Reading Acts 18, I see suffering and struggle mixed with hope and victory. Paul’s story is one of difficulty, emotion and upheaval intertwined with hope and joy. As a missionary who happens to be blind, I sit in the tension of struggle and victory as God uses me to touch others. In my life, I have seen God do incredible things, yet I still wait for him to heal me from blindness.
In Paul’s life, we often miss the similar struggles that he had as we elevate him to immortal status as church planter extraordinaire.
In Acts 18, Luke gives us insight into the humanity of Paul. We see him following similar patterns and coming away with similar results, and on the verge of throwing in the towel. This is when the Lord showed up to a despondent Paul in a vision during the quiet of the night.
Let’s catch the back story before making some observations from Paul’s vision.
Paul was in one of Greece’s largest and most prosperous cities. As was his custom when entering the cities, he took the gospel to the Jews first by preaching at the synagogue. In turn, the Jews rejected Paul’s preaching and abused him. Paul responded by shaking his cloak out at them. Paul then moved “next door” and took his message to the Gentiles. It is in this backdrop that the Lord showed up to speak with Paul.
Luke left out the details as to what Paul was feeling, but we have some clues based on what the Lord said to him. First, because this was a vision and not a dream, Paul likely was up at night, agonizing over the repeated frustrations that buffeted him in preaching the gospel. Here are the four things Paul heard God say, as recorded in Acts 18:9-10 (NKJV); things that should encourage us in our context today:
- “Do not be afraid,” which all of us can relate to, whether it is stepping out in new ministry or staying in a difficult place. We all have fears to which the Lord says, “Take courage.”
- “Speak, and do not keep silent,” countering what is often the response of a fearful person. We easily stop speaking, because we wonder, “What is the use?” God encourages us to keep speaking, implying “don’t give up.”
- “I am with you,” hereby paralleling what Jesus said to His disciples at the Great Commission. We go because Jesus promised He would be with us. God did not promise easy roads ahead or untold numbers of miracles. He promised He would be with us. Our struggles and sufferings fade in the realization that Jesus is close to our side.
- “No one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.” We can take courage, for as with Paul, God has people waiting in our cities to hear the message of the gospel and to be touched by His healing hand.
After receiving this vision from God, Paul stayed another 18 months, establishing one of the most dysfunctional churches in recorded history. God knew what was coming but still wanted this church to exist. This fact should give us great encouragement as we work within our local contexts!
We can take refuge in the realization that God reminded Paul that He was with him even in his turmoil. God knows where we are and what we are facing. He even knows the future problems that will come, but He asks us to persevere anyway.
In my story, I am constantly reminded by the Lord not to be afraid. I am encouraged not to give up on pressing in for my own healing. I have prayed for others and seen them healed, but why not me? I don’t know the answer to that, but I know we sit in the tension between the “now” and “not yet” as the kingdom of God invades this world. As we stand in the assurance that God is with us, we can go in confidence to touch our cities with the love of Jesus.
By: Andy Opie, Foursquare missionary to Thailand
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