Acts: Day 37

Journey to Rome

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Today's Text: Acts 24:1-27, Jeremiah 29:10-14, Hebrews 13:15

Text: Acts 24:1-27, Jeremiah 29:10-14, Hebrews 13:15

On my daughter’s dresser sits a white ceramic sheep that sat on my own dresser when I was about her age. The sheep is small—a couple inches tall—and sits on its bottom, straight-legged, like a person sitting on a floor. Its front legs are pointed up, two little sheep-feet wrapped over the top of a stack of small 1×3-inch cards, each displaying a Bible verse.

I always loved that sheep. Even now, when I go in my daughter’s room, I can’t resist the nostalgic urge to slide the stack out of its arms and put a new verse on top, then slide it carefully back into place.

There is something strangely compelling about encountering a Bible verse in this happenstance sort of way—a momentary feeling of mystery that ignites when I come across a verse unexpectedly. I stare at it like a puzzle piece, wondering where and how its truth fits into my current circumstances. “What does it MEAN?” I wonder.

Put me in a situation like Paul was in—standing trial before yet another ruler, facing yet another set of false accusations—and I’m sure to read into every detail. Conflict isn’t exactly my specialty, so I’d probably internalize it all, anxiously assessing how each and every factor affects my main character: me. Leaving the matter unresolved is my worst-case scenario. Uncertainty is my kryptonite.

This back-and-forth with Felix went on for two years (Acts 24:27). TWO YEARS. While I’m pretty sure the uncertainty alone would be enough to kill me, I don’t get the vibe that it kept Paul up at night. I’m not sure he even regarded uncertainty as uncertainty. In his monologue before Felix, Paul said, “I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets” (Acts 24:14). It follows, then, that Paul knew and believed this little gem:

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
- Jeremiah 29:11

Here’s the difference between Paul and me (as if there’s only one): I believe God has good plans for me, but I assume His plans fall within the boundary lines of my own. In other words, God’s good plans for me are His expert version of my first draft. Paul knew better.

That little verse, presented all alone on the sheep’s card, is true because God’s Word is true. But in the context of Jeremiah 29, it is even better. That verse and those around it are God’s message sent to His people in exile through the prophet Jeremiah. We don’t have to zoom out very far to see that this message of hope from God to His people was not the quick, tidy bow we often make it out to be:

“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord… I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”
- Jeremiah 29:10-14

Seventy years. That’s how long they’d be in exile—an exile that, according to verse 14, God sent them into. Were these the plans they were hoping for? Not likely. Were they a ridiculously good promise from their ever-faithful God? Absolutely. Their exile was not the end.

Paul knew this, too. He knew Scripture is true—not in part, but in whole. He knew the gospel of Jesus is true—not in part, but in whole. Paul knew God is sovereign and good—not sometimes, but all the time. Not within the boundaries we give Him, but through all of history and time and space. Our hope does not die when our hands are chained or when life seems at a standstill. Our God is sure and faithful.

Paul did not know how all the pieces would fit together, but he knew his exile was not the end. Because of Jesus, neither is ours.

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  • Kristen Clegs

    I’m 29 and single and live alone, even tho marriage was always the one thing I was sure I wanted “when I grew up.” A couple years ago, God impressed on me to to pick a few people and weekly invest time in building a relationship with them; and also to see how I can connect with people in my little community. I did a weekly evening Spanish class for adults, I teach a few piano lessons, I am an aid (patient care assistant – requires no training, just paperwork) for a special needs girl, which just means I plan social activities to do with her a couple times a month. Maybe I don’t have the marriage relationship right now that I anticipate, but God doesn’t want us to waste our freedom as singles in merely waiting: pray for God to bring along ANY relationships that give you an opportunity to impact a soul for Him.

  • Needed this today- the reading, the devotion, and your comments. I have been diagnosed with anxiety and OCD. My OCD is specifically over plans (amongst a few other triggers). I’m struggling with feeling “stuck” in a middle ground of sorts. I don’t live near any family (3 hour minimum), I’m single and live alone. I love my job but hate my town. I want a family so badly. I catch myself asking God to make my plans come true much like someone said a “genie in a bottle”. But to read the verses in full context, God does plan great things for me but I may have to go through a lot first. And I have to learn to be okay with that. Maybe God doesn’t plan for me to get married – which I feel like would kill me- but I know only He can get me through that and there would be a divine reason. I pray that we all can let go, even if it’s just a little and take comfort in knowing that God has our best intentions at heart (even if it won’t be fun for a while)

    • Cali

      Prayers for you. I too struggle with anxiety but I look at it as it brings me closer to God ❤️.

