Have you ever had days, weeks or months when you have felt like you are a bowling pin at the end of a tenpin bowling lane. The bowling ball is aimed and released and you pray to God that that ball is going to roll down the gutter. Sometimes the ball rolls and misses, other times it hits and, just as you get propped back up into position, along comes another one aiming directly your way.
Paul’s bowling balls
When Paul was in Corinth teaching the Jews about Jesus, he had some pretty big bowling balls aimed his way. After receiving opposition and abuse from the Jewish leaders for some time, he eventually had enough, ‘shook out his clothes’ and moved on, taking his message to those who would appreciate it, which happened to be right next door.
Still a little shaken up, the Lord appeared to Paul in a vision that very night saying: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent for I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, bringing the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles.
The Jews were still out of sorts with Paul, and took him to the place of judgement charging him with ‘persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.’ But before Paul could even open his mouth to defend himself, the proconsul Gallio, basically told them he wasn’t interested in listening to their petty charge about words and names and moved them on. God was truly looking after him. (paraphrased from Acts chapter 18)
Paul faced a situation that is still common today. People accusing others of petty things, inventing stories to move people aside or pull others down and all because they feel threatened. They assumed Paul was the enemy but in actual fact, Paul was trying to save them from themselves.
Jesus dealt with even worse opposition, and just like Paul, he did not defend himself. For him, it was necessary to die for the purpose of the forgiveness of sins, and all the while, the ugliness of the human state through false accusations was seen for what it was – ugly.
We’ve all probably been on both sides of this coin. Both the accuser or the one being falsely accused. It’s not pretty. God forgive us for being the accuser, for even the devil himself is the accuser of the saints (Revelation chapter 12 verse 10), and God give us strength when we’re the ones being accused.
Quick to assume without understanding
Unfortunately people can often be quick to assume, and slow to look for the truth. As Jeremiah chapter 17 verse 10 says: “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind.” Only God can fully know a person’s heart. We cannot fully know another person’s heart or true intentions, especially if we fail to take the time to seek understanding or genuinely enquire out of love for one another.
Thankfully God knows his own, and allows us to learn and grow through these times. His presence is always close, you just need to look for it. From simple things like the soothing sight of purple flowers growing and carpeting the ground surrounding Jacaranda trees, to the delicate fluttering of a myriad of migrating butterflies, to timely words from friends, Bible verses jumping from the page and shields of peace amongst the arrows – God has his way of revealing himself in the midst of seeming chaos.
We are not alone in our sufferings
There is always someone close by to help if we look. For Paul it was the house next door. When you feel unjustly criticised or feel the attacks one after another, it’s often a good indicator that God is about to do something great. He is building your muscles of resilience, he is teaching you how to love the unlovely, he is teaching you how to lean on him and trust.
Our initial reaction may be to rush in to defend ourselves or our loved ones, but God has a better plan if we can just lay low and trust him.
Romans chapter 12 verses 19-20 says: ‘Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’
So when you hear the pins reset and the rumble of the ball rolling down the bowling alley of life, allow your Father in Heaven to step in and know that, even though it may get rough – he will help you to stand.
‘Therefore put on the full amor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.’ (Ephesians chapter 6 verse 13)
Originally published for Christian Today Australia, 22nd November 2016