Today’s reading is Acts 16.
Back in the winter of 2013, a friend and I took a ski trip to Hidden Valley, a small ski hill shortly outside of St. Louis. The entire evening experienced heavy snowfall, which led to fantastic ski conditions. Unfortunately, this led to unsafe driving conditions as well, coating the hilly exit roads with thick black ice. Long story short, after finding our way from the bottom of a large ditch to a police car full of blankets followed by a long tow truck ride, we ended up stranded at a Steak n Shake at 3 a.m., waiting for a ride home.
The one waitress working that evening noticed us visibly shaken and freezing cold, and decided to strike up a conversation (seeing as we were obviously the only patrons there at that hour). We spent the next hour and a half retelling the evening’s events, being offered a welcome comforting conversation, and milkshakes to boot! As we were preparing to leave, she informed us she covered our tab herself, and was glad she could help us out in a stressful time. We left a sizable tip as well as a quick note, in which I said she must have been our guardian angel, plus a simple “God bless you.”
Sometimes we find ourselves in strange, uncomfortable, troubling detours. But it’s never without purpose that God throws curveball moments into our lives, and hopefully we can share the love of God in small ways in those times, even if it’s planting a small seed of God’s blessing in someone’s heart. At this point in Paul’s travels in Acts, he is no stranger to troubling detours, ending up in this chapter in prison for the third time so far this book: this time, for exorcising the demons in a slave girl, interfering with some local businessmen’s income stream as a result (putting a quick buck over what is right towards God – too big a topic to talk about today).
Even then after being publicly beaten without a fair trial and tossed into prison, Paul sees the opportunity presented by God to preach to an unlikely listener. Deep in the night, when God uses an earthquake to open a path for escape, the guard for the cell has a panic moment. He sees the cell has been opened and figures the prisoners have escaped. With his head on the figurative chopping block, this guard sees no hope but immediate suicide. In this moment, Paul could let this guard die and guarantee an easy and quick escape from prison yet again. But instead, Paul sees this as God’s call to discipleship in action. In a moment of realization, humbled by the power of the Lord, the guard seeks advice, and Paul’s advice in this moment, in verse 31, is “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.”
It’s a simple answer, but eternally true and important to be reminded of – faith in Jesus, and Jesus alone, can offer salvation. In Romans 10, Paul says “…if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Having faith in the Lord in our hearts comes naturally, but what Paul displays here is how we can effectively share that faith in times of trouble. Here, and every time he finds himself in prison for spreading the word of the Lord, Paul looks to Him for strength, praying and praising Him, and is comforted and granted strength every time. In times of difficulty, God sees our faith and rewards our belief. And in those difficult times that the power of God is displayed, like how Paul can share salvation with the troubled guard, we can share the refuge found in the Lord’s presence with others. Every tough moment, no matter how big or small, is a gift from God – and in some way, we can find ways to exercise our faith in those moments. In doing so, we can demonstrate to the world around us how the Lord provides joy those who believe under any circumstance. Like so many of life’s greatest moments, our worst ones can also be used to fully display the glory of the Lord when we perceive our struggles as opportunity instead of burden. So let’s pray today for God to grant us wisdom and courage in those moments to demonstrate the unshakeable foundations of our faith. And, as always, that these moments would point to God and give Him the glory.