In the book of Acts the dynamic, globe-trotting ministry of the Apostle Paul came to a screeching halt when he, ironically, came back to Jerusalem and decided to worship in the Temple. He was arrested by Roman authorities based on Jewish charges of religious defamation and heresy (Acts 21). The rest of Acts consists of plots to kill Paul, hearings, legal motions, and a harrowing travel journal. It is, for any fans of John Grisham, a legitimately exciting and engaging story.
But as I have been reading this section of Acts again the last couple of days the timing of things caught my attention. Paul’s Christian life has been something of a whirlwind. Destinations, accusations, riots, jail-time, a failed execution attempt and much more . This kind of high-impact, high adventure lifestyle, though dangerous and exhausting, could have easily become addictive. And really that’s the problem with excitement: once it’s finished everything else just seems plain and dusty.
I have to wonder if Paul, after keeping that kind of pace and tension, didn’t struggle a bit once he was in custody. Even though the custody was more like a light-weight version of house arrest, it was certainly far less adrenalized than being in jail in Philippi or talking with some of the smartest people in the world at Mars Hill. Luke records it simply this way:
So [Felix the governor] sent for him often and conversed with him. when two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.
For two years all of Paul’s adventures had been boiled into this period of time in the Roman witness protection service, with nothing but a bunch of conversations over coffee with the governor. The apostle who’d preached to hostile crowds, who’d been opposed as well as celebrated, who’d been beaten and stoned and plotted against and loved and hated by people all over Asia – this man was now just one half of a perpetual afternoon chat. That must have been difficult to deal with, right? Surely Paul struggled a bit, wondering why his gifts, his abilities, his courage and his spirit of determination wasn’t being utilized by God.
The author, Luke, never sees fit to deal with Paul’s personal frustrations or emotional challenges throughout this period of his life, so any reading into this time is purely speculation. But what we do know is that Paul trusted deeply in the will of God. In at least three opening greetings in his letters (1 Cor 1.1; Eph. 1.1; 1 Tim 1.1) Paul said that he was who he was, and presumably went where he went as an apostle, because of the “will of God.” There were no insignificant moments for Paul. There were no periods where God wasn’t working, wasn’t watching or wasn’t walking with the servant whom He loved.
It seems then, that each and every conversation Paul had with Felix, and later with Agrippa, were not just a way to bide time, but they were moments infused with meaning by God Himself. In the case of Agrippa we see that Paul’s conversation with the king caused him to rumble and quake from the wind of the Spirit that rode the tide of Paul’s words deep into crevices of the noble’s soul. These weren’t just conversations, they were sacred moments. And Paul’s ministry hadn’t ended, it had just taken a new shape in the context in which he found himself.
At some point we have to begin shedding the old skins of expectations. Too many followers of Jesus are tempted to think that living in God’s will for their lives is something that must either takes place on a stage or in another country or in some grandiose, spectacle. But these two years of Paul’s life point to the fact that being a minister or missionary or effective follower of Jesus does not have to be an all-or-nothing pursuit of notoriety or renowned.
Most of us will not stand on a stage, speaking or singing to a sea of faces, but all of us will inevitably find ourselves sipping coffee or tea with someone. And if we can follow the example of Paul in Acts, and Jesus in the Gospels, what we might come to realize is this: God has never led us to sit across the table from someone without the hope that the moment will lead both people to a deeper, more intimate knowledge of Him, of each other and of the truth.
There are no such things as unimportant conversations. There are no such things as common moments for anyone who’s soul is haunted by the Ghost of God. Each moment becomes sacred, regardless of where and regardless of who. So take confidence that your lack of “stage time” has nothing to do with your lack of impact, obedience or effectiveness.