Hope, Healing & Freedom Podcast : Ep 18


Have you ever been called by God to do something, and in your mind you thought that since God called you, then that means it is going to be smooth sailing all the way? I can imagine that Paul might have thought that also.

Todays podcast is titled The God of the Unexpected. Our very unusual verse for today is Acts 20:22-23 – “And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city saying that chains and afflictions await me.” 

Today I am confronting an Ungodly Belief that I believe many in the American church have. I specifically see this UGB in the western church where we believe in a “Comfortable or Painless Christianity”. Much of the rest of the world, especially in third world countries, do not have this belief in Comfortable Christianity.  That UGB that we are confronting today is the belief that if God calls you to something then it is supposed to be easy and smooth sailing. Surely if God is with us in this place, then it should be painless, right?  I know that Cindi and I believed this until we hit a few situations that taught us something different. 

Our first experience with questioning this UGB was when we were called by a church to be associate pastors over education and youth. We knew through several God encounters that we were supposed to take this job and move our family to a city a long way from family. Three years later we were fired and it was up to that point the most painful experience of our lives. Did we miss God and make a mistake by taking this position? Absolutely not. God had a much bigger plan for us that took that painful experience to prepare us. 

The second time we were confronted with this UGB was in dealing with a staff member that we hired. This person was highly recommended by someone we respected. We also sought the prayers and discernment of other highly respected prayer warriors, and all things led us to make this hire. It was a disaster. It turned out to be one of the most painful experiences of our lives. Did we miss God in hiring this person? I don’t think so. I believe God had a much bigger plan for us that took this painful experience to prepare us. As we prayed about making this hire and the pain that followed, we asked God what we did wrong that caused this situation. If there is something that we can learn to prevent something like this from happening in the future, we would really like to know.  God clearly said that this situation was not about us, but it was about what He was doing in this other person. He was using this situation in the other person’s life, but as God always does, He also used this event in our lives at the same time. We have grown more from this one experience than from almost any other experience in our lives. 

So enough about our experiences, let’s ask the question is it biblical to believe that when God calls you to something that does not always mean it will be smooth sailing and painless in the process. In other words, that Comfortable Christianity may not be a biblical truth. 

We are going to look at the story of Paul going to Rome in Acts chapters 20-27. I encourage you to read it for yourself. The first thing we see in Acts 26 is that Paul is being sent to Rome to stand before Caesar because Paul is a Roman citizen. Paul knows that God is using the law of the day to send him to Rome so that means it should be a smooth trip, right? We see that Paul is passed from one ship to another in order to arrive in Rome. In chapter 27 the ship Paul is on is in a terrible storm and is being torn apart by the wind and the waves. In the midst of this terrible storm, Paul takes time to hear from heaven. Paul says to the ship’s crew not to worry because God assured him he will stand before Caesar, in other words, God said I will make it to Rome so that means we will not die. If I was Paul I could very easily believe that since God said we would make it to Rome, then surely it should not be a difficult journey. God said I will stand before Caesar, so in my mind that means it will be a smooth painless journey. Well let’s read on.

Not only did the storm continue, but the storm got worse. The ship was being thrown around by the storm so violently that the crew started throwing possessions and provisions overboard to lighten the load. It got so bad that they even cut loose the lifeboats in an attempt to lighten the load. 

In the midst of all of the evidence to the contrary, Paul hears again from Heaven and tells the crew that they need to eat to sustain their strength because they are going to make it safely. What a great lesson for us. In the midst of the storm, with the boat he is sailing on literally being torn apart, Paul believed what God said to him about his circumstances rather than looking at the evidence before him. 

