Summary: In Paul's trip to Jerusalem we see that when God sends you a hardship He also prepares you to go through it.
(The open illustration was taken from Sermon Centrals Illustrations database)
Tony Campolo tells about the time he was asked to speak at a Pentecostal college. Before the service, eight men had him kneel so they could place their hands on his head and pray. Tony was glad to have the prayer, but each of them prayed a long time, and the longer they prayed the more they pushed on Tony’s head. And then they even seemed to wander in their prayers. One of the men didn’t even pray for Tony, he prayed for some guy he was concerned about. He began to pray and said, “Dear Lord, you know Charlie Stoltzfus. He lives in that silver trailer down the road a mile. You know the trailer, Lord, just down the road on the right-hand side.” Tony wanted to interrupt and tell him that God already knew where they guy lived and didn’t need directions, but he just knelt there trying to keep his head upright. The prayer went on: “Lord, Charlie told me this morning he’s going to leave his wife and three kids. Step in and do something, God. Bring that family back together.”
With that, the prayer time ended and Tony went on to preach at the college chapel. Things went well and he got in his car and began to drive home. As he drove onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike, he saw a hitchhiker and felt compelled to pick him up. No one can tell a story better than Tony Campolo, so I’ll let him take it from here: “We drove a few minutes and I said: ‘Hi, my name’s Tony Campolo. What’s yours?’ He said, ‘My name is Charlie Stoltzfus.’ I couldn’t believe it I got off the turnpike at the next exit and headed back. He got a bit uneasy with that and after a few minutes he said, ‘Hey mister, where are you taking me?’ I said, ‘I’m taking you home.’ He narrowed his eyes and asked, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Because you just left your wife and three kids, right?’ That blew him away. ‘Yeah Yeah, that’s right.’ With shock written all over his face, he plastered himself against the car door and never took his eyes off me. Then I really did him in as I drove right to his silver trailer. When I pulled up, his eyes seemed to bulge as he asked, ‘How did you know that I lived here?’ I said ‘God told me.’ (I believe God did tell me.) When he opened the trailer door his wife exclaimed, ‘You’re back You’re back ’ He whispered in her ear and the more he talked, the bigger her eyes got. I said with real authority, ‘The two of you sit down. I’m going to talk and you two are going to listen ’ Man, did they listen . . . That afternoon I led those two young people to Jesus Christ.”
Think about how most of us probably would have responded both to the prayer and to the opportunity that followed. I mean when we pray in public or in a group most of us are looking for something a little briefer than what happened in this story. If we want to pray for something specifically that doesn’t apply to the given service we’re supposed to be praying for we’re supposed to announce it first, it’s called a prayer request. How about the idea of picking up a hitchhiker, hello stranger danger. I mean we’re just not supposed to do that. But when we set aside the things that we are supposed to do and do the things that we are led to do great things can happen. The Spirit of God comes into our lives and move in us and we become unstoppable.
That is what we see all through the life and writing of Paul, there were difficulties and obstacles. Satan and this world threw everything they could at Paul and all that happened was he kept going. In fact because of what he overcame his testimony and story have even more power. No one can say that Paul only preached because of what he could get, because it was a life of difficulty and struggle, and yet he kept going because his focus was on the finish line. We saw it last week in his farewell speech to the church in Ephesus, he taught the whole gospel of Christ, he did was willing to leave a relatively comfortable place to go to a place of danger and arrest because his focus was on the finish line. Like and athlete running a race he worked hard to fulfill the task that God had given him, to tell people about Jesus, knowing that in the end he would be in Heaven with God.