PAUL'S MINI AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Philip Yancey writes in Our Daily Bread that Paul summarised his autobiography in one sentence, 'Who shall separate us from the love of Christ; shall tribulation or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" (Rom.8:35). When we try to lead a righteous life, serve the Lord in right earnest, engrossed in various ministries, we think that God should shower all material blessings on us and that we should be free from all troubles. We even think we should get a special treatment in return for the 'service' we render to God. Job was not at all like us in this respect. Hear what he says to his wife, "You are talking like a foolish woman; shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (Job 2:10). When troubles come to us, we need to turn to Paul's mini autobiography, "Who shall separate me from the love of Christ?" When we expect special favours from God, we are disappointed because we do not seem to get them. Confidence and faith in God alone will help us to tide over the storms and waves we face in our life. I am abundantly blessed by Paul's life. When I pass through turbulent waters, Paul's testimony reinforces vigour and strength in me.
Millie Stamm has said Paul's 'stabiliser' was his trust in the Lord. He said, "I know whom I have believed" (2Tim.1:12). His belief was not in something, but in Someone. It is easy to believe when everything is pleasant; but can we trust the Lord even when hope seems to have gone? Can we affirm with Paul, "I have faith in God that it will happen just as He told me!" (Acts.27:25)? Did Paul expect special favours from God for all his labours? Paul never complained about his sufferings. He had no disappointments with God. Instead, he gloried in his sufferings. Paul could have complained to God, "Why do you permit these trials in my life when You know how zealous I am for Your cause, how I labour for the extension of Your kingdom?" Paul had no such complaints. Even in his sufferings, this is what he wrote to the Romans, "I have been absolutely convinced that neither death, nor life, neither messenger of heaven, nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither the power from on high, nor the power from below, nor anything else in God's own world has any power to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom.8.38-39 Philip's translation). F.B. Meyer had his share of sufferings. He never complained. He said, "Each valley of Achor has had its door of hope." God wants to give us a new revelation of His love, to draw us into His most tender friendship and fellowship, to lift us into the life of victory and satisfaction (Hos.2:15).
When tragedy hits God's servants while they are deeply and zealously involved in His ministry, they think God is unjust, that He is not interested in their service. At such times, Paul's mini autobiography can infuse courage and strength in us. I have gone through a fair share of sufferings myself. When the second tragedy struck in July last year in our family (our daughter Jessie's death in a major road accident), my youngest son Biju asked me, "Why do these tragedies happen in Jacob's family?" His elder brother met with a fatal accident 33 years ago. "Why should we pray," he asks, "when God deals so harshly with us." He has been witnessing a series of painful trials in our family. My grand-daughter Michelle too asked me, "Why did God do this? I blame God who took away my loving auntie suddenly." We are praying that God would release them from this bitter disappointment. I have found help and relief from Paul's mini autobiography while sailing in deep waters, "Who can separate me from the love of God?"
Philip Yancey says this about his friend Douglas who was like Job in all his ways. Douglas experienced 'failure' in his ministry. His wife died of cancer. He sustained injuries from a drunk driver. Yet he advises, "Don't confuse God with life." Many were blessed by the ministry of Halyburton of Scotland. He never complained about his sufferings. Dr. T. L. Cuyler has said this about this great man of God in the book, Travelling Towards Sunrise. During his illness, Halyburton welcomed scores of visitors to that room in St. Andrew's where they stood around his bedside and listened to words that seemed to be inspired by a glimpse of heaven, from the land of Beulah. None of his previous sermons equalled his discovery from the bed of sufferings. He said, "This is the best pulpit that I was ever in. I am laid on the bed for this very end, that I may commend my Lord." After a night of agonising pain, he said to his wife, "Jesus came to me in the third watch of night walking upon the waters; He said to me, ďI am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, and I have the keys of death.Ē He stilled the tempest in my soul and there is a great calm. I have ripened fast under the bright sun of righteousness and had brave showers."
Ray Palmer's hymn My Faith Looks Up To Thee has ministered to me while sailing in the raging sea. The faith of Paul reverberates in this hymn:
While life's dark maze I tread,
And grief around me spread,
Be Thou my guide;
Bid darkness turn to day
Wipe sorrow's tears away.
Nor let me ever stray
From Thee aside.
In closing, I think we can add three more sentences to Paul's mini autobiography. "But whatever was to my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them as rubbish that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him" (Phil.3:7-9).