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Shaking Foundations, Swinging Doors Open, and Unfastening Chains

Laura Phelps
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We had a perfect plan set in place. We were ahead of the game. And we felt really good about it.

Our Walking With Purpose parish program was set to wrap up in April. By March 1st, our fall courses had already been chosen, next season’s registration was getting ready to roll, and the details for our final luncheon were set. With everything falling neatly into place, I dared to exclaim, “At this rate, we will be done with ministry planning by June!”

Stop laughing, God. I can hear you.

Whether you are a WWP co-coordinator or not, chances are, you too were in the midst of planning for something when everything shut down. And so we are left in this weird space of…what now? How do we continue to plan for a future we cannot predict? For the type A, control freak, live by my planner kind of folks, this space can feel like torture, am I right?

And yet, isn’t this precisely what God longs for from each and every one of us? Confidence in Him, not in our plans. Perseverance in the race—not because we can see the finish line but because we can’t.

The world shutting down does not give us the excuse to give up doing what we do for God because it doesn’t look like what we had planned. COVID-19 is not an obstacle to upbuilding the church, encouraging one another, and offering consolation. It is an invitation to find another way. Christian author and speaker Priscilla Shirer remarked in a virtual conference, “How do we see personal dilemmas? As a hiccup in our plan? Or as an opportunity to glorify God in another unique way?”

In today’s first reading, the Acts of the Apostles 16:22-34, Paul and Silas are stripped, beaten, and thrown into the innermost cell with their feet secured to a stake. Why? Because as they were going to a place of prayer, they were “met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by soothsaying” (Acts 16:16). A Catholic definition of divination is “The art of knowing and declaring future events or hidden things by means of communication with occult forces.”[1] This girl, as told in Scripture, followed Paul and Silas for many days, and was super annoying. So Paul finally turned and said to the spirit, “I charge you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her” (Acts 16:18). And it did. The owners of this slave girl were not happy, as this meant their gain was gone. No more seeing into the future. 

I have never sought out a fortune teller, or even desired to have my palm read. I’d like to say it is because I trust and follow God’s commandments so perfectly and wouldn’t dare seek out any more light than that for my next step ahead. But honestly? I don’t care to know the future because the present moment is often terrifying enough! And yet, while I do not intentionally seek out divination, I have prayed that God would tell me as clear as day what the heck He wants me to do, exactly how long will my suffering last, will my loved one who is ill make it out of this okay, and should I or should I not plan to have my Walking With Purpose parish program back up and running on my church campus this October? I admit it. Knowing what the future holds would be nice. You know, for planning’s sake.

Which brings us right back to that weird place of “what now?”

Thankfully, Scripture has the answer.

“But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and every one’s chains were unfastened.” (Acts 16:25-26)

Amazing. They didn’t complain. They didn’t get angry. They didn’t cry. And they didn’t give up. They found another way, by praying and singing to God…and the prisoners listened.

As we navigate our way through our own inner cells, what is the message we are sending to those who are listening? Are we spreading a message of hope or despair? Are we sharing the good news of the Gospel or the toxic news of the media? Are we pulling chains loose or tightening them? You see, we may not be able to get back to things as usual, but maybe usual is overrated and not meant to get back to.

What if this weird space is not weird at all, but a divine invitation to stay where we are, praying and singing? If you are a visionary with huge ideas for Jesus like I am, this sounds insanely hard, doesn’t it? If you are a Walking With Purpose co-coordinator, this almost sounds reckless and unproductive, am I right? But hear me out. The prisoners are among us and trust me, they are listening; waiting to see and hear the way the believers respond when they have been stripped and beaten and their pink and green tablecloths have been taken away. Listen, our feet might be fastened and our doors may be shut, but the God that rescued me is a God who has no problem shaking foundations, swinging doors open, and unfastening chains.

This, my friends, is what “what now?” looks like. It is not about knowing what we will do in the future, but about trusting what God is doing in the present. What now is about new opportunities. What now is about glorifying God in a whole new way. What now is about showing the world that we do not need pink and green tablecloths and large group gatherings to edify the Church, Amen?!

You see, the slave owners were mistaken. They thought that in not knowing their future, their gain was gone.

But as slaves of Christ Jesus, we know better; it is precisely in embracing the unknown that our gain is found.

He is working in the waiting, and those doors will soon swing wide open. Until then, wherever you are, sing and pray loud with me, dear sisters! You never know who is listening.

With you in the waiting,
Laura

Go to our events page now to learn about two wonderful opportunities to gather remotely with your friends and all of us here at Walking with Purpose! WWP Founder and Chief Purpose Officer Lisa Brenninkmeyer will lead a free webinar on June 4 that you won’t want to miss: The Art of Creating Community. What’s more, our Instagram team will kick off a virtual summer Bible study on June 11. Click here for details on both, and to register for the webinar.

[1]  CatholicCulture.org. (2020). Catholic Dictionary: Divination. https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=33143

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