In Holbrook, Arizona, on the cusp of Route 66 and wide-open desert, the county fair rolled into town every September. And every year, my family would take me and my brothers for our annual thrill fest of funnel cakes and Ferris Wheel rides.
With blue wristbands and dusty tennis shoes, we’d glide around the fairgrounds eyeing all the lights. Basking in the grandeur of week-long revelry in a small town. Every year it was the same. Exhibits, rides, artwork drawings, and people galore. But one year, one ride caught my gaze.
This ride was dazzling.
The one ride I wanted to try more than any other ride at the fair.
And the one ride I’ll never forget.
Lights glimmered in the night sky. Flashes of yellow and blue and green all around. And a headline that read “The Zipper” captivating my attention. A zooming ride with cages spinning around while the whole contraption rotates… like a Ferris Wheel gone mad… blaring music of course and hypnotizing me with its enchanting appeal.
I was only 9 years old at the time. But I was bound and determined to land a seat on The Zipper.
I begged my mom and persuaded her with all the reasons why I was completely able to handle such a “big kid” ride as The Zipper. She finally gave in and, being the daredevil she is, agreed to go with me. Prancing toward the line, we found our spot and waited…and waited.
I gazed up at the allure spinning in the night sky… beaming with excitement as I prepared to ride one of the most thrilling rides at the fair. Or so I thought.
We inched closer and closer to the front of the line… anticipation heightening, excitement flowing. Then we were next to step on the ride. They led us into the cage contraption and fastened me and mom in safely.
Then… Up, up, up we went.
I did it! I did it! I thought, as the ride began to move. I made it on the ride! This is going to be the best ride ever… my 9 year old inhibition ready to take off with adventure.
Then faster… faster… and faster we twirled…
and higher…higher…higher we rose…
I looked down at the people below shrinking smaller and smaller by the second.
Jolt…spin…flip…flip… We spun and spun around The Zipper… my whole body twirling, insides twirling and my vocal chords preparing for an onslaught of horrendous screaming.
“Ahhhh! Get me out! Get me out!” I shrieked at the top of my lungs.
“Get me out! Get me out!”
Every time my cage would pass my the man sitting at the bottom controlling the ride I’d yell even louder. “Get me out! Get me out!” What I thought was going to be the thrill of my life turned into the regret of the year. In that moment all I wanted was to break free…
Have you ever been there?
Have you wanted to break free from an uncomfortable situation in your life?
For you it may not be a carnival ride but it might be another discouraging situation. And you find yourself thinking God, I want out… I want out.
While sometimes God will rescue us from damaging situations if it doesn’t align with God’s purpose, I also know sometimes God allows us to experience seasons of pain…seasons of waiting…seasons of sacrifice… to complete His purpose for our lives.
Yet I’m encouraged that every season of pain prepares us for the season of blessing.
In the Bible, we meet a man who finds himself in a difficult season.
Confined in a cage-like contraption.
A prison cell.
His name is Paul. As a missionary evangelist, Paul gave up everything to follow Christ. He was a highly educated, former member of the Sanhedrin who persecuted Christians and held Jewish influence. Then Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus and gave it all up to tell others about the good news of Christ.
After all of this, he finds himself in prison for doing so. We read about this in Philippians 1:6-9:
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.”
Though He’s imprisoned in this season of life, Paul is confident God will complete what He started.
Coming from a man who finds himself in prison…I’m shocked.
His words seem contradictory to his situation. Yet Paul isn’t new to hardship at this point in his life. He’s been shipwrecked many times, persecuted, attacked, imprisoned and will be imprisoned again before he dies. Still he finds comfort in the God who completes what He starts. How?
A repeated struggle will do this to you.
It creates stamina like never before.
Mental toughness and resilience.
Strength for the road ahead.
Now, I’m no longer the 9 year old on that ride at the fair. The fears I had as young girl are no longer the fears that hinder me as an adult. But that doesn’t mean the battles aren’t there. As we grow and mature, so do the struggles that war against us.
Paul was imprisoned because his destiny was powerful. None of the other struggles limited his progress. But prison tried to limit him.
Often the struggles you face are directly related to your growth in Christ.
However, you also gain endurance the more you withstand these struggles and learn how to overcome with God’s help.
There comes a point where persecution no longer paralyzes you like it did before.
You can press on in faith and say yes to God even when it disrupts your comfort.
For you know what God starts He will complete. The purpose He has will not be thwarted. Affirming this will solidify your faith so strongly no form of attack or discouragement can wage war against you without making you stronger, smarter, wiser and even more equipped for the plans God has for you.
What the enemy meant for evil, God will work for good.
