A month long hiatus from my mini marathon training finds me lying on the couch, crackers in hand, wistfully watching the pristine, chiseled athletes of the 2012 Olympics. I wonder as I watch them, twirl on the uneven bars and pummel the ball across the net, what drove them to wake up at 4 a.m. and swim morning laps in a neighborhood pool while the rest of us slept in our beds.
Today, haunted by images of disciplined Olympians and the half marathon training schedule that lingers on my laptop, not opened in five weeks, I rolled my soft body back into my running shoes. It wasn’t pretty, the heat unbearable, but at least, I’m moving again and sometimes, glorious things can come of failed plans and just being where you are.
This calls to mind, the life of the Apostle Paul. Sometime near 49-51 A.D., Paul made an appearance at the Jerusalem Council and gave an account for the healing and Holy Spirit work that had been taking place in the Empire among those who were not of the House of Israel. This will be Paul’s first official report to the Good Brethren in Jerusalem, where, he is called on the proverbial carpet regarding the questionable doctrine he had been teaching. According to Paul, for freedom Christ had set us free, the Law of the Fathers was no longer needed since in Christ Jesus the Law is love alone. After this encounter, Paul receives the blessing of James and sets out on his next missionary journey believing the matter of Gentiles baptized into Christ without the sign of circumcision is behind him.
According to Acts, Paul and Silas travel first to Bithynia because the Spirit had not permitted them to preach in the Asia province at that time, but when they arrive near the coast, they are stopped this time by the Spirit of Jesus from entering the city.
Paul, it seems, has every reason to be confounded by the failure of his plans. First, a senseless detour to Jerusalem and now heaven itself seems to be creating obstacles, frustrating his plans! That night, after feasting on salt fish and throwing back a few pints of ale, Paul falls asleep to the sound of the waves crashing into the beach at Troas. Belly full, mind buzzing, confidence brooding, Paul dreams of a man in Greece calling out to him, begging him for help; when the sun rises, Paul understands his mission.
When Paul arrives in Greece, he first visits the prominent Roman city of Philippi. The city of Philippi was the settlement colony for all those soldiers who had fought with Antony and Octavian against Brutus and Cassius, the conspirators who had stabbed and killed Gaius Julius Caesar. In Paul’s time, a wealthy port city, Philippi had no synagogues for Paul to visit as was his custom; instead, he meets a woman named Lydia and the women of her household who are down by the river when he arrives. Acts tells us that Lydia and her entire household are baptized, thus these women are the beginning of the house church in Philippi and the first converts in Europe.
The church of Philippi will grow and flourish across the centuries, according to Polycarp, it is the strongest of all churches planted by Paul well into the 2nd century. Paul refers to this church as his “joy and crown” and will write to encourage female leaders to work out their differences for the good of the community (Philippians 4). The women and men of Philippi will underwrite much of Paul’s missionary work so that he is able to plant churches throughout the Roman Empire.
Philippi was not where Paul intended to venture, Lydia was not whom he intended to encounter, but as it turned out, the time, the place, the partnership were all Spirit born and God breathed for the purpose of preaching Christ.
Just like Paul, I am sure every Olympian has faced some setbacks and even some dead ends that turned out to be new dreams. What are those places in your own life that you believe are dead ends that might turn out to be new beginnings? What are your frustrated plans that might be opportunities for divine appointment?