Day 37

Journey to Rome

from the Acts of the Apostles reading plan

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

BY Amanda Bible Williams

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.

Post Comments (47)

47 thoughts on "Journey to Rome"

  1. Kristen Clegs says:

    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.

  2. Celia says:

    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)

    1. Cali says:

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

    2. Sydney says:

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

    3. Heather says:

      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.

    4. Amanda says:

      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!

  3. Sarabeth says:

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

  4. Kristi says:

    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).

    1. Kayla says:

      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.

    2. Elisabeth says:

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

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