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How can being beaten with many stripes and thrown into jail, unjustly, be a blessing?  Would we be willing to suffer such adversity if it meant blessing someone else’s life?

As I read the bible this week, in the New Testament, I recognized something special in the story of Paul, when he and his companion were imprisoned.

Although they hadn’t done anything wrong, and it may have seemed like a tragedy that they were thrown into prison, God had a purpose for them to be there.

They were stripped of their clothes, beaten with many stripes and put into jail, in the inner prison with their feet being placed into stocks.  Then at midnight, they prayed and sang praises to God, loud enough for the other prisoners to hear.

Maybe this is the example for us to reach for… I’m afraid that I would have a hard time “singing praises” in a situation like this. I’m afraid I would be singing the blues.  How hard would it be to not feel abandoned.  Here they were, serving the Lord with all that they had, in bringing Christianity to all the nations, and they run up against a wall.  In the moment, it would be hard to be hopeful of their future as missionaries.  We know that this isn’t the first time (or the last) that righteous people were imprisoned for standing up for what they knew to be true.  And it is easy to think, “Of course they could do it, because they were _______ (heroes, saints, apostles, etc.). We don’t often recognize that they are also human. Suffering hurts no matter who is going through it.  Maybe Paul and Silas saw that there was a greater purpose in their time is this prison.  Maybe they thought of Joseph, the son of Jacob, and the years that he spent in prison, and realizing that something good came out of that experience, they hung unto the hope that God had something planned for them also.  But being faced with the choice to praise God or give in to despair, they chose to have faith.

Shortly after, there was an earthquake in the prison that caused the shackles of the prisoners to come off and the doors to come open.  When the jailer woke up and saw that the doors were open, he assumed that the prisoners had all escaped and was so fearful of what might happen to him because of this, he was prepared to kill himself.  Paul called out to him not to harm himself, because they were all still in the prison.

The trust that he felt, for Paul and Silas, led him to ask about being “saved” and allowed the missionaries to teach their message to this jailer and his entire house.  A bond was formed and a family saved and converted. The results of this trial was exactly the thing that Paul had wanted in the first place.  To teach about Jesus Christ to all who would listen.

I wonder how many trials in my life have the potential to bring me the growth and blessings that I am actually wanting.  But if given a choice I might just say “no thank you” to having to suffer some difficulty in the meantime.  I know that I complain whenever things don’t go the way I would expect them to.  What would happen if I looked at the challenges as a gateway to something better that the Lord has in store?  What if I had enough faith to trust that God knows me, and He knows what would be best for me, and I turned to Him in my time of crisis?  What would happen if I asked “What do you want me to do next Lord?” or “What can I learn from this?” or “How can this trial bless someone else’s life?”

It can be really hard to keep the faith in an insecure world. But that doesn’t make it impossible.  Challenges can bring out strength we didn’t realize that we had. Trials can bring blessings that we didn’t know that we wanted.

Sometimes we just need to reach past the sadness and difficulty with the hope of things to come before we can get to that point.

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