Your strength within the battle inspires those around you to rise up in strength too.
I love how Paul goes on to inspire the Philippians in verse 9. He prays for them and provokes them to keep growing in knowledge and discernment, loving one another in abundance.
“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.”
His posture of praise and thankfulness in his letter is showing the Philippians how to be thankful. He’s teaching them how to be content with the painful seasons of life by modeling his own peace in the prison.
Your response to your pain speaks loudly of your hope in God.
Whether good or bad, those around you notice how you react to the situations you face. They want to know if your God is for real. They want to know if your faith really works in the lowest places of life. Paul takes advantage of this opportunity to speak of his hope in the God who prevails over his prison sentence. I’m challenged to do the same.
I’m challenged to be a person who speaks of my hope in Jesus whether in lack or plenty.
We see Paul is confident in God’s purpose for his life no matter where it leads him.
Often your painful seasons of life illuminate your anchor in God’s purpose. Your difficulty helps you to see God is so much bigger than your dilemma. Enabling you to witness what God is doing in your despair. Reminding us where our hope comes from in seasons of discouragement.
Paul may rest in the prison, but his purpose is just as strong as it was preaching in the courts of Athens.
You may feel like your season of pain will never end…
But God’s purpose in you is flourishing even now.
You may wonder if God will ever answer what you’ve prayed for…
But God is preparing you internally for the purpose He’s yet to unfold externally.
God used Paul to preach about Jesus in the prison cell and it caused many of the Roman Imperial Guard to come to faith in Jesus! Be encouraged the situation you want out of is the situation God is using you to rescue someone else.
Your shackles are someone else’s liberation.
Being stuck where you are restores those in your midst when you minister to them.
In verse 8 Paul says, “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
Paul’s love for the Philippians was so strong it eclipsed his own pain.
I want to love like that.
To love so strongly…so deeply… that my own pain doesn’t matter anymore… and I can pour into someone else so they might be healed… so they might be empowered… so they might find life… and love surpassing all understanding.
When we notice the role we play in God’s rescue mission for ourselves and the world, we find purpose in our painful seasons of life.
I’ll never forget yelling “Get me out! Get me out!” on the ride at the fair when I was 9. It rattled me. Shook me.
But eventually the ride stopped.
Now I’m 27 and reflecting on a season of my life I, too, thought would never end. That season that almost destroyed me. That season marked with streaks of pain, heartache, and brokenness. But God is revealing purpose in all of it. God was working in my midst all along… changing me… changing others… creating something… renewing something… and now I’m thankful for the season of pain I thought would never end. And now in new seasons, I see the purpose in all of the pain.
These seasons don’t last forever…
These painful seasons… these broken seasons…
I see now that God restores.
The ride is over.
Glory’s all around.
The pain is gone.
In God my hope abounds.
God is a God who restores. Now I see the reason why God let me break, let me fall; and how it all contributes to what He was creating all along.
As a 9 year old captivated by the glimmering lights of The Zipper at the fair, now I stand captivated by another light…
The glory of God dazzling all around what I thought was broken…
New hope beaming from what seemed lost…
Jesus shining in my darkness.
The broken season you’d wish away is the eye-opener to the glory of God!
Now, I’m seeing so many stories unfold before me that I never thought could happen. He really does make up for all the years the swarming locusts ate (Joel 2:25-26). Maybe another time I will write them in more detail.
Beauty does arise from brokenness.
The Lord is restoring all that was lost.
I want you to know God sees you in your season of distress… your season of anguish… your season of pain… He won’t leave you there forever. Throughout scripture, God proves Himself as the God who restores brokenness. Your life is unique and your journey specific to you. Seek the Lord and wait upon what He’s yet to do.
There’s always new birth waiting at the end. God resurrects what’s broken. He illuminates what He was doing all along.
I wouldn’t know the magnitude of what it means to say Jesus is the very love of my soul, the very restorer of my life, and the One who cares for me if I hadn’t experienced that dark season of life. Because the darkness is a contrast to all that’s light. Every pain only reveals God as so much better. So much better.
Love from God heals deep places in the soul.
“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”
Without brokenness there is no blessing.
Without brokenness, there is no renewal.
God can only bless you after you’ve been broken.
So let Him.
Just like Jesus, your breaking will lead you into your resurrection, so that you might display the glory of the Lord. Not because we deserve it. But because He is good. He is good.
“To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Questions for Today:
- What does Paul do to minister to others while in prison?
- Why can I believe God is a God who restores?
- How does loving others eclipse my own pain?
- Why does brokenness precede the blessing?
- What next step is Jesus asking me to take in my relationship with Him today?