A Flippant Encouragement?

It was a dangerous time in the city of Thessalonica when the Apostle Paul and Silas travelled there.  They first went to the Jewish Synagogue.  Then they went out into the market places.  Their reason?  To tell others the truth of Jesus Christ who had been killed by crucifixion and then rose up from the dead.  Paul and Silas were passionate about the message of who Jesus is, why He came, and how He could radically change a life.

They had only been there for three weeks when a bunch of thugs got together and stirred up a riot against them.  It was known they had been staying in the home of someone named Jason.  The thugs went there demanding to have Paul and Silas given to them, but Paul and Silas weren’t there.  The people who had believed their message of love and hope had hidden them away; then in the night they helped them to escape to safety.

Naturally Paul and Silas were very concerned at the danger the new believers were in for pledging their allegiance to Jesus.  Therefore, with great desire to encourage these baby Christians, Paul wrote a letter to them.  Today we call the letter I Thessalonians.  In chapter 5 and verses 16-18, Paul writes something that is rather strange, given the difficult and dangerous situation in which the believers found themselves.  Paul encouraged them with the following words: “Always be joyful.  Never stop praying.  Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”

Does that piece of advice not sound just a bit flippant to you?  I could not understand this for years.  I believed it was right, but I could make no sense as to the value of it.  I tried to put myself in the shoes of the people of Thessalonica.  I told myself that if I were having a great problem in my life, and some well meaning person said to me what Paul said to them, that would not be a great help to me.  In fact, it might just irritate me.  It’s like that song of some years ago, “Don’t worry; be happy.”  How is that advice supposed to help?

Such an irritation would have come to me because I greatly lacked in my understanding. You see, Paul wasn’t being flippant.  He was revealing to them an important truth.  I’m sure the Holy Spirit within them guided the people into understanding just as He guides and teaches you and me today.

Paul was, in fact, doing something amazing.   He was teaching them to address a natural problem with a supernatural solution.  How radical!  He was encouraging them with the truth that whatever happens to us in our natural world, we have access to supernatural power.  We can be overcome with great sadness and discouragement due to natural circumstances in our lives.  Paul was telling them that they now have hope like never before.  They now have supernatural access to their Heavenly Father who has everything they need to get through anything at all.

That wonderful message is the same today.  We can be downtrodden, grief stricken, crushed with feelings of fear and worry, but we need never be defeated.  We have a supernatural access to get us through any natural pain.  That is indeed God’s will for us because He wants to see us as over comers, capable through His power to be strong in any situation life throws at us.

Asking, What? Instead of, Why?

I love the story of Paul and Silas. These two men, giants in their faith in God, knew the secret to inner joy, no matter the outer circumstances. Do you remember the incident when they were beaten with wooden rods, then thrown into prison and chained? It’s recorded in Acts 16:11-40. I wonder how you and I would feel in similar circumstances? There they were, doing all kinds of good things: helping people, sharing God’s love, and telling the true story of Jesus everywhere they went. In the very midst of all their good works, what happens? They get falsely accused, beaten on their bare backs with wooden rods, thrown into a dark prison and chained.

We would understand if we read of how Paul and Silas lamented their situation. We could appreciate if they cried out to God, “why have you let this happen to me?” Instead, they did something most peculiar. The Scripture tells us in verse 25, “Around midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening.” I’m sure the other prisoners were listening. What must they have thought? Perhaps they thought, what nuts! Perhaps they wanted to know how Paul and Silas maintained peace in their predicament.

There is nothing wrong at all with being totally honest before God with our feelings; He knows what we’re thinking anyway. However, I find a sadness when Christians get mad at God for allowing some hardship into their lives, and then ask the question, “why me?” The question “why” often has no answer. Rather than, “why have you allowed this?” perhaps the question, instead, should be, “what?” What do you want to show me or teach me through this? What do you, God, want to reveal about Yourself through this? What do You want to build in my life through this?

In the story of Paul and Silas in prison, there is no indication that they asked “why?” Instead, there is every indication that they were trusting in the “what?” The very fact that they could pray and sing in such a situation let’s us know that, while they couldn’t know what God would do; they knew He would do something. When we focus on the why, it leaves us looking more inward than upward. When we focus on the what, it brings our sights heavenward, where we trust in our God who does all things well. It increases our anticipation as we eagerly wait to see what God will do. The knowing why fades into irrelevance as we press on and wait for the what.

If we choose, as Paul and Silas did, to pray and sing when we don’t know “why” some woe has fallen upon us, the anticipation of “what” will shake the foundations of our anguish. It will break the chains of our despair. It will open the doors to hope, freeing us from the prison of our inner torment. We will walk through our troubles in the joy of “what” God has done and of “what” He will continue to do. Mulling over “why” may only lead us into further introspection where doom and gloom await us. Asking “what” leads us to The Potter’s door where holy molding takes place.

Never forget, too, as verse 25 reveals, when we are first thrust into a prison of suffering, the other prisoners will be listening.” Perhaps your anticipation of “what is God going to do?” will fill others with hope in the midst of their own chains of despair.