Paul sure had a story, didn’t he? Before Christ, Paul/Saul had an enviable life. Respectable Jew by birth, Roman citizen, trained in the most elite religious group. Considering all that, most scholars expect he was well-educated and financially comfortable. He was not just accepted but respected by those that mattered in his time.
Then he had that pesky, glorious encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), and Jesus irrevocably changed him.
Things were different for Paul after that. People were always trying to kill him, especially the Pharisees with whom he had been so close. He was often beaten, stoned, and arrested. Sometimes he had to sneak out of town. In 2 Corinthians 6 alone, Paul writes of “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.” Jump over to 2 Corinthians 11 and you see Paul is experiencing “danger” from just about everyone and everywhere imaginable. His Roman citizenship bought him a private, more humane execution than other Christians received, but that was about the only leniency he encountered.
The perplexing (and vitally important) twist is that Paul was always talking about how joyful and content he was. All that torture, looming death, being despised–none of it compared to his hope and joy in Jesus.
I’ve often dismissed this by saying, “Yeah, yeah, but that was Paul. He was like the greatest missionary ever. He was different.”
But he wasn’t different. He was a man, and no man enjoys hungry, sleepless nights in cold prisons or waiting on their impending death sentence. Paul knew how to keep the eyes of his heart focused on eternity, though. He kept the eternal perspective, and he was only able to do that because he submitted continually to the grace of his beloved Savior.
Lord, pour out Your grace on us that we might be joyful and content in all things, not because they’re enjoyable but because we know we have the greatest of all joys coming soon.