What do you do when you’re in a place that you can’t leave?
There is a group of Paul’s letters called the Prison Epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. Paul makes repeated reference in these books to his “imprisonment”, to himself as a “prisoner”, and to his “chains”. (Hence the label.) He probably wrote them during his two-year house-arrest in Rome (Acts 28:30-31). The authorities seem to have allowed Paul to receive visitors, but not to leave the house.
So, what do you do when you’re in a place that you can’t leave? A prison cell. A mind-numbing job. A roommate-group you feel trapped in. A wheelchair. A painfully conflicted family.
A friend of mine (I’ll call her Joyce) told me about a turn-the-corner moment she’d had on an overseas mission trip. Unity issues in the team had created a tougher time than she’d expected. Exasperated, she phoned home: “What do I do?” Dad’s wise answer (in the form of a question): “Joyce, whose prisoner are you?”
Right away, she saw it. He was reminding her of Paul calling himself a “prisoner of Christ” (Ephesians 3:1; Philemon 1). Not just *for* Christ, but “*of* Christ.” The Lord at God’s right hand (Acts 2:33) had recruited Paul (Acts 9:16), and – for two years – assigned him to a place he could not leave. Joyce needed to look above her team-tensions (just as Paul looked above his chains) and see Christ. In that “place” she could not leave, she belonged to him.
So, if we’re in a place we can’t leave, what to do?
Learn with Paul and Joyce: Look above your “place” to Christ, enthroned at God’s right hand. Remember: We’re his prisoners. This is his story, not ours. For our good and God’s glory, Christ places us. The sooner we turn that corner, the sooner we’ll have joy.
Think about how God wants to use you. The Bible’s foremost “prisoner” story was not Paul in Rome. It was Joseph in Egypt. Falsely charged with sexual assault, he spent years in an Egyptian jail. But he found the good God in the bad events (Genesis 45:7 and 50:20). And in the end God used him to save thousands of Gentiles from famine (Genesis 41:56-57) – thus fulfilling his bless-the-nations promise to Abraham (Genesis 22:18). Who knows how God might use you, in your place?
Remember Paul’s prophetic image of the saints-on-mission: they were incense: God, he said, “manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place” (2 Corinthians 2:14 NAU). Incense rising. Worship rising. Faith rising. Hope rising.
Where? “In every place.” Including that place that you can’t leave.