Recently, a friend called to let me know that a very significant building in the church where I was raised was burning. The Church on the Way Prayer Chapel was on fire. Fortunately, no one was hurt as the fire consumed the pews, pulpit, and prayer rooms with smoke and ash. Upon viewing images of the burned out church with charred walls, and floor to ceiling damage, I felt shock and surprise, and then an unsettling awe as I considered the wars taking place in the spiritual realm over that building.
The Bible tells us that “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”- Ephesians 6:12 The Prayer Chapel was established as a place of prayer, where thousands of supplications had gone up over the past fifty years or more. I remember laying on my face at six in the morning as a high-schooler calling out to God for His help. I remember having choir practice there as a junior-higher singing worship to God and performing dramas there as an elementary school kid desiring to lift up His name. The Prayer Chapel had been a place associated with God’s love and power in my life during my formative years.
So, thanksgiving in the Prayer Chapel is two-fold. I am so thankful for the wonderful memories the chapel held for me in the past. Yet, now the thanksgiving part comes after a great fire. Fires affect and change buildings, and it affects and changes people. At Pentecost, the new church experienced the Holy Spirit through tongues of fire. As I find myself reaching to know God more, to experience His voice, His anointing, and His power in my life, I don’t find it in the clean, sinless, put together places. I find it in the ash, the charred places; the darkness. What I mean to say is that God’s grace and the movement of His hand finds me during the troubles and pain of life, not during the happy, carefree moments. When I have been wayward, found myself broken, or been made aware of my lack of what I need, He is there. Often when life is just moving along, stress-free, I don’t feel His arms or hear His whisper saying, “I love you.”
Paul found Christ when he was on his way to murder Christians, and he met the Lord in prison where he would pen many letters of the Bible. I have come to find that my thanksgiving comes amidst peril. When you don’t see the answers, don’t have the money, or become consumed with your own lack, cry out to Him in those charred and broken places and He will meet you. That doesn’t mean all your problems will be resolved; it means your relationship with Jesus will be strengthened as He carries you through them.
Paul wrote many of his letters while he was imprisoned. While he was wanting to go on the road and preach the gospel to many people, God allowed him to sit in prison embracing another plan. God needed Paul to be still, so He could pour into his life. Paul couldn’t see the unseen millions of people who would never meet him or hear him preach, but would read his epistles of God’s love for centuries. Paul didn’t know there would be a child, a grandmother, a divorcee reading his words of redemption two thousand years later.
God’s plans are always so much grander than our own. Yet, we want to see them. We want to understand what he is doing. We want to understand. Lord, why the prison? Why the burned out church? But we usually only get a glimpse, a taste, a hint of His orchestrating the majestic intertwining strands of our footsteps as believers networking to create the dynamic web of God’s plan that makes the galaxies in the heavens seem as one tiny star.
His Word tells us…
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, which he wrote from prison, he encourages them and us to be strengthened by God’s power. I imagine that Paul was really experiencing the fullness of God in this dark prison when he wrote the following verses.
For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on Earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches, He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
– Ephesians 3:14-19
We are so thankful to you for the blessings you bring our way; the ones that feel good as well as the ones that are painful. We thank you for healing us and strengthening us through the painful experiences of life.
We pray that we will experience the richness of your grace and the satisfying peace that comes with it. We thank you for being our hope, our joy, and our endurance through trials of many kinds. Bless us today with the knowledge and wisdom that can only be understood through the struggles of life. And Lord, help use us to be a haven and a refuge to others who are going through difficulties as well.
In Jesus’ Name,