In case you’re not up on your Apostle Paul, his story from conversion to the end of Acts goes something like this: bright light, Jesus, blind, un-blind, preach, flee, jail, stoning, preach, beating, flee, preach, arrested, shipwreck, snakebite, preach, prison, preach.
Somewhere in there Paul also wrote thirteen letters that now make up a sizeable chunk of the New Testament, and the letter to the church in Colossae was one of them. It’s one of four Bible books he wrote while he was held captive in Rome for two years under house guard (Acts 28-16-30).
God sometimes uses prisons to hold us still and produce His most lasting work in us.
Paul had been turned over to the Romans by the Jews — his own people — the very ones for whom he was willing to sacrifice eternity with Christ.
I have not suffered as Paul did, but I, too, have been held captive by prisons great and small:
dead-end jobs, student debt, toddlers, teenagers, depression, doubt, abuse, respiratory failure, a coma, paralysis, the loss of a job, no direction, too many directions, the call of ministry, strict budgets, broken plans, bed rest, fear about the future, anguish over the church, anguish over my children, the death of father and brother, my own expectations and the expectations of others.
Like Paul, sometimes the people who should have loved me the most have cared the least.
I’ve written a lot of letters from these little prisons — words you could read like print on my face and in my actions — letters of hopelessness, faithlessness, selfishness. Chapters of worry and fear.
With God’s help, I can write different letters now. For there is something about a prison that produces clarity if you let Him use it. It strips away excess and reveals what your soul believes to be true.
The chains that bind you on the outside are the ones He uses to break the ones around your heart.
And so, the Roman guard stands outside the door. Paul sits, the glow of a lamp flickering over his time-etched face. He dictates a letter to the Colossians, whom he has never met. And his voice trembles with the Truth that has held fast through 30 years of beating and stoning and shipwrecks.
The Light still shines as bright as it did on the road to Damascus.
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13-14).
O merciful God, when we find ourselves in little prisons, grant us this same grace:
To write letters like we know we are free.