    • Sydney

      Gods timing is ALWAYS better than our own. This is something I remind myself daily. Praying for you!

    • Heather

      Wow, me too. I could have essentially written this myself. I’m trying to accept that God’s plan for me might not involve marriage but its been extremely hard. Praying for you.

    • Amanda

      Celia, God definitely does work in mysterious ways sometimes. I am not trying to speak for Him, but I do believe that anyone who truly desires marriage in their heart is meant to be married at some point. I believe he places that desire there. Some people are very independent and he knows they would be ok if a marriage weren’t in the plans for them, and those people he uses for special purposes. But it sounds like marriage is a true desire of your heart. It may not happen now, it may not happen the way you plan or dream it to be, but if that is in your heart then I really do believe that he has plans for you in that area.
      My relationship with my husband came as a total surprise, and in a town I was about to move out of because I thought there was no one there to meet. But it was even better than I could have planned myself! God’s plan is always better, even if we don’t understand it yet. We just have to trust in Him….and believe me, I am constantly having to remind myself of that same thing!

  • Sarabeth

    I really needed this today. “The exile was not the end.” Thank you for this.

  • Something that stood out to me while reading today’s chapter is Felix’s response to Paul in verse 25. My mind immediately flashed back to the days before I fully committed to serving God. I had accepted Christ, considered myself to be a Christian, and went to church every week, but did not have a true relationship with the Lord. When the Word convicted me or things got a little too personal, I would get scared, close my Bible, and only open it again when it was convenient. Like Felix, I thought, “Okay, that’s enough for now.” Praising God today that He has changed my heart and my life. Looking back, it’s obvious to me that God was working to bring me to where I am now. I am encouraging you (and myself) today to continue praying for our loved ones who either don’t know Jesus or have not fully given their lives to Him. God works in mysterious ways. We may not know exactly what those ways are, but what we do know is that He is working in all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

    • Kayla

      Kristi,
      I was also intrigued by the part of the story where Paul visited Felix. However, I reflected on verse 24-25 that said, “He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come.” I think this is another example of how Paul would witness to others. These are different concepts that we can share with non-believers when we speak about our faith in Christ.

    • Elisabeth

      I didn’t think about that but it’s totally true for me, too!

  • I am so thankful today for fellowship of believers (those who are guided by this same hope). In fellowship, I stand alongside my brother Paul. I see the pattern of his life before transformation, after and watch with wonder and strengthened faith as Paul focuses on the next transformation at the resurrection!

    • She Reads Truth

      Thanks for joining us, Taime’! It’s just a joy to have you here.

      xoxo-Kaitlin

  • Keri Underwood

    One thing I used to do all the time when I was young in my faith was to look at Jeremiah 29:11 and read only that verse. I never looked at the context of what was being said. I think so many people do this! We pick a verse out of context and then get disappointed when things don’t happen in a warm and fuzzy way. “Well God says that He has plans for prosperity for me!” But when we look at the context we see there was 70 years of trial, of exile! 70 years! We don’t take that into consideration when quoting these kinds of scriptures. We are so focused on the promise that we forget about the path before the promise is fulfilled. I love that this devotion looks at the whole passage and explains the context!

    http://www.littlelightonahill.com

    • Teresa

      Yes! Me too!

    • Taime'

      So glad I stopped to read your comment Keri. 29:11 is such an overused and misappropriated verse. When we place one verse above all others, our view/understanding of God becomes warped or demenished. Paul knew that Gods plan was not small or trite. Paul knew that Gods plan was on Gods time, in Gods power alone. That is where Paul plaster his hope/faith!

    • Susie

      Yes I love that we need to remember there is a path to the promise!

    • Ellie

      Also loved that you explained this in its whole context. Believe God has great promises and privileges for us not only on the other side of captivity but in the midst if it as well.

    • Nikravesous

      This is so true! And to elaborate on Ellie’s comment, even when we are in exile God has plans for us on this side of the 70 years as well! In Jeremiah He says to the exiled Israelites:
      ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters—that you may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7)
      He does not tell them to despair or to wallow in self pity or to put their heads down and just plow through the 70 years with no thought but for the future; He calls them to “seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be.” I love that. Our joy and peace are not dependent on our physical circumstances but rather “the joy of the Lord is our strength!” Like Paul and Silas singing praise in prison, we are to do our best with what we have, to flourish where we are planted. Praying that we can all find peace and joy in God no matter our circumstances.

