Today’s scripture: Acts 14:21-28 (NRSV) (The Message)

As you read, consider: What might God be saying to me? Summarize your thoughts in a sentence or two.

My thoughts (Jeff Miner):

When I read today’s passage, I was powerfully drawn to the last sentence in verse 22, where Paul says, “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.” I found myself captured by this thought and needing to understand it better. So I’ve been wrestling with it, and here’s what I think:

The word “must” leaps off the page. Paul doesn’t say that we “might” have to go through persecutions to enter the kingdom. He doesn’t even say “probably.” He says that it is a “must.” There is no way to enter God’s realm, Paul says, unless we are willing to go through persecutions and able to keep our faith while doing so.

What does “persecutions” mean? You’ll recall from yesterday’s reading that Paul himself had just been stoned almost to death. Most early Christians didn’t face that level of persecution, but all of them faced hardship in life — as do we. How we react to those hard times will determine whether we make it into the kingdom of God.

How so? When some people encounter hard times, they get angry with God, grow cynical, and walk away from their faith. Others respond by drawing ever closer to God, knowing that through God they will find the strength not just to endure, but to prevail in the midst of hardship. As a result, their soul grows much stronger and are made ready for Heaven. I read a story recently that captures this notion.

Writing in Marriage Partnership Magazine (fall 2007), Dick Peterson tells how his wife Elizabeth was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He tells how Elizabeth’s MS has dramatically changed their lives, forcing her into a wheelchair, causing her to lose the use of her hands; forcing him to become her primary care giver, the only one who is able to do physical tasks around the house. He tells of their prayers for healing and their hope for a day with Elizabeth will be better, but goes on to say: “If we only grieve the loss, we miss the gain — that what this disease does to us may also be done for us.”

What possible good could MS do for Dick and Elizabeth? According to Dick, Elizabeth is learning firsthand that her soul is more important than her body, while he is learning what Jesus meant when he taught his disciples to serve. Jesus washed his disciples feet and said, “Do what I have done.” When Dick washes his wife’s clothes and helps her bathe, he is being Jesus to her — and growing his soul enormously. For Dick and Elizabeth, MS is part of their journey to spiritual wholeness. They “must” pass through it.

Their hardship may not be ours. But we will have our own. How we react will make all the difference. “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.”

Thought for the day: Don’t view hardships as a sign that life has gone awry. Embrace them as learning opportunities for the soul.

We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. If you need a place to get started, consider the guidelines on the How to Pray page.

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