30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. – Acts 28:30-31 (ESV)
The book of Acts has no Hollywood ending. The apostle Paul doesn’t mount his trusty steed and ride off into the sunset. Rather, Luke ends his history of the early church rather abruptly. I say “abruptly” because we know Paul had about another five years after this point to minister before his execution during the reign of Nero. During these years Paul wrote his pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus. If tradition is correct, this would have been the period when the apostle traveled to Spain (although no mention of such a trip is made in Scripture).
But Luke ends his account in a manner most befitting of the self-proclaimed least worthy apostle . If Paul was nothing else, he was bold. He understood what it meant to stand strong in Christ. He knew the Lord was with him always.
And he understood all too well that physical circumstances were no indicator of the presence of the Lord:
11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:11-13 (ESV)
Paul’s boldness was hard earned. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-29, he lists the painful hardships he had endured for the sake of the Gospel:
24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. – 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 (ESV)
I find it remarkable that this man did not merely withstand such hardship. He thrived in it!
How? Here is the key:
9 (Jesus) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)
Boldness is not a matter of puffing ourselves up and acting strong. When we live in our own strength alone, we are like a straw house that seems sturdy, until a strong wind blows us over. The key is to seek the Lord first, be content with His grace (as opposed to our circumstances), and humbly realize that any true strength we have is from God, Who amply supplies for our every need.
It is the grace of God that enabled Paul to not only survive, but thrive through otherwise unbearable situations. Any one of the hardships Paul recounts to the Corinthians would be enough to derail even the heartiest of Christians (at least those of us who live in considerable ease in the western world).
But, by God’s grace, Paul soldiered on.
And, by the end of Acts, we see Paul imprisoned. Not manacled to a wall or in chains, but living alone with a guard, supporting himself without having a job or source of income, receiving guests and proclaiming the Gospel.
The simple truth is that discontent saps us of God’s power, because it draws our attention inward, not upward. I wonder what Paul would say if he saw my reaction when I can’t connect to the coffee shop’s wireless Internet, or when I am cheated out of the pickle that is missing from my Super Bacon Wacky Burger Deluxe. With cheese. (Actually, that may be God’s way of telling me to lay off the Wacky Burgers.)
When we refuse to be discontented by the discomforts of this life, or overly enchanted with the trappings of this world, and focus instead on God’s will and path and purpose, we find the boldness and strength through the grace of God to be joyful anyway. The hardships of this life are a fleeting instant when compared to greatness of our Lord Jesus and the wonder of God’s great plan.
Keep your eyes on the purpose and prize of Christ! Be bold in Him, and refuse to be discontent.