In Acts 16 we see how, as Paul was in Philippi, things seemed to go terribly wrong. Paul cast a spirit out of a girl who’d been following him. She had been crying out that these men were servants of God proclaiming the way of salvation. And even though it seems that this might validate their ministry, it annoyed Paul. It annoyed him because it happened for days on end.
This upset this girl’s owner. She was a slave, and the spirit was one of divination. And she made a great deal of money for her owner by fortune telling. So he started an uproar in the city, which led to the arrest of Paul and Silas. They were put in the inner prison and their feet fastened in the stocks.
Outwardly, I’m sure it seemed to Paul and Silas that their ministry was being hindered. After all, it’s hard to tell people about Jesus when you’re in jail. However, we then see the power of God at work.
As they prayed and sang hymns, a great earthquake shook the prison. The doors were opened and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. And when the jailer saw what had happened, supposing that the prisoners had escaped, he drew his sword to kill himself.
Paul called out to him telling him not to harm himself. He assured the jailer that no one had left. Trembling, the jailer asked Paul what he must do to be saved. Paul was then able to share the gospel with this man’s house and to baptize them.
This is a passage of Scripture that I find extremely comforting. I find it comforting because, often in ministry, things don’t happen as we expect. In fact, it often seems that our ministry is being hindered in some way.
Yet, no matter how things may seem, we’re reminded that God is not hindered. He’s at work in ways that we can’t always see or understand in the moment. And he can use those hindrances as an opportunity for ministry.
These hindrances can take many forms. Perhaps our missionaries are being hindered by an individual on the field. Perhaps government regulations are proving to be a hindrance. Perhaps conflict in the church seems to be holding back its ministry. Maybe a personal struggle seems to be keeping us from the ministry to which we’re called.
Whatever the case may be, the Lord can work in and through these circumstances. He can work in ways that we cannot even fathom. He can use the circumstances themselves as an opportunity for us to share the gospel and to minister to people with whom we may otherwise have no contact.
So as we endure frustrations in ministry, let us simply entrust ourselves and our work to the hands of God. Let us acknowledge that we don’t always understand what the Lord is doing. And let us trust that, no matter how things may seem, he can and will use us for his glory.