Have you ever run out of gas? If so, I know how you feel. Besides feeling a little dumb, you also feel stuck; either on a highway or some random road, and if you as unlucky as I was, not close to a gas station.
Have you ever been locked out of your house? Same kind of feeling – stuck. My nephew was locked out of his uncles house a few weeks ago while visiting Montreal. He had one thing to do while everyone was out running errands – watch the dog (who was also a guest that day). Something attracted him to walk outside, that would be the trampoline. He stepped outside (underdressed) to play around for a minute or so. When he decided to go back in, he realized the door was locked. He had two worries, one was that his dog would pee in his uncles house, the other was that he would freeze (it was in the lower single digits, celsius, and he was only wearing shorts and a t-shirt). He was ‘stuck’ outside for 2 hours.
I’m sure you’ve been placed on hold from time to time. We call an office and either half way through the conversation or even before we get started, we are asked to hold. As polite as the receptionist sounds, we are still left with a decision, do we wait, do we hang up, do we call back? Just like running out of gas and locking yourself out, being on hold feels like your stuck – waiting for ‘pause’ to turn into ‘play’.
What happens when life gets put on hold? When you feel like you should be moving forward, you are instead stuck in your tracks. You get ‘the call’ or ‘the letter’ that puts everything to a halt – those become really tough seasons to get through. We want to look for silver linings, but if we’re honest, the grey clouds are lined with even darker grey lines.
U2 wrote these lyrics a few years ago…
You’ve got to get yourself together, you got stuck in a moment, and you can’t get out of if
Don’t say that later will be better, you got stuck in a moment, and you can’t get out of it
Acts 27 & 28 are about yet another stop along the way in Paul’s journey to Rome. We know by this point in the story that Paul is on his way to Rome – Jesus says he’ll get there and he most definitely wants to get their too.
Even though the accusations from the previous chapters have been dropped (thanks to Festus & Agrippa) Paul still has an appointment with Caesar. He asked for one, so he’s getting one. This get’s him on a ship with over 200 other prisoners on its way to Rome.
To make a long story short (which Luke doesn’t do in Acts), Paul and the crew get stuck along the way. Paul advises the leaders and passengers to stay at the Good Harbour (Fair Havens) in Crete. It’s storm season and Paul thinks it’s best to hold off, but they don’t want to. You know how it is? You’re so determined to get ahead that you unwisely try to push forward, even when the risks are too great. Wouldn’t you know it, shortly after they set sail, the bad weather hits. Luke describes the 14 day period as so dark that you couldn’t see any stars at night or the sun in the day. Somehow, after throwing much cargo off the ship, they manage not to sink. After the weather finally passes and they feel like they just might make it, they hit a reef and are stuck quite a ways off shore. Many days before, Paul had a dream that every one would live, but the boat would be a write off. With no boat left they all decide to swim to shore. Paul’s dream comes true, they all make it to shore.
One problem, the shore they hit wasn’t Rome, it was Malta. Think about this for a minute. Paul’s long journey, including flogging, interrogation, prison, persecution, debates and bad weather ends not at Rome (yet) but at Malta. Get this, they were STUCK in Malta for 3 months. What happens in Malta teaches us something, both about Paul and about us.
This crew of prisoners were treated very well by the natives of this island. The Maltese were hospitable to Paul and the rest of them. Paul’s understanding of love and grace are expanded by the Maltese. Their behaviour affirms in Paul what it means to be hospitable, even or especially, to those who are not like you. There was no reason for the Maltese people to help them, but they did. They kept them warm by a fire, found them food and found them a place to rest.
Something else happened on this Island. Paul wasn’t only served by the Maltese, he served them. Both with chores as well as gifts of healing and helps. Paul healed many people on the island, which of course communicated the power of Jesus that Paul possessed.
What’s Luke trying to tell us with this story?
Even though Paul had a destination in mind, he didn’t wait to get their to use his gifts. He realized that even though he wasn’t in Rome, God cared about these folks too, so he showed them God’s love through healing and help. He may have been stuck, but he wasn’t going to let it slow down the calling on his life. The purpose of Paul getting to Rome was to share the gospel with gentiles. Here he is stuck with…more gentiles…so he helped and healed in the name of Jesus.
Too often we’re so stuck on our goal – on the place we think we’re supposed to be and can’t see the opportunity that’s right in front of us. When you’re stuck, you can pray, “God, help me, get me out of here.” but you can also pray, “While I’m here, maybe you want to use me?”
Is it possible that God wants to use our STUCKness for his purpose. I’m not saying that he gets us get stuck (although he may), but I am saying that instead of complaining or twiddling our thumbs (like we do when we’re on hold with a call) we can ask God to use us where we are – in the present moment. Sometimes it’s easier to wait for the next step than it is to be creative in your present circumstance.
Jeremiah 29:11 says this, “I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you…plans to give you a hope and a future.” These words were given to Israel while they were in Exile. They were stuck, they were on hold, they were going nowhere fast, yet God reminded them that even though they feel stuck, he is still pulling them forward. Also while in Exile God tells Israel to pray for the peace and prosperity of their city (Babylon). Pray for a place that they don’t even want to be in? Pray for neighbours that they never wanted to live beside? What’s the deal with that? Even though we think we’re stuck and have no where to go, we can still live out our God-given calling and make a difference where we are. Don’t lose the dream God gave you – don’t forget about the future God is calling you to – but also don’t miss the opportunity to live, love and serve in the moment and the place where you find yourself.
Think about this…
– People who follow Jesus should never worry about being on HOLD
– God’s purpose follows us into the waiting room
– Keep living, serving, giving and being who God called you to be…even when you’re stuck…even when you’re on hold
– You’ll eventually reach your potential, as Paul did, but in the meant time, serve God in Malta
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small(er) group questions:
Any funny stories about running out of gas or getting locked out of your house?
Running into road blocks and getting stuck seems to be a theme in these last few chapters of Acts. Do you think it’s something we should get used to?
Is it fair to say that Paul learned about hospitality from the Maltese people? Do you think a light went on about how important it is for followers of Jesus to treat people well…especially those who are different?
How can hospitality communicate the best of humanity and the best of God’s story?
Even though Paul hit yet another road block, he served and healed and helped while in Malta. What does that teach us about when we’re stuck in a moment and can’t get out of it?
– Can we pray, “God, this sucks, but maybe you want to use me here, in this place, with these people.”?
How does this verse from Jeremiah resonate with you? “I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you…plans to give you a hope and a future.”