  • Diane Huntsman

    Here’s the difference between Paul and me (as if there’s only one): I believe God has good plans for me, but I assume His plans fall within the boundary lines of my own. In other words, God’s good plans for me are His expert version of my first draft. Paul knew better. Yeeeeeesssss!!!!!

  • So needed reminded of this today. Struggling with some issues and feeling like God isn’t in the small things… Trying hard to remember that His ways are not ours, and asking Him to help my unbelief (Mark 9:24)

  • Caroline

    So much hope in Jeremiah 29! He is FOR us, not against us! “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
    – Jeremiah 29:11

    http://www.in-due-time.com

  • Kristine L

    My prayer today is that I be open. Open to His plan, open to the changes coming my way (new school, new classroom, new team, new way of doing things). I am so resistant to change, but God has moved me here for a reason. Oh that I can confront these changes with openness, willingness, gracefulness. Arms open, heart open.

  • “Here’s the difference between Paul and me (as if there’s only one): I believe God has good plans for me, but I assume His plans fall within the boundary lines of my own. In other words, God’s good plans for me are His expert version of my first draft. Paul knew better”. ….this is so me, I “know” God is bigger than anything I can imagine or struggle with, yet I don’t live with that open trusting faith that Paul had. God I pray that I give up my boundary lines and have faith like Paul did in Jeremiah 29:11. Thank you God for your patience with us.

  • Jeremiah 29:11 was the first verse I ever memorized. And it is the verse that reminds me in all situations that God is in control, it has been such a comfort and this morning serves to be just that again. I am in a season of waiting on God. There is a long list of needs and hopes and while I know God has great plans and I’ve never not seen Him come through, there are moments I find myself with the words, “But maybe…” on my heart. But maybe I am supposed to DO more, maybe I have to figure this one out, maybe it won’t be, maybe I’m confused …. and then the enemy pins me right where he wants me and I set off the list of “curses” in my life and I am a heap of trouble filled hopelessness. YET, each time I fall into this fearful place God whispers, “Just Be. Be Still. With me.” And immediately I am lifted out of my scared place and set affirmed on solid ground. I know that God’s timing is not my own and while it often appears that He waits for the last minute of need (like Paul’s TWO years) to produce my miracle, He still produces it. I think about it in a building perspective; when a construction crew is working, there is a foreman overseeing it all. He uses each person for a particular job with particular purpose. If anyone of those individuals stops working, doesn’t show or doesn’t finish a job, it directly affects the outcome, causing the foreman to rethink the situation, rehire someone new or reposition his people, which could drastically affect the end date while still accomplishing the planned result. God uses many people and puts things in place long before I even ask for them. Because He loves us He gives us opportunity, whether we know it or not, to be part of His plans for others and we are a wily folk, occasionally (ok, mostly) we aren’t the easiest to work with, but still He is patient, sometimes putting a little fire under our feet and other times letting us take the lead. Point is, I may not know the mountains He is moving right now and the people He is using, or the things happening “behind the scenes” to move them but I know that He IS moving them. I know that those plans He has for me are far greater than any I could try to drum up and I anxiously wait this portion of those plans. I am prayerful that as stress trickles it’s way into my mind, I am able to stand firm in the truth God has for me, willingly waiting with excitement to see what He has in store. His picture is always so much more beautiful than mine! ~ B

    • Katrina

      So beautiful! I can relate with you 100%! :)

    • Rochelle

      “I may not know the mountains He is moving right now and the people He is using, or the things happening “behind the scenes” to move them but I know that He IS moving them. I know that those plans He has for me are far greater than any I could try to drum up and I anxiously wait this portion of those plans.”
      i really needed to hear this today. we’re currently in a season of extreme financial stress, to th point of anxiety and sleeplessness for me. my husband, me, and our two kids have to move in with friends for a few months until we’re back on our feet. i’ve stayed in the word throughout this time, but it’s been one of the hardest of my life. coveting prayers right now.
      but anyway, God’s plans are bigger than mine. and like you said, i don’t know who He is using behind the scenes, or what mountains He’ll move. what i *do* know: He’s done miracles before; i just need to trust and remember and know He’ll do them again, for His glory and according to His plan.

      • ~ B ~

        Rochelle, I am so sorry for your season. I understand well the pains of a financially deprived place and I know it is a heavy one to bear. I will especially be prayerful as you enter in the new season of a shared place with good friends. I hope that this brings you a peace that transcends and allows you to see God the entire way. Prayerful that His miracles will be profound and that He will ensure your footing. ~ B

    • churchmouse

      Amen! Preach it, sister, and I’ll turn the pages!

