We’ve all heard it; “Cheer up, they said, things could be worse, so I cheered up and sure enough – things got worse!” That sounds pretty pessimistic because it is – and yet, there are times in life when we can be fairly confident that we are headed into some hard times. We can only speculate what lies ahead, but we are pretty sure that troubles await us.
The apostle Paul was facing one of those times when he was completing his last missionary journey and headed towards Jerusalem. He had already faced strong opposition in many cities, but he was aware that even greater difficulties lie ahead. We can learn from him how to cope with life when difficulty and even death are on the horizon.
In Acts chapter 20 we pick up the story as Paul comes to a place called Miletus. He knew that he wouldn’t be free to travel through there again, so he sent for the leaders of the church at Ephesus. He had spent three years with these men and had corresponded with them. Even as he faced great trouble his mind was on others. He knew time was short so he decided to use some of that time to encourage and strengthen others. Facing hardship, he knew the value of relationships.
Paul also knew that importance of focusing on eternal truths. When we face difficulty it can cause us to become focused on self-preservation rather than obedience to Christ. Sometimes we must remember why we are here and what we are called to do. It can be good to say those things out loud, preaching to ourselves as much as to someone else. Listen to what Paul said:
And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:22-24 ESV)
When hardship or even death approaches, it is important that we recognize that our work is not yet done. As long as we have breath there is a task that must be completed. Paul had served well, even as he testified in the context of those verses, but he also wanted to finish well! There is nothing more tragic than a life lived well that is thrown aside because of fear, doubt, or discouragement.
Paul also remembered that he wasn’t alone. When we isolate ourselves things seem darker and fears grow larger. Paul called these men so that he could see them one last time, could encourage them to stay the course as well, and could pray with them before he traveled on. They prayed, they hugged, they walked him down to the ship, and I can imagine that they stayed and watched as the ship pulled out.
Whatever you are facing, learn from Paul’s example. Continue to live well (make corrections as needed). Know your mission on earth and say it out loud to yourself and others. Encourage those around you. Pray with others. Maintain relationships by expressing emotion together. Do those things and God will help you all the way home!