There he was, chained to a wall in a dark and filthy dungeon of a prison. He was an influential man. Charismatic and strong-wild and rugged, wearing animal skins and eating locusts and honey, he drew people with his message. Crowds thronged to him in the desert where he was preparing the people for a coming King. He had the great honor of baptizing Jesus. He saw the heavens open for the voice of God who called Jesus His Son. A miracle! John was the witness of miracles. He could see the momentum of this uprising building among the towns and villages. Finally. His entire life had been leading to this time and place. Jesus would conquer their oppressors and give them freedom!
And Herod saw it too. He was afraid of this uprising. This John. And he would not be overthrown. Arresting John was Herod’s attempt to secure his own power. Politics at it’s worst.
It wasn’t the way John anticipated his life would go. He had much time there in that dank and dark prison to consider his circumstances. How could God allow this? What happened to the glorious victory? And so he sent a message to Jesus.
“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Luke 7:20
The man who was the one who Jesus would say there is no one greater than John, the man who preached the wonderful news about Jesus, the man who was family-faced such deep waters that it caused him to doubt. To question. Can you hear the sadness, the hope, the doubt, in his question?
Have you asked Jesus, the same? Have you faced a time when everything came to a screeching halt and you wondered, is God for real? Are you the One, God? Is this how it is supposed to go for me, Jesus? Are you there?
I never struggled with my faith until that one moment. I remember it vividly. It was as if all the life and light that was my buoy through life’s hardships was suddenly tugged away from me and drifted away in a sea of rough waters. I felt myself sink below the surface.
There had been deep valleys before. Valleys where low though I lay in the dust my arms remained stretched out, fingers upward, reaching, believing help would come.
But not this time. I was imprisoned in a new way. The trial I was facing was one of my biggest fears coming true. It was the kind of hardship that I knew God would never allow in my life because of His goodness. And that thought was a religion I made up for myself, based on a perception of what I believed my life was destined to become.
Like John, my perceptions were not eternal enough.
My belief in God’s plan for my life was not big enough.
Because sometimes, God’s big plan looks nothing like what we imagine.
When Jesus began His ministry, the people around Him thought that He was coming to overthrow the government and restore His people.
And then He died.
Their grand visions for victory defeated. God’s grander visions for victory accomplished.
Jesus had no intention of only restoring an earthly kingdom. His plan was to reign as King over every nation, over all the earth, and to conquer death and sin for all time.
No one could have seen that one coming. It didn’t make sense. And even though both John and Jesus and many disciples after them,even to this day, have lost their very lives for the sake of the gospel, the Christian faith has indeed spread throughout the whole world, unstoppable, and accomplishing what God intended all along.
I had my own prison ponderings like John did during that particularly difficult time of suffering. It was like watching an oncoming train about to pummel through my tidy life, scattering all I had acquired and worked hard to preserve. And I was laid low. I wasn’t supposed to suffer this much, right? God has good in store for my life, right?
God allowed me to wrestle with Him for a time. It was dark. I had never felt so alone. It took me a good while to question, seek, plead, and fight for faith. And then I remembered. My life is not my own. God’s plans for me are not about fulfilling my own version of how God will use me or bless me. His plans are more eternal, more complicated, and far more glorious, than mine.
Sometimes, the greatest fulfillment of life is to lose it.
When sickness comes, when jobs are lost, when infertility plagues, when loneliness surrounds, it is never the loss of a dream. It’s the fodder for a bigger and better one that we must give up the right to understand and know about in this life.
If you find yourself imprisoned today, consider how you could make a difference right there, leaning against the bars that prevent your escape. Believe that in the midst of great sorrow or hopelessness that God may be doing something beyond your imagination. Place your trust and confidence in Him alone, that He knows what He is doing and that goodness will follow you all the days of your life. Expand your heart enough to embrace the truth that suffering can become the most noble and rewarding dream of all.
We will share in His sufferings, friend. He told us so.
If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. Mark 8:34-35
Suffering is not summed up in loss. It is the ability to flourish like a tree planted by waters. It is an unnatural state of mind that brings the greatest refinement, the most eternal of perspectives, and a reward worth waiting for.
Peer through the iron pillars of your prison and imagine what it will be to one day look back at the bigger picture of what God was doing. May we not hang our head in regret that we didn’t trust enough. Instead, may we be filled with the joy that comes from persevering and having hope that the end of our story is more magnificent than we could ever dream or imagine.
Freedom is not being released from prison. Freedom is found in the heart. It is the knowledge that not even our circumstances or trials have the power to defeat us. Freedom is yours and it is mine. We are free to take joy in any situation because our home is not here. It is with God who loves us and always sets the captives free.
YOUR TURN!! Are you or a loved one in a “prison” that you never imagined? How has God used this situation to make you more Christ-like? How can we pray for you?
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