By Jen Akin
Last fall I had trouble getting to one of my son’s soccer games. The field was hard to find and my mind was preoccupied with a conversation I had earlier in the day. After finding the field I sat in the car and called my husband because I needed to process that interaction. As I arrived thirty minutes late to the game, one of the coaches shared that my son had scored four goals in a five-minute period -- the time I was in the car. Even now I get a pit in my stomach thinking about it. My concern about something from the past, and worry about how to handle it in the future, had fully taken over the joy available to me in the present.
In Acts 16:16-40, we come upon Paul and Silas. Paul releases a demon from a slave girl whose demon possession made money for her owners by telling the future. Furious, these owners have the Roman authorities intervene and Paul and Silas are severely beaten and thrown into jail. The jailer is commanded to keep close watch on Paul and Silas and he secures them well. Paul and Silas begin to hold church – singing praises and praying to the Lord. A powerful earthquake opens the jail doors and releases the prisoners’ chains. The jailer is about to take his own life when Paul calls out to let him know that all the prisoners are there. Paul holds church again, and, hearing the good news, the jailer and his family are saved. The next morning, with no real grounds to hold them, Paul and Silas are released. They insist that the Roman authorities escort them out as a signal that they have done nothing wrong. Soon after, they leave Philippi.
Reflecting on this passage I notice the responses of the three groups represented. The magistrates and authorities operate from their past. They are motivated by religious and racial prejudices and act swiftly on those. Paul and Silas are Jews promoting a religion that is not approved by Rome. Consumed by their laws and traditions, these authorities miss the power of the Holy Spirit in the present moment when the cell doors open and chains are broken.
The slave owners are concerned with their future. How can they make money when their source of income, the demon possessed future-telling girl, is released from the evil spirit? These owners fully miss the present moment when the authority of God is manifested in their lives, driving evil away.
Paul and Silas, however, are concerned with the present. Paul isn’t living in regret of his choice to arrive in Philippi, nor is he looking at God and saying, “I’m a big deal God, effective in every way to build your church. I need to get out of jail to reach a larger audience so they might believe!” Rather, Paul is living in this moment. It’s about the prisoners, the jailer, and the jailer’s family.
I believe that learning from our past experiences and considering goals and plans for our future are wise endeavors. However, too much focus on these things swiftly leads to missing what the Lord has for us right now. Like the magistrates, the Lord may be challenging an unhealthy paradigm from our past. Or, contrary to the slave owners’ focus on the future, the Lord assures us that he holds the future and we don’t need to worry or be greedy for more than we have right now.
My favorite quote from Maya Angelou: If you must look back, do so forgivingly. If you must look forward do so prayerfully. However, the wisest thing you can do is be present…Gratefully. I am learning to daily acknowledge my deep need to trust God with my past and my future in order that I may be most fully in the present where he wants me to be.
Lord, may we find ourselves present with you as you are present with us…with glad and grateful hearts. Amen