5 Foot, 3 Inches tall

Marcus Aurelius wrote, “…the impediment to action advances action.” In other words, what is an obstacle, something that inhibits forward progress, can be the impetus for forward progress.

I love that thought! But if I’m honest, I’ve let setbacks, hindrances, and my own weaknesses keep me from more fantastic things. Not something I’m proud of, for sure! But I’ve done it. Instead of keeping my cool and working hard to find another way, I’ve often given up. And with that, given up the opportunity that was just on the other side of what seemed unmovable. I lost resilience.

Reminds me of watching Muggsy Bogues play basketball!

Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues was the shortest player in NBA history, standing at 5 foot 3 inches tall. Instead of his size being an impediment, it became the way through. Even at 5’3″, Muggsy put together a successful 13-year career in the NBA. Instead of his size being an obstacle, he used it, hustling faster, stealing the ball, and being able to pass with style and grace, all while still scoring points. To him, his size was an asset. That’s what made the difference – he showed resilience and moved through the obstacle.

What if we changed our interpretation?

I also think the difference with Muggsy was his interpretation. He saw himself differently. He made an active choice to use what was in front of him. He perceived his impediment as an opportunity to take action and not allow it to hinder him.

Regardless of the difference, one thing is for sure. We will all face adversity. I had someone wise once tell me a little adversity never killed anyone, to which I replied, but what about all the martyrs? They died facing adversity. He softly replied that the physical body died, but their spirit did not – it was unbroken. Even in death, the biggest obstacle I can think of can still be the action to forward progress.

So if we’re gonna face adversity, let’s figure out how we can have resilience. And by resilience, I’m not talking about just surviving it, nor am I talking about going around it. I’m talking about going through it, trusting that the obstacle is God’s plan.

Before we continue the journey, let me be clear. It is unwise to drive through something as it can damage relationships. Knowing the difference takes discernment and trusting the Holy Spirit’s lead. That’s the key – it’s always following, never being driven.

Paul and Silas

Last week, we left off in Acts, where John and Peter faced an unfair arrest. Today we’ll pick up the same thread, a few chapters later, and two different people.

Paul, formerly a hater of Christianity, is now a formidable proponent for Jesus, taking the news about what God has done through Jesus to the world around him. He joins with a man named Silas, who quickly becomes his partner in ministry on his journey.

Now at this point in the story, Paul and Silas are traveling back to the places Paul previously visited and had shared the Gospel. While doing so, Paul receives a vision of a Macedonian man pleading with Paul, saying to come and help them. Paul discerns this as God’s calling them to preach in Macedonia, and they put to sea. Along their journey, they encounter Lydia, who accepts Jesus and is baptized along with her entire house. It’s here that our story for today takes.

Paul and Silas are seeking to tell anyone who will listen all about Jesus as they’re heading to the place of prayer in the country they are visiting. While doing so, a voice began to emerge, soft at first, but it became louder as they traveled. The voice repeatedly cried out, saying that Paul and Silas are servants of the Most High God who are proclaiming the way of salvation. This isn’t just some onlooker. This is a gal who has a spirit of fortune-telling in her. She’s being used by the spirit and her masters, specifically, to earn her masters money through the spirit fortune-telling.

Paul has just about all he can take. He gets annoyed. Maybe it’s in her voice. But it’s more likely that the spirit makes the connection between Paul and Silas and the Living God – probably similar to the way the spirit does with Jesus in Luke 8:28 and Mark 5:7. Paul likely didn’t want to acknowledge the demon saying this through the girl. It would connect the Gospel with the demonic, something Paul didn’t want muddying the Gospel. It had the potential to damage the message of Christ.

So Paul rebukes the spirit, casting it out in Jesus’ name, and the spirit obeys. Once the spirit leaves, her masters recognize their hope of making money off this girl is gone. Naturally, they get angry and seize Paul and Silas, bring them to the chief magistrates, and bring up some half-truth charges against them.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the crowd begins to gather around and against Paul and Silas. Caught up in its hysteria, the magistrates have Paul and Silas both stripped and beaten with rods.

Now, this isn’t your father’s switch from the backyard. These solid rods were made of birch wood. And just so you know, birch wood is both strong and heavy. It would make an excellent rod to beat someone with.

Roman tradition would have them beat all over their entire body. Sometimes the Romans would even hang the victim upside down and be at the bottom of their feet till bones were broken. My point is this wasn’t just a backyard whipping. After their humiliating beating, Paul and Silas are secured in stocks in the inner prison.

Now, I’ve seen some adversity in my life. I’ve faced some stuff. You’ve encountered some stuff. But I can safely say that neither of us has been beaten by the Romans with birch rods and thrown into a Roman prison. This could very well lead to a death sentence for Paul and Silas.

I would like to think that they were human, just like you and I. Maybe Paul and Silas despaired at some point during this experience. Perhaps they questioned this significant obstacle in their way. Luke doesn’t record that. But what he does record is a response of praise.

