God’s Grace in the Pause

The entire world is in a collective pause.

It’s unprecedented, really. Schools are shut down, businesses are closed, most states are under a government-mandated stay-at-home order. Most of us have never experienced anything like this in our lifetimes, and we’re trying to come to terms with the sheer lack of busy-ness suddenly thrust upon us.

Some are using this time to rest, others to get active. Some are using it to learn a new skill, while others are, for once, doing absolutely nothing. Some people are creating, while others are consuming all the books, movies, and tv shows they can. Some are reconnecting with families while disconnecting with everything else.

There are lots of ways to view this quarantine and endless number of ways to spend it. But today, as I was doing my daily Bible study, I was confronted with something else.

In the book of Acts, Paul is arrested while preaching in Jerusalem. The uproar against him was so great that Roman officials were forced to evacuate him to Caesarea for his own protection, as a plot to kill him before his trial surfaced. He stood before Felix, the governor of Jerusalem, and admitted his devotion to Jesus while denying the charges of unrest and sedition brought forth by his Jewish accusers. Although it was obvious to Felix that Paul had committed no crime, still he held him in prison, hoping for a bribe from either party to sway his decision.

It never came, and Paul sat in prison for two years, declared neither guilty nor innocent.

Much has been written about Paul’s faithful during this time, how God used his time in prison, not only to strengthen his faith, but also to witness to the Roman authorities around him. During this time, his platform to preach in front of some of the most influential people in the Roman Empire was elevated, and the gospel spread through Paul’s hardship, a valuable and powerful testimony to the saving grace of God.

But what struck me as I read this passage this morning wasn’t about Paul. It was about his accusers. God graciously provided the Sanhedrin over two years to step back from their charges against him, from their anger and their hate. (See Acts 24:27) Two years for Paul’s words to seep into their hearts, change their minds, open their eyes. Two years to repent from violation of God’s law, a law which they claimed to champion. Two years to right a serious wrong.

And they didn’t.

After two years, Paul was finally brought before the new governor, Porcius Festus. These same Jewish leaders, even after two years of waiting, still tried to persuade the governor to bring Paul back to Jerusalem for another trial in hopes of ambushing and killing him along the way. (See Acts 25:3)

Two full years had gone by, and these men still had murder in their hearts. God had graciously given them a pause. A time to reflect, repent, and receive…and they had wasted it.

Maybe that’s what God is giving us, too.

In the usual busy-ness of our daily lives, it’s so easy to overlook sin. We’re distracted and over-burdened, too preoccupied with the here and now to even glance at the future. The Bible commands us to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17) and yet who has the time for that? Not when there’s work, school, extracurriculars, hobbies, meetings, phone calls, conferences…

Until now.

Now we are in a season of marked un-busy-ness. God willing, I hope it’s not two full years like the Sanhedrin had but, like them, we have been given this time of pause, of reflection, of repentance. We’ve been given this time to take a breath and take a look at our lives and our hearts.

Is there sin there you’ve been meaning to deal with? Anger, unforgiveness, resentment? Maybe it’s a habit, maybe it’s an attitude. Maybe there’s a wall you’ve built between you and God that you’ve been meaning to take down but haven’t gotten around to it. Maybe it’s simply meeting with God at all. Whatever it is, I encourage you to take this time to address it. To confront it, to confess it.

To surrender it.

Like many of you, I’m anxious for life to return to normal. I miss my friends. I miss church. I miss Target. But, in this rush to return to “normal,” perhaps we need to take this time to consider what’s actually worth returning to, and what’s not.

Because God’s grace is in the pause. Let’s not miss it.

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