God’s Purpose in My Imprisonment

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Our family with friends and future partners from Ghana.

Everywhere I looked, there was someone from my past. My heart surged with joy with each remembered face, as I recounted the memories we had enjoyed together. A few faces from my childhood, some from my college years, and many from our years in ministry, all together to celebrate what God is doing. While it sounds like a vision of heaven, it was a conference. This week, Ken and I attended The Gathering, the clergy conference for The Wesleyan Church. Eleven years have gone by since we’ve been a part of The Wesleyan Church, but it didn’t seem to matter. We had dozens of meaningful conversations, hugged a hundred shoulders, and laughed about times gone by as if we were never gone.

As we told our friends over and over again how God called us to Ghana, and how we knew we were called, I repeated over and over,

“I knew that if God were to call us to Africa, He would have to heal my lungs. I spent over $50,000 in 2013 trying to get my asthma under control, but what modern medicine did not have the ability to do, God did. I’ve been off of all of my asthma medicines since August. I had previously not been able to go more than 2 days without steroids, now it’s been almost six months.”

Kyle Ray preached a message on the following passage at The Gathering.

Acts 16:23-33

After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.

 

The miracle of the story of God’s deliverance of Paul and Silas and salvation of the jailer starts at a very different place: being flogged with rods for delivering a young girl from demon possession. They weren’t fake rods. It wasn’t an imaginary beating. They had real pain. Real bruises. Real blood drying on their torn skin as they sat with their feet uncomfortably stretched out in front of them and locked in stocks. Between the bruises on their back, the skin tears rubbing in the dirty walls of the prison, and their inability to move their feet, there was no way to get comfortable. There was no way to sleep.

So they might as well sing praises.

The earthquake came. The chains fells off, not only them, but off the other prisoners too. The jailer came to salvation, as well as his whole family.

But the miracle for Paul and all those around him came only after the beating. The chains. The shackles. The skin tears. The bruises.

Would the jailer have come to know Christ if Paul hadn’t sung throughout his misery or stayed in spite of his freedom? If there hadn’t been something radically different about the attitude of Paul and Silas, would the jailer have asked what he needed to do to be saved?

Sometimes God wants to accomplish His purposes through our pain. Sometimes our pain is not about us, but what He wants to do in someone else. Sometimes the purpose of our pain only comes in hindsight.

I think about the last eleven years that I’ve spent struggling to breathe because of my asthma. The massive doses of steroids that I’ve taken. The relentless coughing. The days I spent suffocating, unable to walk even across my living room to get a glass of water. I never stopped to ask God why.

Now that I am breathing freely, and after hearing this Scripture anew, I think I may know why. My asthma wasn’t just about me. The misery I experienced pales in comparison to the joy of talking about His healing. I would not have been able to experience His healing if there was nothing to be healed from. Would our family believe in God’s healing power in the same way if I had never had asthma or been delivered from it myself? Would I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has called us to Ghana if I had never had asthma in the first place?

If my former suffering can bring people to see the power of God to heal, than then every strained breath was absolutely worth it. If my release from the suffocation gives me more enthusiasm to serve Him, the suffocation was worth it. If my eleven year imprisonment to my lungs confirms my calling in its freedom, than the prison sentence was worth it.

Sometimes prison is exactly where God wants us. For now, I’m breathing in the fresh air of freedom.

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