And Saul just went wild, devastating the church, entering house after house after house, dragging men and women off to jail. Forced to leave home base, the followers of Jesus all became missionaries. Wherever they were scattered, they preached the Message about Jesus. Acts 8:3-4 (TM)
Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours of my day driving with a friend. As our car floated past the rolling hills, blanketed in the beautiful, deep green of summer fields in Iowa, we had a wonderful conversation about the on-going lessons of life. We shared with each other our struggles with purpose, struggles with family, and struggles with the church as an institution. My friend shared that her faith is struggling to find a home. And yet, as she spoke, it was clear that God has deeply instilled within her the knowledge that everything has a purpose. She knows that God is working out His purposes for her path, though she can’t see beyond that hill, covered in tall Iowa sweet corn.
It’s so easy to lose our grip on that truth. There is a purpose. I’m sure the believers in Jerusalem were asking God a lot of questions when that first wave of persecution hit. I can hear the cries as Saul beat down the door to their homes, dragging them off to be imprisoned, beaten and killed. "God, why did you let them kill Stephen? Why are you letting this happen?"
We can see God’s purpose clearly as the chapter continues. Believers were scattered. The good news about Jesus was spread wherever they fled. Had the persecution not come, the church would have grown lazy, fat and comfortable in Jerusalem. Those in Samaria and the surrounding areas would not have heard the message (at least not for a long time).
And then there’s Saul, the leader of the persecution. God is working out his purposes for Saul’s path, as well. The persecuted believers, I’m sure, were blind to the fact that God was working on Saul’s heart even as he zealously sought their imprisonment and deaths. The persecution had a purpose.
Though we may not immediately see it, today’s struggles are accomplishing God’s purpose in us for tomorrow.