Paul had a lot to say as he wrote to the church in Rome, but there was a lot more he wanted to experience when he visited with them. Both at the beginning and at the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul talks of the anticipated fruit of face-to-face fellowship — “to be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (1:1) and to “be refreshed together with you” (15:32b). Encouraged and refreshed together, that’s what he anticipated — “in the fullness of the blessing of Christ” (15:29), “with joy” (15:32a). That’s what Paul asked the Romans to pray for.
Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, and that, by God’s will, I may come to you with joy and be refreshed together with you.
(Romans 15:31-32 CSB)
We sometimes say that God always answers prayer in one of three ways — “Yes”, “No”, or “Wait”. But hovering over the last verses of Romans 15 this morning, it seems that He might also answer, “Mostly yes”, or “Yes, but not in the way you expect.”
Paul did end up in Rome, but perhaps not quite in the way he had envisioned it. Though he knew in his heart that he would rub shoulders with the believers there, he thought it would be done freely in their gathering place and not from a place of Roman confinement.
Sure, prayer was answered, but not as anticipated. Yeah, he made it to Jerusalem and fulfilled his ministry to the “poor among the saints” (15:25-26). He did end up coming to Rome, and that as a “guest” of the Roman government (Acts 27:1). And Paul was “rescued from the unbelievers in Judea”, but only after significant conflict and not without significant, dragged-out consequence (Acts 21-26). I wonder, though, if Paul didn’t have in mind a “rescue” which would have avoided all together confrontation, incarceration, and years of repeated self-representation.
Nevertheless, Paul ended up in Rome. And I know it was all by God’s will.
Prayer answered. Outcome achieved. Not necessarily according to plan. Nevertheless, by God’s will.
Thinking there’s a takeaway here for me.
Oh, to submit to the sovereign purposes of God. To be content along His permitted paths. Okay with the reality that, while God may have given you insight as to the what of His plan for you, he reserved knowledge of the when and the how for Himself. To rest when God has landed you where you thought He would even though it wasn’t in the way you thought He would. To dare to be willing to ask to know the joy of being in Rome even when it’s from inside a Roman prison cell via a volatile Jerusalem.
By God’s will.
Enabled by God’s grace.
For God’s glory.