Summary: Paul never dreamed that his days in prison would be days God would use him to let his light shine through all of history because of the epistles he would write there. We should pray, "Lord this is a bad day I am having, what good can you help me make of it for your glory?"
Luther Burbank, the world famous scientist, worked for years to
try and develop a black-petaled lily. He had several thousand
experimental lily plants in his laboratory. A sudden cloudburst let
loose a flood of rain that they were all washed away. William
Stidger tells of sympathizing with him over what had happened, and
Burbank said to him , "When anything like this happens I always
remember a little couplet my mother use to quote:
From the day you are born
Till you ride in a hearse,
There's nothing that happens
Which couldn't be worse.
We have all sought to comfort ourselves at some point in life by
recognizing this reality-it could be worse. It is almost always true,
but still it is a negative comfort. Your life can be a mess, but others
are even worse. If this is the best you got, then it has to be what you
hang on to, but there is a better and more positive way to deal with
the negatives of life, and that is to wait and see if what you thought
was bad turns out to be good, and instead of being the worst, it may
in reality be the best thing that could have happened.
That is what Paul is writing about to the Philippians. They are
worried about Paul. They heard he was thrown in prison in Rome,
and they have naturally concluded that his being arrested was not a
good thing. They assumed that his ministry, which they supported,
was now on hold, and Paul would be of no value in advancing the
Gospel now. Paul says not to worry, for your gifts are not money
down a hole. His being arrested turns out to actually help the
advance of the Gospel, and give him a better ministry than the one
he had planned.
The key to being an optimist is having the patience to wait and
see what God will do with your negative experience. We so often
jump to the conclusion that bad stuff is just that, and that alone.
Sickness, trials, shipwrecks, stoning, and prison do not sound like
prizes for which you would sell many lottery tickets. Nobody wants
this sort of stuff in their life if they can avoid it. What Paul learned
by his experience is that the bad stuff of life can be a way for God to
use your life in a way that good things could not be used. Paul's
being a prisoner led to his having a ministry to the palace guard of
Nero, and some of these soldiers came to Christ, which never would
have happened had he not become a prisoner. He never would have
crossed their path had he not been arrested.
The fruit of Paul's ministry in prison was quite extensive, and he
writes in 4:22, "All the saints send you greetings, especially those
who belong to Caesar's household." Paul had Christian friends in
the highest places, even the house of the Emperor. There is no
reason to believe this ever could have happened if Paul had not been
treated like a criminal. This is one of the answers to the question-
why do bad things happen to good people? It is because
bad things are often the only way to get us in touch with the right
people, and to make us willing to go the way God wants us to go. In
other words, bad things are tools God uses to get the job done in our
lives. The point is not to rejoice in bad things, but to rejoice in the
Lord who can use bad things for good goals we never would have
achieved without the bad things.
Colonel Bringle of the Salvation Army became a very popular
author. He came out of Harvard with honors, and began his
ministry on a street corner in Boston. A drunken hooligan threw a
brick at him and hit him in the head. He received a concussion that
put him in the hospital for months. During his convalescence he
wrote a book called Help To Holiness. He added four volumes, and
these devotional aids sold in large numbers around the world. He
said, "My brethren, if there had never been a brick, there never
would have been a book." His bad experience opened up doors he
never would have entered had they not compelled him to do so.
Don't be so quick to label bad things as a curse. Wait to see if it
might be a blessing. Even pray to that end.
Grace Crowell wrote a poem that says it all.
Yet as I live them, strange I did not know
Which hours were destined thus to live and shine,
And which among the countless ones would grow
To be, peculiarly, forever mine.