When I was in college, I got on a plane for the first time. I flew all by myself for an immersion experience for my language major. It was an early morning, and we were running behind. My parents were trying to get me there, but I ended up missing my flight. Long story short, I was able to get on a different plane not too long after the other left. When I got to my destination, it was dark, I was hungry, tired and I missed home.
My trip was supposed to last a whole semester, but I came home after six weeks. It would take a long time to explain all that happened, but it wasn’t good. I ended up in some dangerous places. My roommate, a native to the area, was shocked when I told her where I’d been. Her eyes widened and she said, “You could have died.” I’ll never forget the goose bumps that crawled over my skin. It was a private college, but the “Christian” leader on campus sexually harassed me several times. When I returned home, no one in the student exchange program seemed to believe me. They thought I suffered from culture shock and was imagining things.
Why am I telling you this? It’s certainly not for sympathy. This will become clear in a second. One night I was outside on campus with the leader because he was telling me about opportunities he thought I should take. This was before I ran into trouble with him. That night I discovered how dangerous he was.
It was one of the most amazing days of my life. What? Why? How? I can’t explain it, but I felt God with me and touch me in a way I never had before. And it was unmistakably God. God protected me. His power hit me like a freight train. If any of you have had such a moment in your life, you know what I mean. It can’t be explained; you do your best, but no words seem to express it. But you remember all of it completely, and you’ll never forget it.
When I think about that night, I don’t remember him. I remember the power of God.
Most of us have experienced some nasty things in our lives. We’ve suffered in one way or another. We’ve seen others suffer. In Acts 5, the apostles are thrown in jail for sharing Jesus. An angel comes to release them in the middle of the night, only to tell them they are to go back out and keep doing what got them arrested in the first place. Can you imagine? And they do it. They don’t run away. I’m sure it might have crossed their minds. I know it would have popped into my mind. The apostles get into trouble again, and the Sanhedrin calls for their death. A Pharisee named Gamaliel addresses the group, warning they may be fighting against God if they kill the apostles. Because if they’re truly doing the work of the Lord, and we eliminate them, we could find ourselves in a lot of pain.
The apostles didn’t get off scot-free. They were whipped with leather and pieces of medal and stone. It tore the flesh from their bodies. I can’t even imagine the torture. And after all this was over, what do the apostles do? They leave rejoicing. Rejoicing.
What I went through was not like the apostles. I wasn’t preaching. I wasn’t whipped. I tell you all this for a few reasons. We all suffer. We all go through difficult situations. Sometimes God breaks us through and He does let us “run away.” Other times, God comes in and opens the door, only to send us right back to the place we feared. It happened to the apostles and it happens to us. You don’t have to be preaching to experience this.
I don’t know for sure, but I would bet the apostles never forgot that day. And while I’m sure they remember the pain, they remember more than anything the power of God. And they left rejoicing in that. Because God’s power is real, and He continuously proved this to them.
I often find myself longing to feel that again. I may, but I also may not. For a long time, I was bitter about the whole situation. After all, it was always my dream to go on a trip, learn a language and have the amazing time all the other student ambassadors would talk about. With this situation and others, I’ve learned and seen God did indeed show up. Maybe it wasn’t what I expected. Maybe it wasn’t what I wanted. But He was always there and He was always moving. Let’s look for that in our own lives. Let’s rejoice in it.