I don’t know about you but I am personally challenged by this lesson over and over again. I know in my head that we can trust God no matter what we see with our eyes, but when my ships of life are being torn apart by the storms, I realize that I am not as firm in my belief that God is going to take care of us. When the storms hit I realize that what I think in my head and what I believe in my heart are two very different things. When we discover places of unbelief like this, it is both good and bad. It is good that the storms of life reveal what you actually believe. Many of us know many things in our head, but when the storms of life come rolling in we discover that we don’t believe these things in our heart. Discovering that our heart level belief is different than what we know in our head is a really good thing shown to us by a very loving Father God. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that a discovery like this brings pain and shame. Shame wants to take our struggle with unbelief and rub our nose in it and tell us how bad we are. It is shame that wants to condemn us, not our loving Heavenly Father. Father God is joyful when we discover anything that is hindering our relationship with Him. He knew that unbelief was there and He does not reject us because of it. He does not meet our unbelief with condemnation but with His grace and mercy. This kind of painful revelation about our unbelief is the Fathers invitation to come closer in intimacy with Him.

Paul told the crew to eat and get stronger because he knew things were going to get rough. And they do get very rough. The ship runs aground on a sand bar and is destroyed by the vicious storm. As God had already told Paul, every crew member makes it safely to land on an island. So here again you would think that God protected them and allowed them all to get to safety on the island, now things will go better. Now the smooth sailing begins, right? In gathering wood to make a fire to keep warm, Paul is bitten by a deadly viper. But instead of the viper bite being a bad thing, Paul shook the viper off into the fire with no further illness. God used all of these events to open the hearts of the people who lived on that island to receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul remained on the island for three months preaching and ministering. 

After three months on the island, Paul is finally taken to Rome. God promised him he would make it to Rome, and he did make it to Rome and ministered there for two years. Was it smooth sailing and painless all the way? Heck no! We often think that God is mostly concerned with the destination. Yes, He is concerned with where He is taking us, with the destination. But He is also just as concerned with the process of getting us to the destination. Both the destination and the process are vitally important to Father God. 

Christianity is not a list of rules to follow but a relationship we enter into. Because it is a relationship, God is all about using the storms and shipwrecks of life to bring us into more intimacy with Him. The two painful events I mentioned that Cindi and I have experienced have drawn us into a closer and more intimate walk with Father God. Did it happen right away? Again Heck No! It took time for us to deal with the false beliefs that we had as a result of those painful events. It also took setting aside time to allow Jesus to come and heal our broken hearts. Ultimately it took pressing into Father God and allowing Him to love on us as only He can.

What can we learn from Pauls journey in Acts? First of all Paul recognized that life is a journey not a destination. Pauls goal was to get to a destination, Rome. Every part of Pauls journey could have been seen as a distraction and a delay to where he knew God was taking him. But instead of fighting against the delays, Paul used them to minister to those around him. Paul embraced the journey.

Secondly, Paul experienced God every step of the way. This is one of the keys to breaking the myth of Comfortable Christianity. When difficult things happen we want to ask why a good God would allow hard things to happen. That might be the wrong question to ask. The better questions to ask Father God are where are You in the midst of this struggle and what do You want me to know. These questions will help us experience Hebrews 13:5 “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” When you look for Him in the midst of your struggle, you will find that He has been right there with you all along. In the middle of painful situations you will experience intimacy with God in ways you never could in times of comfort.   

The third thing Paul experienced was that Paul believed what God said to him over and above his circumstances. The ship was being torn apart by a fierce storm, yet Paul knew that he was going to make it to Rome because God had told him he would. This is not easy to do but it is a key to experiencing the abundant life Jesus came to give. There is a Truth that is higher than your circumstances, and that Truth will set you free. 

I want to end this podcast by saying something that might stretch some of you. In this entire story of Pauls travels to Rome including the storms and shipwrecks, I don’t see anywhere in this story that Paul blamed the events that happened to him on Satan. Many of us in the Charismatic church want to immediately go into spiritual warfare when things go badly in life. I firmly believe in the need for spiritual warfare because we do have an enemy that wants to steal, kill, and destroy. But I don’t believe that every negative thing that happens is due to an attack by the enemy. So how do you know when to fight and when to just hang in there and grow from the circumstances? By asking Father God what He wants you to know in every situation. If He says fight, then fight to win. But if He says to just hang in there and stand against the circumstances, then stand. And if you don’t know which one to do, do as Pastor Bill Johnson says, fight for a while and then stand for a while.