Last night Mara surprised me by going through her bedtime routine without us even knowing about it. She came into the living room dressed in her pj’s with a great big smile on her face. When I asked her what was going on, she replied, “Mama, I know I always complain when we’re getting ready for bed, so today I decided to do everything by myself, so you wouldn’t have to hear me complain!” All I could do was Selah! (Selah is a Hebrew word used frequently in the Psalms, which means pause and calmly think of that.)
This morning her words were still rolling around in my head. How – at 6 years old – could she recognize and acknowledge a specific situation in which she was prone to complain? And not only that, but to intentionally take action to keep history from repeating itself. Maybe her words stayed in my head because I had set myself up to complain just yesterday afternoon when I didn’t allow enough time to get us out of the house before going to gymnastics. Or maybe it was because I haven’t had the urge to write for several weeks now (in case you’ve noticed). I’ve just been waiting for God to give me something to say. Turns out He gave Mara something worth saying.
Since I last posted, we have continued to follow Paul on his third missionary journey. In today’s study, we catch up to Paul on the last leg of this journey. Go ahead and read Acts 20:13-27. I’ll warn you that the beginning of the passage includes several cities that may be unfamiliar. Just push through, saying the names confidently … Don’t even think of using them as an excuse to get out of reading the rest. (Yes, I’m talking to you. Laughing.)
If you look earlier in Acts 20, you’ll see that Paul and his traveling partners (once again including Luke, the writer of Acts) begin our passage in Troas. They are headed to Jerusalem, making several pit stops along the way. One stop Paul was trying to steer clear of was Ephesus, but Paul wasn’t avoiding the Ephesians altogether. Luke tells us (vs. 17) that Paul “sent to Ephesus and summoned the elders of the church [to come to him there].” (Amplified). So if he wanted to talk to the elders, why wouldn’t he just go to Ephesus?
We discussed a few of the possibilities in Tentmakers on Sunday. Maybe there was still some unrest after the Artemis (Diana) riot (Acts 19:23-20:1). Maybe Paul was afraid that the need would be so great that he wouldn’t be able to leave in time to make it to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost (Acts. 20:16). In verse 25, Paul tells the elders that this is goodbye. Maybe he couldn’t bear the thought of saying that to the whole congregation. Maybe … (you can fill in your own “maybe”). The ‘Maybe ...’ I filled in this morning came from Mara’s statement about avoiding complaining. I wonder if Paul sensed that he would be tempted to complain about (and work on) the problems he would see in the church from close-up instead of keeping the focus on his farewell address.
Now What? Well, next week we’ll be studying the rest of Paul’s message to the Ephesian elders. Until then, I challenge you to do what I’ll be doing for the foreseeable future: Recognize and acknowledge when and where you may be tempted to complain, and (like Mara … and maybe Paul) do something intentional to turn your complaining into a great big smile. “… if only I may finish my course with joy and the ministry which I have obtained from … the Lord Jesus, faithfully to attest to the good news (Gospel) of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24). Selah!