Paul: Blessed Are the Flexible
What does Paul’s awareness of his calling teach us about the willingness to be flexible in all circum- stances?
When plans change—as they unexpectedly do for Military families—what is your normal response? Paul’s assignments changed over and over, and his awareness of God’s hand in his life affected his willingness to be flexible. We can learn from Paul’s example to trust God’s plan. Allow Him to open your heart to a more flexible spirit that does not fight against changes to your plan.
About This Journey
Relocation is one of the top stressors in Military life. Learning to be content in our circumstances is hard, and too often we allow complaint and comparison to rob us of daily joy and peace. In “Determined to Thrive in Relocation”, we study how God’s presence and direction during times of relocation can bring peace in the midst of change.
This Week's Readings
Orders in Hand
And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.-Acts 16:7-8
“Have you signed a contract on a house yet?” were the words my husband heard from the assignment officer on the other end of the line. With orders in hand, we had just spent most of our Christmas leave at our next duty station looking at neighborhoods and houses for the upcoming move. This assignment was in a city where we were eager to relocate. My husband was looking forward to the job for which his new boss-to-be had handpicked him. Win-win, right?
You guessed it. A few phone conversations later and my husband’s assignment was changed. We would be headed three states over to a totally unfamiliar environment and a yet-to-be-determined job for my husband.
At times like this, a number of questions run through a wife’s mind, such as: “Who did my husband tick off?” or “Do assignment officers have a clue about what they are doing?” or “Does the military even care about what we want?”
Looking at today’s Scripture focus, Paul may have had a few questions about where he wanted to go too. The Scripture states that Paul and team desired to go to Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. Whoa—assignment orders changed by Jesus himself? One would think that Paul ran every assignment by the Lord before hitting the road to the next place. The Scripture is not clear about that part, but what is clear is that the Spirit of Jesus changed Paul’s next assignment.
If you are concerned about your next assignment, I have good news for you. First, God has a plan for you and knows where he wants you to be. Second, God knows how the assignment process works for each branch of service. Third, God can easily direct the mind of the key assignment person that writes your husband’s orders.
By the way, the changed assignment I mentioned above ended up being one of the most crucial assignments for my husband’s military career, and one of the most rewarding for my family and me. Trust God to direct your next assignment, even if your orders are changed!
What is your normal response to unexpected changes? What do you learn about flexibility from Philippians 4:12–13?
Lord, help me to learn to trust your plan. Give me a flexible spirit that does not fight against revisions to my plan. Amen.
The Interrogation Room
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 everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”-Acts 16:25-31
Our passports arrived. We were ready to join my husband in Korea. We knew this move would offer our family a unique view of Asian culture. Germany had felt far away from home, but now the move to Korea seemed like going to another planet. The long flight did nothing to dispel that opinion!
We landed and joined the line for Immigration Control. I handed over our passports. Two were stamped and then, while examining the third, the agent looked at me strangely—the kind of look you do not want to come your way in such a place. He said, “Step this way, ma’am.” My boys and I were ushered into a small room. I had no idea what was happening. It felt like a bad spy movie. My imagination went wild as I sat and waited for the interrogation to begin. Korean officers entered the room with our passports in hand.
“Why are you in Korea?” “How long will you stay?” The questions went on. Eventually I learned that the passport for my youngest son lacked a status of forces agreement (SOFA) stamp. I had noticed the discrepancy when our passports arrived, but I concluded he was too young to need it. The military provided our passports and I assumed they were correct. Silly, silly me!
When Paul traveled he had certain rights as a Roman citizen, but the local authorities did not initially respect his rights. He was unlawfully beaten and thrown into jail. We were treated with respect and kindness in Korea, but we were still emotionally rattled. The authorities gave us a temporary entry stamp and assured us we could procure a permanent SOFA stamp from the embassy. The Lord knows how to help us even when red tape entangles our lives.
God worked things out for Paul and Silas as well. When the city officials learned that Paul was a Roman citizen, they came to his cell and personally apologized. Of greater importance was the conversion of the jailor and his family, which may not have happened if Paul had not been thrown in jail in the first place. Military dependents live under the laws of the homeland, and when assigned overseas, under the laws of a foreign land. More importantly, we live under the laws of the Lord. Sister, be encouraged, because God tends to rule in our favor.
Has red tape been an obstacle in any of your PCS moves? What keeps you from viewing such obstacles as opportunities?
Lord, help me see myself as your representative wherever you lead me. Use me to share your love with others today. Amen.
Be a Berean
The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.-Acts 17:10-11
One of the unexpected blessings of military life for me has been the discovery of a unique women’s ministry. Protestant Women of the Chapel (PWOC) is a military chapel sponsored ministry with the goals of leading women to Christ, teaching women the Word of God, developing spiritual gifts in women, and involving women in chapel ministry. My association with PWOC began during our first assignment, and many years later, the ties are still strong.
When our family arrived at each new duty station, one of the first things I did was search for a PWOC chapter. I knew I would find sisters in Christ who were eager to study God’s Word. My deepest friendships were nurtured through participation in PWOC. Most importantly, my relationship with the Lord grew as women challenged me to go deeper with God. We dropped rank, ethnicity, and denominational differences at the door. Our common love for Jesus bound us together.
