I had a close friend in seminary that was going through some challenging times in her life shortly before entering seminary. In one year, she and her husband lost everything they had in a fire, her dad died, and she lost her job. Anybody experiencing what she did would have been more than a little miffed with God. It would have been easy to sink into a depression and to just feel sorry for herself. But that is not how she approached these very challenging experiences in life.
You see that year she and her husband were both considering entering into seminary to be clergy but had been hesitant. With the death of her father, who required a lot of care, she know had the time. With the lose of everything in the apartment fire she no longer had a lease to worry about and now had less things to move. Then her last barrier was her job. So why not give this seminary thing a try. She had nothing else to lose. Perhaps, God was speaking to her in that one horrible year.
Life is what we make out of it. We can allow for our struggles to destroy our lives and to shake our faith. Or we can choose to make something meaningful out of those troubles. A mentor of mine once said, “Amanda every experience we have can be used in ministry”. I would venture to say that every experience we have can be used in the formation of a stronger faith in God and a stronger commitment to his way. But that will not happen on it’s own. We need to take an active role in shaping how we view our troubles. We need to refuse to allow hardships to imprison us and control us when we could learn from them and use them to help others.
Our scriptures for today are all about this. Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy experienced hardship after hardship when they were on the road with the message of Christ. They were repeatedly imprisoned, put in the stocks, beaten, and threatened with death. Paul and Silas were beaten with rods before being imprisoned in Philippi. Yet they didn’t sit there feeling sorry for themselves. They did not lose faith in the message of Christ. They did not allow their physical pain or mental anguish imprison their heart though physically they were in prison. And we are not to allow life or other people to dictate to us what life looks like.
Paul and Silas used this opportunity to seek out God’s message in the hardship and to seek to use the experience for the work of Christ. They did not look the other way when the prison guard tried to commit suicide. They stayed his hand and introduced him to a life changing faith in Jesus. Thucydides of the 5th century BC once said, “The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage”. For Paul and the early Christians, it matter little to them what they suffered if they had the chance to make a difference in the world around them and to bring faith to a people in need.
We are called to use our trials in this life to help lift up one another in our faiths. We are called not to allow ourselves to wallow in our troubles but rather to allow for them to inspire us to more in life, to allow for them to inspire us to help others and to do the work of God. Every experience we have in life can be used to change the world. Every experience has something that can be learned and shared. Instead of allowing troubles, to imprison us spiritually and emotionally let’s allow for those same troubles to inspire our hearts to faith and trust in God. Let’s allow for those troubles to encourage our words and actions to work towards reaching out to those in need.
Sometimes our experiences and trials could be the story to helps someone else in their struggles. The stresses of my friends in seminary inspired them to answer a call to the ministry. The stresses and struggles they faced helped to build me up when my life became increasingly more complicated as I went through my education and I was increasingly struggling to see beyond my experiences. Who would have thought a fire, the death of a parent, and the loss of a job could have such an effect in the world. We never know how God might use our troubles, we only need to be like Paul and Silas and keep our hearts open to the possibilities that God has for us as a people of faith.
Remember what happened when Paul and Silas were in prison in Philippi, “When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out and said, “Men, what must I do to be saved?” Through all that they experienced they maintained faith in a good loving God and they prayed and sang and God revealed how they were to use their imprisonment. God revealed that this would bring the centurion to faith with his household which would forever change how this man interacted with society and the world. So how might God be using your life struggles to deepen your faith and change the world around you? The next time you are struggling and want to become wrapped in your troubles remember the goodness of God and keep your hearts open to how God may be asking you to use your experiences to help someone else in need. This is our challenge as we move forward in our faiths. This is our challenge as followers of Christ.
 Thucydides, 5th century BC Philosopher.
 Acts 16: 27-30, RSV.
(based on Psalm 97 and Acts 16: 16-34)