Colossians 4: 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.
It was 2015 and the Canadian Track & Field program was on fire. The team took home a record 8 medals from the World Track & Field Championships in Beijing, finishing 8th in world standings. The next year at the Rio Olympics they took home 6 medals including 3 by rising international sprint star Andre De Grasse. As runner up to Usain Bolt, many considered De Grasse the “heir apparent” as Bolt announced retirement.
Fast-forward to 2017 and the world championships at the iconic London Stadium. The Canadian team seemed almost giddy with excitement at the prospects for this meet. Bolt appeared beatable and De Grasse was flying running a 9.69sec (wind aided) 100m weeks before the championships. The team looked poised to land an even larger medal haul than in 2015 as this relatively small (population) country grew the sport.
But the collective hearts of Canadians sank when on August 2nd De Grasse tweeted “After sustaining an injury this week, I’m devastated to let my fans know that I will be unable to compete in London”. This turned out to be only the first of many calamities for the Canadian team. World and Olympic high jump champion, Derek Drouin, pulled out just before the competition with an Achilles injury. Then a stomach virus tore through the hotel where the Canadians were staying. Even Damian Warner, who was almost a shoe-in for a decathlon medal, got hit by the virus and finished fifth. In the end, the Canadian team won no medals.
The Apostle Paul was on fire. He was going from city to city proclaiming the gospel and seeing new followers of Christ and new churches planted. In fact, many conservatively estimate that he planted at least fourteen churches. Knowing that God had called him to proclaim the gospel and establish local churches, I’m sure he must have questioned the Lord as he sat in a prison in Rome in about 60AD. How could he continue to spread the Good News as he was bound in chains? Surely this was not in Paul’s play book. Surely this was a big win for the opposition and a loss for Paul and for God.
While we don’t know what went through Paul’s mind at the time, and how long it took him to accept the situation and alter his plans, what is clear is that he made the most of the situation. Today’s reading is from Colossians. During his three-year ministry in Ephesus, a man name Epaphras was converted and then carried the gospel to Colosse. The young church that was formed became the target of heretical attacks, which led Epaphras to visit Paul in Rome. As a result, Paul used his time in prison to address the dangerous teachings the church had received (that Jesus was not actually God), and he reiterated the deity of Christ. He also asked for the church’s prayers for him in prison. “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.” (Colossians 4:3) While most of us would pray for literal “open doors” to the jail so we could escape, Paul prayed for spiritually open doors so that he could proclaim the gospel in jail. He truly had the mind of Christ (1 Corinth. 2:16).
What happens when life does not go as you plan? Do you sulk? Do you question God’s goodness or even His existence? May we be encouraged by Paul who learned to trust in God and who recognized that what may appear to be a bad situation or a closed door, may be precisely what God has ordained.