The Secret to Success

We are sheltering in place. I say “we”, because I am not sheltering alone. My favorite person is with me. The love of my life is my partner in sheltering alone. And, even so, we have an enemy, one that transcends the walls and distance between people. We have an enemy seeking to divide us further, to separate us emotionally and spiritually.

As more people are confined to shared spaces, the opportunity for frayed emotions increases, and emotional and mental health can degrade. I think most Americans are not used to it. My wife and I should be used to this, we both work from home, and live in the “country”. Even so, we seem to fight more. As used to these conditions as we should be, this global crisis has caused us stress.

The Serenity Prayer, attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, is normally associated with addicts, but I think the full text of it would be helpful to everyone as we endure this crisis in our own contexts:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference;
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will,
That I may be reasonably happy in this life, 
And supremely happy with Him in the next.

For some reason, we tend to think everything should be good, easy, or at least pleasant for us. When our situation isn’t any of those things, we’re surprised, confused, and often despondent. Why? I know that, for myself, it’s because I’m selfish. You’ll need to answer that question for yourself about yourself. I recommend refraining from answering it for anyone else.

The other night, my wife and I were reading through Acts 16, and once again, I was struck by the experience of Paul, the most amazing and intimidating Christian missionary ever. He was on his second journey with Silas, and experienced a wide range of results and situations:

  • He found Timothy, yet had to circumcise him even though sharing a letter from Jerusalem freeing Gentiles from Jewish legal requirements (Acts 16:1-5)
  • He was prevented by the Holy Spirit from going into Asia (Acts 16:6)
  • He was not permitted to go to Bythinia by the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7)
  • Winding up in Troas, he received a vision to go to Macedonia, and going, is beaten and jailed in a Roman colony without trial (Acts 16:8-40)

Now, that’s not all that happened to them in Acts 16, but it was full of ups and downs. They were prevented by the Spirit from going certain places, and when they went to where He wanted them to go, were beaten and jailed. You can see that it would have been easy to be dejected, give up, and just go home. Yet we have things like these things happening as well:

And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

Acts 16:13-15 NASB

But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately ball the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.

Acts 16:25-32 NASB

One of the most telling verses is 25, where, after being wrongfully beaten and jailed, Paul and Silas are singing praises to God, and the other prisoners are listening. Have things been going well? Sort of, but at that moment, not so great. Yet, they are in stocks, bruised and battered, and singing praises to God. By the way, they are praising the God who put them there.

There is definitely a spiritual aspect to this global corona virus pandemic. Lots of people have “conspiracy theories”, some of which spiritualize it. But I believe the greater spiritual aspect is our vulnerability to failing to love each other as Jesus loves us, to being obedient to our Savior, believing instead that He only leads us by worldly success. I believe this crisis brings our selfishness to the surface, or it has for me.

So, in response, let us pray and sing praises to God, the God who put us here, and let everyone with us in this pandemic listen. Are you finding that difficult? Then go back up and pray the serenity prayer. Paul’s writes to this church in Philippi some time later and says this:

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:11-13 NASB

Contentment and serenity go together, and this church to whom he writes already knew this about Paul, they had seen it in his life, and a prominent member had followed Jesus because of this quality in Paul. Paul learned the secret of being content, and the “secret” is that we can do all things through Jesus who strengthens us.

Blessings upon you all as we go through this crisis together, even as we are separated.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation