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Paul in lockdown: lessons to learn

Paul in lockdown: lessons to learn
Posted on March 27, 2020  - By Sam K. John

All over the world, the watchword right now is ‘lockdown’. For many of us this is going to be a totally new experience. If you are like me — an extrovert who loves meeting people and travelling — staying inside a house for a few days, let alone weeks, is not going to be easy. Whether voluntary or imposed, isolation is difficult for most. In addition to this, some of us will have to deal with the frustrations and disappointments of many plans and projects being cancelled or postponed indefinitely.

I would like to suggest some practical ways to make the best of this lockdown scenario. To start with, let me briefly talk about the Apostle Paul, who faced a lockdown situation in his own life. Acts 28:30 states, “For two whole years, Paul stayed there in his own rented house…” Paul was arrested in Jerusalem on the pretext that he created riots through his preaching. Recognising he wouldn’t get a fair trial in Jewish territory, Paul demanded he be tried in Rome as he was a citizen. That’s how he ended up in Rome as a prisoner. He was not put in a dungeon but was allowed to rent a house and stay there. Essentially, he was under house arrest. Praetorian guards monitored him day and night. He couldn’t move out of the house but he could receive visitors. However, he could not move out of the house. He was locked in.

It was an experience that lasted almost two whole years, while he waited for a trial. There are some definite lessons we can learn from his life.

1. Don’t let the lockdown dampen your joy.

This is evident from the letter Paul wrote to the Philippian church during his house arrest. In spite of the restrictions he had, he wanted the Philippians to know that he was rejoicing in the Lord. How could Paul manage to do this? He had a heart of gratitude. He thanked God for the manifold blessings (both spiritual and physical) in his life. See Philippians 1:3-4, 18; 2:17; 4:1, 10.

In spite of his restrictions, Paul was rejoicing in the Lord. How could he do this? He had a heart of gratitude

I’m sure if all of us took some time to count our blessings, despite our present struggles, the exercise would truly surprise us! I suggest taking a few minutes to write down all the blessings the Lord has given you and your family. Ask each member of your family to write down five things they are grateful for too, then share your notes with each other. The old hymn rings ever true today:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

2. Get closer to family.

Paul’s company, during his house arrest, consisted of the soldiers who guarded him, and occasional visitors. They were his only social contacts at that time. Paul used that time to get closer with them and perhaps even led some of them to Christ (Phil.1:13, 4:22). Furthermore, whoever met him during his confinement experienced spiritual upliftment (Phil.1:14).

The current lockdown situation has given many of us a rare opportunity — to get closer to our loved ones and spend more quality time with them. Due to tight work schedules, many husbands and fathers have lived with the guilt of not being ‘present’ at home. This may be an opportunity the Lord has given us to sort this out. Of course, some of you will be working from home, but you will still find you have some extra time with your loved ones now that you’d longed for.

Several things can be done during this lockdown. If your family prayer time has been erratic and unsubstantial, this is the time to regularise it. Pray together. Read the Bible together. Discuss spiritual topics together. Engage in wholesome activities that will strengthen your bond.

3. Pray earnestly and meaningfully for those you know.

Paul used his lockdown time to pray meaningfully for the churches and individuals he knew personally (Philemon 1:4, Colossians 1:9-12, Ephesians 1:15-21, Philippians 1:3-4). Consider the meaningfulness of the apostle’s prayers in these passages. He knew the spiritual condition of his people and he prayed to God accordingly. Meaningful prayers are not like spontaneous ones. They are pre-planned, well-informed and timely. Of course, they also need time!

Maybe, we too could use this lockdown to increase our personal prayer time. Let’s get rid of superficiality. If we do not specifically know the physical and spiritual needs of our friends and acquaintances, give them a call or text them and find out. Also, use this time to pray for the thousands all over the world who are going through difficult times because of the virus. Use ‘news’ not just to quench your desire for sensationalism, but to convert them into prayer points.

4. Re-energise your inner being.

While under house arrest, Paul took time to scrutinise his own spiritual life. This active minister of God was mostly about giving; now, this lockdown provided him the much-needed break to take stock of his inner being. This led him to the realisation that he needed to grow (Philippians 3:10-14).

While under house arrest, Paul took time to scrutinise his own spiritual life. This led him to the realisation that he needed to grow

Perhaps, some of us have been giving a lot of ourselves too, as ministers of God. It is time to take stock of our inner being. I suggest you download the following PDF; it is a wonderful tool to analyse one’s spiritual growth: http://blog.lifeway.com/growingdisciples/files/2013/08/Spiritual_Growth_Assessment.pdf.