Paul’s encounter with the Bereans reminds me of my encounter with PWOC. The Scripture passage describes this group as noble, eager, and committed. They were noble, not because of their birth, but because of their willingness to learn. Their willingness resulted in an eagerness to study God’s Word and hear from him. Paul arrived in Berea on the heels of some jealous Jews who wanted him out of Thessalonica.
On the one hand, it must have been refreshing to arrive in Berea and meet people who did not care about social status. On the other hand, they did not accept Paul’s teaching without question. They tested and confirmed Paul’s message with the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament) and prophecies. The Bereans eagerly awaited the Messiah. When they heard Paul’s message, they wanted to receive it but also made sure to verify his words.
Not every military installation is fortunate enough to sponsor a PWOC group, but wherever you go, commit yourself to living like a Berean. Make sure that what you read and what others teach you lines up with the Scriptures, and associate with those who have a hunger for God’s Word.
How are you living like a Berean? How can studying God’s Word with others help you adjust to a new duty station?
Lord, increase my love for your Word. Give me a spirit of discernment to test the teaching I hear. Protect me from false teaching and foolish doctrine. Amen.
A Fond Farewell
And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.-Acts 20:36-38
During a traditional military Hail and Farewell those being hailed are normally recognized but not given an opportunity to speak, whereas those who are leaving are often asked if they have anything to say. The same pattern is true for change of command ceremonies. Protocol offers the outgoing commander more freedom with the length of remarks, but the incoming commander is limited to a few succinct comments. Farewell remarks about shared events and actions can be emotional and heartfelt. An organization develops a special bond through both good times and difficult periods together.
In the verses immediately preceding today’s reading (Acts 20:17–35), the apostle Paul bids farewell to a group of people for whom he cared deeply. He recounted the times of great success and recalled the events that brought tears. He assured them that the Spirit of God motivated all he did for them for their good. He expressed concern for their future and cautioned them to continue to faithfully follow the Lord. He shared with them what he believed to be the challenges awaiting him and asked for their prayers.
The farewell ended with tears, hugs, kisses, and prayers. An uninformed observer would have easily surmised that the people cared deeply about one another.
When we think about issues pertaining to a PCS, our thoughts focus mainly on the hail and not the eventual farewell. Here is a challenge: start mentally writing your farewell speech the day you arrive. By this, I mean be intentional about making a difference in people’s lives. Along with your plans of where to go on leave and what to see and do over long weekends, look early on to determine whom you can encourage, where in the community you can help, and what role you can play in church or chapel.
If we approach a new assignment with the attitude of Paul—to serve others and follow the leading of God’s Spirit, then our farewell memories will already be written in the hearts of those we come to know.
Spend time today writing a farewell speech you would like to give when you leave this assignment. What must be your priorities in order to be able to give your speech when you leave?
Now to him who is able to keep me from stumbling and to present me blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (See Jude 24–25.)
Just Show Up!
And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage.-Acts 28:15
Our family has experienced arriving at a new duty station and receiving a warm welcome as well as arriving at a new duty station thinking that someone engraved “ignore me” on our foreheads. I prefer the warm welcome—what about you? All branches of military service put forth an effort to provide information to new residents, and the military as a whole has a welcoming culture.
The scene in Acts 28:15 describes Paul’s arrival in Italy after a long and hazardous journey. A shipwreck, a snakebite, and a three-month unexpected layover in Malta were not on the original itinerary (Acts 27). The challenging trip made the welcome Paul received from the Jewish Christians in Rome even more special. Paul thanked God at the sight of these folks walking down the road. No one called them on a cell phone to let them know Paul arrived. They did not receive a telegram from sea to inform them the ship would be in port. The Holy Spirit sent them on their journey—over thirty miles!—at just the right time to give Paul the welcome of a dignitary. They traveled the distance with no agenda but to show up and welcome him to the neighborhood.
The actions of the Roman Jews inspire me. I think of the times I made excuses to stay safe within my four walls. The effort to meet new people seemed overwhelming. I never think how my “showing up” might encourage someone else. Folks put great effort into planning newcomer gatherings, Bible studies, church services, spouse gatherings, and even information briefings. I tend to have a selfie attitude when I move—people are supposed to show up for me. What difference would it make if I turned the focus around?
Friend, no one may welcome you to your new duty station as if you were a dignitary. In fact, you too may feel like someone stamped “ignore me” on your forehead. May I encourage you to guard against making excuses that will keep you from showing up. Your presence could be just the encouragement someone else needs. Where will you show up today?
What are ways that people have made you feel welcome when you arrive in a new place? When has someone showing up made a difference in your life?
Lord, thank you for the many times people have shown up and blessed me with their presence. Help me to be willing to show up for others and not discount the ministry of my presence in their lives. Amen.
Resources & Info
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- Small Group Resource: Directed 1 - Leader's Guide
- Small Group Resource: Directed 1 - Participant's Guide