Acts 16:25 Now about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them

Even if they did despair and question God, they came to a place in their spirit where praise erupted from deep within them, a place that no rod could break or prison could hold. Resilience burst forth from their mouths despite what they were likely feeling!

While other prisoners listened in on Paul and Silas’ prayer and praise session, an earthquake shook the foundation of the prison. All the doors flung open, and all the chains were unfastened. Short version? God showed up.

Apparently, suicide was better than what the Roman government would have done to him, letting the prisoners escape because he was about to kill himself on his own sword. Paul yells out to him to stop and tells him all the prisoners are still there in the jail. The jailer calls for light (torches) and rushes in to examine himself. He brings Paul and Silas out, falls down in front of them, and asks a pretty awesome question!

Acts 16:30 “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

Interesting, right? The way was through the impediment. Not only was the jailer saved, but his entire household as well.

I know what you might be thinking… that’s the point of this post. Well, you’re partly right. The jailer being saved along with his family is a massive testimony to God using an obstacle as the means to forward progress. But let’s finish the story.

The jailer gets word that the chief magistrates wish to release Paul and Silas, and the jailer tries to get Paul and Silas to head out. But check this out!

Acts 16:37 But Paul said to them, “After beating us in public without due process—men who are Romans—they threw us into prison; and now they are releasing us secretly? No indeed! On the contrary, let them come in person and lead us out.”

Yep! Paul and Silas were Roman citizens…which means they were wrongfully imprisoned and beaten. Now don’t move past this too fast without asking an all-important question.

Why the heck didn’t Paul and Silas call upon their citizenship? I mean, they could have avoided the beating and subsequent imprisonment. The whole entire thing – sidestepped. They could’ve gone around the obstacle. Instead, they chose to move through the obstacle.

This is the way

In the popular Star Wars spin-off, The Mandalorian, Din Djarin often says, “This is the way” in the face of adversity. While the phrase is Din acknowledging and following Mandalorian ideals, he’s also subtly saying that what he’s about to meet head-on is the way. There isn’t any getting around it. He will come face to face with what’s ahead of him.

It’s almost as if that’s what Paul and Silas said to themselves when they realized they were in for a beating. They could have gotten around it but instead decided to say to themselves, “This is the way.”

But why? Well, just ask the jailer. And his family…and the people they shared with.

The way Paul and Silas chose established that the news about Jesus was for everyone. Salvation was for everyone. Not only that, but it was something worth suffering for; it was worth having resilience.

And there it is for you and me.

We avoid suffering. We all do. No one likes to suffer. For crying out loud, last night, I took an Advil before getting all snug in bed. Why? I had a slight headache. I wasn’t beaten with rods or chained in stocks. My head hurt just a little bit. And I took an Advil because I didn’t want to be in any pain. I’d rather avoid waking up with a headache in the morning.

I’m not advocating renouncing medication. That’s not my objective. My point, though, is we don’t like discomfort or suffering. Who does? So we avoid it. Runaway from it. And yet here in Acts 16, we find Paul and Silas running toward it, seeking out the obstacle. Why? Because they see it’s worth it for others to not just see them suffer but witness Who they suffer for.

Jesus Christ.

I ended last week’s post with a single thought that I want to echo again. Sometimes the breakthrough we need is just ahead. And yes, it may require us to move through it. Going around it may also be going around God’s will. He has something in store for each obstacle we face. He doesn’t waste anything.

So, what do we do?

First, we don’t respond out of pure emotion. Whatever it is, hit the pause button, and give space for God to speak. Allow the Holy Spirit to do what he does best…lead. When we’re in a hurry and running on emotion, we ignore any leading as we’re being driven. Remember, the Holy Spirit always leads, never drives.

Second, we explore options. What’s in front of us that can be used? God asked Moses what was in his hand before heading to Pharaoh. It was just a staff. But it was precisely what God used and was all Moses needed. Sometimes the answer is right there, but we can’t see it for the obstacle. Slowing down allows us to explore those options.

Finally, discern the selected option. I will go back to Paul and Silas. As they were sailing, they tried to go to several areas before Paul received the vision to go to Macedonia. Luke tells us in Acts that the Holy Spirit stopped them several times and then opened the door for Macedonia. While I’ve never had a vision like Paul’s, I have had times where I’ve tried to move in a specific direction and strongly sensed it wasn’t the direction. And when I wasn’t sure, I would fall back on the following formula.

  • Godly Counsel (Seeking experience of others and their reasoning)
  • Godly Scripture (Making sure it doesn’t conflict with Scripture)
  • Godly Prayer (Giving time again for the Holy Spirit to speak)

If I could do all three of those and find I still had peace, I would move. There are times when facing an obstacle where multiple ways manifest, and I’ve not sensed a solid direction one way or the other. It’s those times that I’ve come to recognize the fact that God will take care of me and bless me either way I choose. He’s leaving the decision up to me.

The bottom line is this – the obstacle is most often how God desires to work in and through us. There’s always purpose and meaning. But we must first change the way we see the impediment for the impediment advances action. And that takes resilience. The impediment will knock us down.

But we can get back up again!

You are loved!