Of Mice and Men Moments

Mouse“And looking intently at the council, Paul said, ‘Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day’…. And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks. The following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.’” Acts 23:1, 10-11 ESV

Sometimes our greatest plans go terribly wrong! One moment the apostle Paul enjoys the breathtaking opportunity of testifying before the great Jewish council, the next he’s ripped away and escorted to a lonely jail cell. And thus goes the best-laid plans of mice and men. How disappointing the whole experience must have been. That’s not the way Paul planned it! In his mind’s eye there was great opportunity to witness for Christ before the powerful Jewish leadership! But the ability to testify was gone in an instant. The entire drum-rolling enormity of prospect vanished and now Paul sits idly alone in a dank Jerusalem prison feeling as if time had been magnificently squandered.

Do you know what that’s like? How many times have great plans for God departed in a moment’s notice? Visions and ministries seemingly come to nothing all because of a few crazy chaotic choices. After such great expectations it’s understandable why Paul would be dejected. Read verse 11 again:

“The following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.’”

At some point in Luke’s account of the Book of Acts’ history, Paul thought it important enough to mentioned to the author what happened on this specific night—it would be recorded for all posterity. When discouraged and dejected, there are two essentials to learn from Paul. The first is to look for:

The Lord’s Company

Again, verse 11: “The following night the Lord stood by him and said.” That English word ‘stood’ in the Greek language is the idea of the Lord coming ‘with suddenness.’ Not necessarily immediacy, but abruptness. In fact, the thought is the concept of an assault upon you. The Lord assaulted Paul with His presence! Whether by vision or physical appearance is not entirely clear. What is apparent is that at the point of Paul’s deepest despair the Lord thankfully thrusts and assaults Himself into Paul’s prison cell and situation. It reads, “The following night the Lord stood by him!”

Is that experience even possible for us today? The idea of the verse is that when you’re at your lowest point ever—when you’re at the place of utter dejection—expect the Lord’s company. That’s the time when He’ll show up. Maybe it’s not the most opportune moment and you’d like just a few minutes alone to ‘collect your thoughts.’ Or, perhaps this hour will be the time when you don’t really feel like entertaining anyone. Here’s when the Lord will assault you with His presence and stand by saying, ‘Take courage!’ And then—expect Him to bring the second essential:

The Lord’s Cheer

Once again, verse 11 reads:

“The following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.’”

You ask, how do we know Paul was experiencing the miserable emotion of dejection? In this verse the word ‘courage’ in the Greek more accurately means ‘to be of good courage, and of good cheer!’ The HELPS Word-Studies reference notes that ‘courage’ literally is a radiate warm confidence because of a warm-hearted soul. It’s as if the Lord Himself came to Paul and said, ‘warm your soul and bolster your heart because you have been a good witness to me here in Jerusalem.’

The Message Bible nails down the thought further and brings it home by paraphrasing it as:

“That night the Master appeared to Paul: ‘It’s going to be all right. Everything is going to turn out for the best. You’ve been a good witness for me here in Jerusalem. Now you’re going to be my witness in Rome!’”

How often are we dejected thinking that we’ve blown it by rash, harsh or thoughtless words and behaviors? As the mouse in Robert Burn’s poem, “To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up in Her Nest with The Plough,” we may think we’ve understood God’s plan, worked out our details perfectly, and then it’s all ploughed under in a moment shattering our expectations. We become discouraged or dejected—it’s our ‘Of Mice and Men Moment.’ Now’s the time to remember Paul’s two essentials—the Lord’s company and cheer—to lift our spirits with new reassurance!

J. Robert Hanson

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