The life of the apostle Paul has a lot to teach us about finding peace in spite of our natural tendency to panic.
To begin with, in Acts 19:21 Paul is shutting down a very successful ministry in Ephesus. I say “shutting down,” but perhaps I should say he is leaving it in order to go on his way to new vistas of ministry. Ephesus has been his “headquarters” for a three-year period of ministry. Verse 21 looks back: “Now after these things were finished . . . “
When you read that in your Bible, remember there’s an invisible arrow that points back up to verses 1 through 20. And remember, you have to integrate verses of Scripture with their historical context, much like a setting of a precious gem is placed in a ring. Every precious verse of Scripture fits into its own unique setting. The setting of verse 21 is what we would call a successful ministry—but not one without problems or difficulties. Here we learn of Paul’s next ambition.
After these things were finished [he now looks to the future], Paul purposed in the spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”
I must also see Rome! It was a burning goal in the apostle’s heart. An obvious characteristic of good leadership is goals and objectives. There are dreams. There are plans. An individual who simply lives from day to day is really not having a purposeful life. But Paul isn’t like this. He has a goal and it’s clear. He hopes ultimately to reach Rome.
Why Rome? Why is that so significant? Rome was the Oval Office of the world, the place of ultimate clout. The emperor lived there. Saints lived in Caesar’s palace. Paul knew that if he could reach Rome, he could reach some of the most influential Christians of the known world. Also, quite probably, he could gain an audience with the emperor himself. He longed to speak to Caesar about Jesus Christ.
Some of you who read these words have never shared your deepest dreams or highest goals with anyone . . . but they are there nevertheless. And the tendency is to be frustrated before you reach the ultimate goals and dreams of your life.
Paul, however, was at peace with those dreams. His goal, remember, was “I must see Rome.” Now read verse 22:
And having sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.
If you check several verses of Scripture, you will discover that Paul was in Ephesus three years in all. Chapter 20, verse 31 tells us that. Chapter 19, verse 8 says he began with a three-month ministry in the synagogue. Chapter 19, verse 10 says he later ministered for two years at the school of Tyrannus, so we’ve got twenty-seven months accounted for. But he was in Ephesus thirty-six months. Meaning what? Meaning that nine of the thirty-six months were spent (verse 22) staying in Asia after he got the dream to go to Rome.
When you have a dream and a purpose and some goals in life that you really want to see occur, your tendency is to leave the immediate and to get on with the goals rather than to stay faithful in the assignments of the present.
With that thought in mind, let me give you the first of three definitions of peace. Here it is: Peace is the ability to remain faithful in spite of the panic of unfulfilled dreams.
You and I have goals and dreams and desires that are not yet fulfilled. Our tendency is to mount our race horse and gallop in that direction, leaving the present assignments as we get on with those much more exciting dreams. Peace is the ability to remain faithful—even when those dreams are not being fulfilled. If you forget that, you’ll be frustrated and your peace will quickly disappear.
When I entrust my frame of mind to Him and lean on my everlasting Rock, He supports me with the ability to stay at the task as I let Him open the doors of the dream . . . in His time.
Now, some of you need that more than others. (I personally need it a great deal.) When you do lean on Him, you may anticipate things leveling out. As you remain faithful to those less exciting tasks, your life at least should naturally become more calm and easy to handle. Right?
Wrong. As a matter of fact, it’s like the old saying: “Cheer up. Things could be worse. So I cheered up and, sure enough, they got worse!” Paul may have thought, “Well, things are gonna get better. I know that these last few months will just run along rather smoothly and unruffled.”
But they didn’t. Things just got worse.