Overcome or be Overcome
Hello everyone, I'm so excited about this letter. I found myself getting rather carried away with the content, that I had to break it into two letters. I hope you enjoy reading every part of it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
We all know the journey of life can have some tough turns. At some or other time, each of us face hardships that seem to have the power to overwhelm and overcome us. If anyone in Bible times knew the reality of troubled times it was the Apostle Paul. In fact, he endured more life threatening challenges than any of us will see in our lifetime. Yet, there was something so profound about the way Paul managed to go through each difficulty as an overcomer, instead of as a victim, overcome by his circumstances. This has always intrigued me, and I just know there is a lesson in life for us to glean from it. So, open your hearts dear ones, and let's trust the Holy Spirit to be our teacher!
I was reading the account in Acts 16, where Paul & Silas were severely persecuted for working the gospel. I say 'working' because they were doing more than just preaching; they were confirming the gospel with signs, wonders and miracles, through the work of the Holy Spirit in them. But their good work didn't find them favour with everyone - they were arrested, stripped of their clothes, beaten and thrown into the centre of a dark, damp and dingy prison. And all of this because Paul cast a demon out of a young slave girl and set her free from its demonic oppression. How unjust!
What amazes me the most in this story is the attitude of Paul and Silas throughout this ordeal! The only time Paul showed frustration, annoyance and anger was over the demon who was abusing the young girl who was following them around for days, shouting and causing a commotion while they were trying to do their work for the Lord. Verse 18 says, "Then Paul, being sorely annoyed and worn out,..." Yet, he showed no indication of irritation or outrage when falsely accused and persecuted for helping the girl. He didn't even loose his cool when he and Silas were alone in the cold, dark prison cell, after been beaten and placed in those horrid stocks that were certainly not intended for their comfort - they couldn't even pace off their frustration if their sore and beaten bodies would allow them to.
How did Paul do it? How did he manage to control his emotions and not get all riled up and anxious about what had to have been an awful and terrible ordeal? How did he manage to not be overcome with discouragement?
Well, I went over this story several times, and I do think it had to do with perspective. Somehow Paul had the kind of perspective in the heat of the moment, that clearly led him and Silas to keep their cool and focus on the very thing that would strengthen and encourage them through the ordeal; instead of focusing on the injustice and pain they were enduring. They used a key to overcome instead of being overcome, and the result caused them to experience one of the most thrilling supernatural encounters of a life time!
In other words, Paul's perspective of the situation led him to control and focus his emotions and actions on the things he should be focusing on, which caused him to overcome instead of be overcome by his circumstances.
Wow, talk about a lesson in life, don't you agree? Can you imagine that our perspective of any situation has the power to lead us to either overcome or be overcome?
So let's take a look at the perspective Paul and Silas had. The Bible says that in the heart of that dark, damp and dingy prison cell, instead of focusing on the terrible injustice of the whole matter, Paul and Silas chose to pray and sing. Now, I had to chuckle at this picture, if it was me, the kind of praying and singing I would be doing would be completely contrary to what they seemed to offer up. I can imagine my pity full whimpers, or soulful, heavy hearted, 'woe is me' cries. Can't you? Perhaps even a prayer that would resemble, "Why me Lord, don't you love me anymore, why did you allow this to happen, what have I done to deserve this?..." No, not so from Paul and Silas. Their prayers and songs were so completely different to what was expected from two men in their situation that it caught and captivated the attention of every other prisoner in that disgusting prison that night. The Bible says that in the middle of the night all the prisoners were listening to them.
Here it comes friends, here is the perspective they chose.... even in their darkest hour, instead of moping and complaining, Paul and Silas chose to turn their attention on the beauty of Who Jesus is and got so caught up in His presence and glory, that it brought such comfort and peace to the most hardened of criminals, all around them. Now, can you imagine what kind of praying and singing must have been going on? Maybe something like, "Oh Lord, my God, you are so powerful, so glorious, so gracious and kind and merciful. Your faithfulness extends forever and your love never fails. Who or what can compare to your majesty and your matchless goodness. You are my portion, you are my strength, you are my joy and my peace......". Hey, you just sit there for a moment and begin to spontaneously, from your spirit, praise the Lord like that - I can guarantee that in no time at all His overwhelming presence will begin to overpower and overshadow and overflow inside every part of your being and into the very atmosphere around you. I know this because I have tried it and found it to be TRUE!!!
Paul and Silas were not the only ones caught up in all that glory! The other prisoners must have been so captivated by it, because even after the earthquake shook the very foundations of the place and flung open every door - they all remained just where they were - enveloped in the matchless glory that came from Paul & Silas's pure, sincere worship. Perhaps the prospect of physical freedom was less appealing or captivating to them than the matchless, fulfilling freedom found from being in the beautiful presence of the Lord. Or maybe they were too dumbfound by the supernatural earthquake they found themselves in the heart of. There's even the possibility of angels being present at each of their doorways that kept them in their place - either way, there was no doubt the hand of God moved in that place on behalf of two praying, worshipping men.
Paul and Silas chose to focus on Jesus and His majesty instead of their own sorry state, and that changed everything!
Now there is a little more I'd like to share on Paul and Silas's perspective that caused them to overcome their hardships with such miraculous and ground shaking results. But that will come in next weeks letter. For now, I believe we have a wonderful opportunity to 'practice' our spontaneous praise and worship centring on Who God is in our lives - don't be surprised to see His hand move on your behalf when you do.