  • churchmouse

    These Scriptures and Amanda’s devotion brought this thought to mind : Our hope does not die because Christ lives in us who believe. Paul was imprisoned for two years under Felix, falsely charged. Innocent. Not guilty. If you are in Christ and Satan is telling you that you remain captive by past sin, that you are forever guilty and unworthy – you, dear sister, are falsely charged! If you are in Christ, you are free. FREE. You are not bound in chains. Do not let Satan’s powerless taunts make you think otherwise. You are forever free in Christ Jesus! This is the truth. Jesus is the truth. He has set you free. There are no chains that can bind you now. You, and I, live boldly in Him.

  • Kelly Smith

    “God’s good plans for me are His expert version of my first draft.” Ouch! This is me. I dream up the best case scenario and wait for God to grant my wish like a genie in a bottle. Much like the fairy tale characters, if I were to get my wish, my life would not turn out like I hope. When the plans for my future are concocted by my finite mind, they are limited and lacking. However, if I give my future over to the Lord with no preconceived ideas, He dreams the best dreams for me. Dying to self includes dying to the self in my five-year plan. I think I will have a little funeral today. Goodbye to self, goodbye to my plans, goodbye to a mediocre future.

    • ~ B ~

      “Dying to self includes dying to self in my five-year plan” … I am with you on this one. I have always been a “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of gal. While I had long term aspirations and goals and knew what I wanted in the end, I would easily just ride the wave of life where it would take me. I think, in some ways, allowing me to “let God” a little more. As I get older though, I find that my mind is shifting and I think to my “planning” more. I can get caught up in where things didn’t quite work out and what I have versus what I pictured … which only sends me down a shame filled path of what I could’ve done differently. Planning, in any sort, can really be a tool for the enemy. Prayerful over your “funeral” today Kelly as I know I will be burying my planning self along side you.

    • Amanda

      I will be joining you! This is SO ME. I’m like “ok God these are the things I’ve thought up which one will you bless”. Need to give it all over to Him!

    • LauraJ

      “I think I’ll have a little funeral today”… what a great line. We need to have a little funeral every single day. I’m on the journey to the end of myself. It’s a long hard journey… but it is a good journey.

  • Amen! We are in the middle of what was to be the quick sale of our home which has now turned into a long drawn out affair which is causing many a sleepless night. Yesterday I told my son I know God has a plan for the sale of that home because I know he moved us where we are but right now I do not know what it is! The not knowing and continuing to believe over the long haul are definitely not something I am good at. Please God give me the strength to persevere to the best outcome I know you have planned in this and in all the other things in my life.

  • Christa

    ‘I write my plans in pencil and give God the eraser.’ ~Unknown
    Sometimes I struggle with handing the pencil and eraser over despite knowing that He is a much better planner than I am.

  • Kortina Smith

    Amen! This is such a reminder of regardless of what my plans are, in the end it is His plans that matters. Being a business owner in many ways consumes me. I find myself filling my schedule with my own “stuff” and in a sense attempting to drive my own boat. When my boat crashes in what I assume to be “unexpectedly”, it is because I am not listening to God and following His plans for me. This verse really hit home for me to day: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. “- Jeremiah 29:11. Today as let this seep into my soul, I lay my plans down and follow God’s plans. Sisters have a blessed day and thrive in His grace!

  • Patience (especially to do the same task over and over for an extended period of time) is not something valued in our day, even in a job we can become bored and complain. Paul persisted through probably repeating over many of the same truths (to the same person!) for two years. How frustrated would we or do we get with that task of giving the gospel repeatedly to the same person before giving up? May we press on in persistence in our communities and families to present the GOOD NEWS of HOPE in God. What our world, our country, our neighborhoods desperately need right now. May we not just pray but have courage to speak up and speak out for what God has done and continues to do for us. Grace and forgiveness and healing, to the least of these.

    • Maggie

      thank you Terri. this is exactly what I needed to hear this morning. to persevere in the mundane and in relationships where they just don’t seem to get this hope that we have in Christ. if Paul did this by God’s grace, so can I.

  • GHGilbert

    Amen & Amen!

  • I have many many plans. Plans that involve keeping myself busy. I’m always looking for something else to keep my schedule full. Plans that have stressed me out just thinking about. Plans that can wait. I believe there is a time to do and a time to be still. A time to work on the things already in front of you. I just think right now is a good time for me to grow and just to abide in Jesus.. have a blessed day.

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