“No matter what” is a phrase my two- and-half year picked up and began repeating one day. It came from a PBSkids show she was watching as she and her older brother were eating breakfast. Xavier and the Secret Museum. They portray historical figures and their life accomplishments with the basic message of “any child can be anything they want to be and change the world if they learn determination and hard work.” One of the episodes features Susan B. Anthony and her work on achieving women’s right to vote. That’s where this phrase comes from.
“No matter what” started rolling around in my mind as my toddler emphatically repeated it. Then it gradually began to make sense as I started studying Acts and the life and ministry of Paul. No matter what, no matter who, no matter where, no matter his circumstances, he made a life legacy out of sharing the Gospel. In Acts 24-26, the Jews can’t deal with the resurrection of Christ due to their rage over Paul challenging their worldview and the Mosiac Law. They start rioting and plot his death. Paul stands trial before the Sanhedrin, then the Roman Governor Felix. Paul shares the Gospel with Felix and his wife Drusilla, and those two begin to squirm with guilt under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Felix can’t make a decision about Paul, so he leaves him in chains until his successor, Governor Fetus takes charge. Here’s what Paul does NOT do in response to being treated unfairly: fume, feel sorry for himself or plot his escape. Could it be that God is protecting him (hint hint, wink wink) from the craziness beyond the prison walls? Those holding a grudge, still hatching plans to kill him upon release? Paul waits. Paul waits calmly. That’s hard for some of us to do. And Paul continues to minister to the other prisoners and guards.
What we perceive as setbacks, Paul sees opportunity. What we perceive as defeat, Paul sees faithfulness and eternal rewards. What we perceive as overstepping our bounds, Paul sees duty and responsibility.
How many of us are willing to respond Paul’s way? How many of us have that same unshakable, determination to tell others about Christ? No matter what.
Paul had his work cut out for him. He had to do battle with Jewish culture that held Mosiac Laws near and dear and Greek culture that held polytheism near and dear. Today, our challenges are just as daunting. We are uphill against cultural attitudes of “I’ll believe what I want to believe, you believe whatever you believe, and we’ll get along fine.” Or, “I am my own God. Master of my own destiny. I don’t need Jesus.” Then there are the internal distractions to deal with, like what if we aren’t not good enough? What if we offend people?
Paul doesn’t seem to wrestle with the insecurities that commonly flat line us. He was strong-minded. He spent quiet time with the Lord every day. Every day. Yes, he made it a priority, and after years of this, he had developed a mental and spiritual stability. He was absolutely fearless – of death, of criticism, of suffering either emotionally or physically. He was confident of Christ’s love for him and his exclusive mission to share his testimony and the Gospel.
We Americans are terrified of suffering and our mortality. This has become obvious in our collective response to COVID-19. We think that the worst possible thing that could happen is getting infected. Or death. And while losing a loved one would be tragic and reason for overwhelming grief, believers have the hope and the promise of God’s protection and the gift of eternal life! How would Paul have responded to COVID-19? When he was under house arrest for political reasons, he picked up a pen and paper and got busy. COVID-19 would have been a fly in his face while still preaching the Good News. He would have been obedient to all the government authorities while writing letters and continuing to study God’s word.
What do we have as a single-minded, determined mission or responsibility to in our lives? For some, it is building successful careers. For me, at the moment, it’s being a wife and mom. I can learn from Paul’s approach and continue my efforts to teach my six-year-old about God despite his indifference and sometimes rebellious attitude. Paul inspires me to keep praying, keep emphasizing Christ, and modeling Christ-like attitudes to him. No matter what.
God did not waste any part of Paul – his background, his training, his citizenship, his mind, or even his weaknesses. Are we willing to let God do the same for us? We will never know all He can do with us until we allow Him to have all that we are.