpose in our lives and they are for our own benefit. We are being tested and purified as gold through fire. The result on the other side of the fire is something far more precious and glorifying. And while we benefit personally, Peter says the world actually benefits from our trials too. Like God pulled Israel aside, tested her in the wilderness for 40 years and cleared her of many impurities with the purpose of making his name famous among the nations, God’s purpose for us is the same. He will consecrate and purify us making his name known among the nations.
GOD HAS A PURPOSE
God actually has a gigantic story that he’s been writing for ages and he uses the purpose of trials to work into his overall purpose. Every single detail in each of our complicated lives plays a part in this story.
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8:28 NLT)
God has a purpose. God has a story whether we willingly jump into it or not. His purposes are layered and multi-faceted, and he reveals some of them to us and not others until the proper time. God purposes all events in the world to reach the world and make himself known to the world. Yet the world never comes at the cost of the individual because his purpose is to make himself known to you. Any sort of love and wisdom and gift he lavishes on me takes nothing away from you, which is difficult to fathom in a world of finite resources. Each of us is the most important person in the world. He’s crazy that way.
I HAVE A PURPOSE
Trials have purpose which work into God’s overall purpose and actually activate my purpose. My purpose is to know God and to make him known. To know God, and I mean really know him intimately, also means that I am with him. And even more…that I am IN HIM. We’ve seen the phrase in Him, in Christ, in the Lord, so many times in our scriptures we don’t often notice it, but it’s highly significant.
Always be full of joy in the Lord, I say it again – rejoice! (Phil 4:4 NLT emphasis mine)
If we have joy for the Lord, that is a wonderful thing. If we have joy with the Lord, that is also a wonderful thing. However in my experience, when I am joyful for the Lord and with the Lord, my joy comes from within me and tends to be fleeting as soon as circumstance upsets the status quo. I might try to remember my fleeting joy during a trial, I might try to haul it back like a deep-sea fisherman fighting a Bluefin Tuna, but when that joy comes from me, I only have so much power to wield it. However when I am joyful in the Lord, it comes from a far greater power with true sustainability, even when circumstance rears its ugly head.
We all have a universal God-given purpose of remaining IN HIM. And as believers we utterly miss out on our unique God-given purpose if we do not seek this primary purpose. It’s when I am IN HIM that I hear his soft and subtle voice, see the things that not everyone else sees, and learn the specific steps he wants me to take. I feel compelled to take these steps even when they seem scary or crazy.
WHAT IS ABIDING IN CHRIST?
Some of you may remember this story, but a number of years ago my church was going through the book of Ephesians. During this time of study I learned the difference between spiritual blessings, spiritual gifts, and spiritual fruit. As a believer I possess ALL spiritual blessings whether or not I choose to claim them. They’re mine whether or not I realize how they impact me. And because I have a purpose in Christ, he has gifted me for my purpose. I don’t choose my gifts; he chooses them for my discovery. And my spiritual fruit is completely different from the other two. They are promised albeit conditional.
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5 NLT)
Spiritual fruit (love, joy, peace ,patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control) result from remaining IN HIM. Abiding IN HIM. When you are connected to The Vine all this fruit comes pouring out of you. And it’s not just one or two, it’s all of them.
Paul’s disposition during his trial and throughout his entire imprisonment came from an intimate and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ. We can claim this for our lives too.
HOW CAN I ABIDE IN CHRIST?
As I have grown in God’s presence over the years I have learned that there are four primary components that facilitate an abiding, intimate relationship with the Lord: God’s Word through scripture, prayer, meditation, and worship.
Initially I sought an abiding relationship with Jesus through scripture reading. It’s a fantastic way to spend time with God and to know him, because he reveals himself consistently through his word in unexpected ways. Anytime I sit down with my Bible I have no idea what’s in store for me and I find it exhilarating. His word has convicted me of sin so often that I’ve stopped counting. His word has given me insights into troubling questions in my life. His word has given me direction, giving me confidence to move forward.
After I began a regular time of reading God’s word, I then intentionally added prayer to my practice. Prayer is an incredibly effective way to spend time with God, which is why it’s mentioned in scripture everywhere. However, one common misunderstanding of prayer consistently looms. Some think that its purpose is primarily to request things that you want or need. While God loves to lavish us with both physical and spiritual blessings, and scripture indicates that he does want us to ask him for things. Since he already knows what we need and want, then what exactly is the purpose? When we go to him in prayer we are positioning ourselves IN HIM enabling us to hear him, respond to him, and to be readied for his blessings in whatever form they come. We ask for things, but we are often not ready to receive them. Prayer can modify that.
Meditation is a practice of intentionally placing all thoughts on things above. Think on things in the heavenly realms, and all the heavenly perfection that lies in wait, for long stretches of time. Easily done through song, meditation might also include prayer or scripture recitation, but regardless of the form it takes, the purpose is to not be distracted by the things going on in the world around. I’d like to say this was easy, but in reality (I have a three-year-old at home) this is probably the hardest for me.
I saved worship for last because it is at the heart of it all. This was made clear to me several years ago, during a time of great suffering. I was in the midst of a difficult circumstance and I found myself in one moment feeling particularly desperate and angry and so frustrated that I thought I might jump out of my skin and attack anyone close. I immediately knew I was not abiding in Christ, because there was not a single bit of fruit evident in that moment.
But I had been reading my Bible every day, I had been journaling my prayers daily, I had even increased my bible memorization. I had even started reading Christian non-fiction, which I had not done before. I screamed out in accusation, “Lord, I am TRYING to abide in you! Why aren’t you abiding in me?!!” Y’all, God is so faithful. His response was swift and firm, yet gentle. “That’s because YOU are trying to abide in me. You can’t abide in me unless you abide in me.” Whoa…wait…what?
In other words he said, “Girl, there you go again trying create one of your formulas. You can’t manipulate me. You can’t just sit down and read your bible and get my power. You can’t just start praying and get my power. It won’t work. I actually want you IN ME to tap into my power!”
Worship is the essence of all our abiding practices. It indicates the condition and placement of your heart and mind. Are you reading your Bible to check it off your “to do” list? Are you praying and just going through the motions as you drift off to sleep?
When you read your Bible, worship. When you pray, worship. When you meditate, worship. All of these practices usher us into the holy of holies, directly into his presence. Do you know what happened to everyone who came into the presence of the Lord in the Old Testament? They dropped to their knees and trembled, and most of the time they had to be reassured in their fear. The only appropriate response in the Lord’s presence is a drop-to-your-knees kind of worship.
WHY SHOULD I ABIDE IN CHRIST?
We study Acts and observe Paul’s life. We marvel at all he accomplished and praise God for it. Then we turn around and do the dishes, fold the laundry, and pick the kids up from school. Should there be more? I promise, if you set out to discover an abiding relationship with the Lord, the ordinary will no longer look and feel ordinary. The laundry won’t disappear, but God will begin to do an extraordinary work within you and through you and indeed his name will be made known among the nations.
Take one minute to consider if every single Christian were to harness the power that comes from abiding in Christ. What did you see? Abide in him. Do it because it’s your purpose. Do it because it will change the world.