Take time to read good books and see the difference it makes to the way you look at life. Several Kindle books are available for free. (You don’t have to have a Kindle for it either; simply create a Kindle account and download the book(s) to your phone.) There are a few others that I like to suggest as must-reads, such as William MacDonald’s True Discipleship, George Verwer’s Hunger for Reality, Robert Dann’s Father of Faith Missions: A. N. Groves, and Jerry Bridges’ Trusting God. Check out the online Christian library https://www.rightnowmedia.in too; it’s a paid resource but worth it! There are also a lot of free online resources made available by people like John Piper, John Stott and more.

5. Be productive.

Paul’ success in life was his ability to be productive in the midst of difficult situations. He didn’t while away his time thinking of the disappointments of the past or difficulties of the future. Rather, he focused on the present and desired to make the best out of it. Paul used his lockdown situation to write a few letters, of which four of them are preserved as part of God’s word today — Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians and Philemon. Looking back at Christian history, a lot of saints used their lockdowns to pen down masterpieces. John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress while in imprisonment. Amy Carmichael wrote close to 20 books while confined to her home, after she broke her leg in a fall.

We live in an age where we have plenty of opportunities to be productive despite lockdowns, thanks to the internet. Enroll yourself online for a short-term course. Equip yourself with skills that can help you advance in career or life. Explore the possibility of writing and share it with others. Start blogging. If you are looking for free, but quality, online biblical training, look up www.emmausworldwide.org or www.biblicaltraining.org.

6. Think about the inevitability of death.

Does that sound morbid? Paul was not afraid to meditate on death. As he faced an uncertain future, he contemplated death as one of the possible outcomes (Philippians 1:21-23). He didn’t shy away from thinking about it. His view of death as a departure from this world to his Saviour’s presence gave him hope. Though he contemplated the possibility of death, he wanted to live if it was God’s will (Philippians 1:24). He also believed in supernatural deliverance (Philippians 1:19). Likewise, he believed God capable of showing mercy and delivering His children from near-death situations (Philippians 2:27).

Though we hate to talk about suffering and death, both are real. Times like these remind us of that fact powerfully. Looking at history, epidemics like these have wiped out entire populations across the world. It is unbiblical to think that all believers will be protected from this pandemic onslaught. On the contrary, sincere believers may also face death by coronavirus.

It is unbiblical to think that all believers will be protected from this pandemic onslaught. Nevertheless, what distinguishes a believer in times like these is their hope

Nevertheless, what distinguishes a believer in times like these is the hope he or she has. On one hand, we can plead with God to deliver us from this deadly virus, for He is merciful. On the other hand, we are called to exhibit eternal hope in the midst of destruction. For those who are in Christ, death is not a failure to survive the pandemic, nor does it indicate a withdrawal of God’s grace. It is just a vehicle to depart from this world into His glorious presence.

Fear of death is natural in times of crisis. I went through such an experience when I was diagnosed with Neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) three years ago. Since then, I take precautions wherever possible, including daily medication as well as periodic scans and tests. But I live by faith. I trust in His Word, which says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31). Take necessary precautions to protect yourself and your loved ones, while at the same time trusting in His care.

7. Know that our Lord is very much in control.

Although Paul could not really predict the end of his lockdown or the eventual outcome of his trial, he knew that his God was in control of his life. He knew that his life was in the hands of the One who could turn every situation for his good and His glory (Philippians 1:12). In other words, he knew the One in whom He believed.

Coronavirus may have originated because of human absurdity, carelessness or wickedness. But our understanding of God’s sovereignty demands that we believe our God knew the exact moment and mode when the first strain of the virus entered a human body. I’m not suggesting that God is responsible for this. But as sovereign of the universe, He knows what is happening and He has allowed it to happen. Why? We cannot know that for sure. So, let’s not jump to abrupt conclusions.

The world may find it difficult to control the pandemic, but it is not beyond our God’s control. Let us plead with Him for mercy on the world. May we also have the boldness to pray ‘Thy will be done’.

Sam K. John

About Sam K. John

Based out of Bangalore, India, Sam K. John heads Emmaus Academy of Biblical Studies (EABS), a correspondence Bible school catering to assembly believers across India and the Gulf. He is married to Jiji, and they have two children together.



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