In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul says of his imprisonment, "Now I want you to know brothers and sisters, what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly" (1:12-14).
Paul is not saying that his imprisonment is the will of God, but that God has used it for his purposes in spreading the good news to those around Paul. In addition, God has used Paul's witness to inspire other Christians to bear witness themselves. Here at work is Paul's claim to the Romans that "all things work together for good for those who love God, and who are called according to his purpose" (8:28).
We must never think that suffering and calamity are brought upon by God to test us or punish us; but in a world filled with pain and peril, God can and will use all the circumstances of our lives, good and bad, for his honor and glory, if we are willing. That is why Paul could say to King Agrippa, "Except for these chains, I wish you could be as I am" (Acts 26-29). Paul understood that the worst the world can bring upon us cannot compare to the best God has already accomplished for us in Jesus Christ.
I know of a woman who had a rare and aggressive form of cancer. She battled the disease for five years with a profoundly deep faith. When people would say to her, "Have you ever asked yourself, 'Why me'"? she would say in response, "No, I ask why not me?" She used the money she received from a malpractice suit to feed the hungry. Her hope in Jesus Christ never wavered, and she wore her faith on her sleeve until the end. She inspired people around her to renew their faith and to become more faithful. She did not desire her circumstances. She never said that her illness was God's will. But in her faithful response to what had come upon her, like Paul, she could truly have said, "What has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel."
May we pray each day, "Come what may, Gracious God, use me today to advance the gospel in this world."
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)