There is this space between the beginning of a dream and the realization of it. It can be vast and long. It can get dangerous. It can even be deadly. In this space between, the reason for beginning is long behind you and the purpose for pursuing is not so easily seen up ahead.
It’s the middle.
The in-between of hearing the call and seeing the finished outcome.
I know a guy who was called to preach. Called out of a rigid but easy-to-follow, well-worn path to success and into an unknown place of wonder. This dream, this calling, set his soul ablaze in ways he couldn’t ignore. So he obeyed.
He stepped up and stepped out. Traveling all over the region with new found passion, his ministry exploded like wildfire. The crowds devoured the message of salvation he brought, and raved about the miracles God did through his willingness to serve- word was spreading across the globe about his ministry.
This preacher guy is the Apostle Paul. God had specifically called him to preach the message of Jesus to the gentiles (non-Jews). (Acts 9) God planted a dream of taking the gospel to all nations. And Paul did, just check out the map in the back of your Bible, the dude had huge frequent flier miles FOR SURE. But then there’s this moment where the heat is turned up in his regular travels and things are disrupted. Paul gets falsely accused and caught up in a dispute between religious leaders. In the midst of all the turmoil God says to Paul, “Don’t fret, just as you’ve been preaching me here in Jerusalem, you’re going to preach about me in Rome.” (Acts 23:11) Paul is reminded of his calling and directed out of his comfort zone.
This trip to Rome gives Paul the chills, but he’s shackled to a boat with a bunch of criminals and held under a rather stern Roman guard, he couldn’t easily transfer his ticket. The weather starts out bad and gets worse. It’s the most vicious storm, ever. Things are tossed overboard, people are arguing and getting aggressive under the tension. Sails are whipped, the hull of the ship is creaking. It looks downright dire.
Surely this calling is sinking. Surely the plan to get to Rome will never happen. It can’t get much worse than a sinking ship, tossed by the waves and battered by the storm. I don’t know what Paul thought he heard about going to Rome to preach, but surely he heard wrong.
In the middle of the storm, while the ship takes a “violent battering”, Paul seeks God. (I mean, what else does one do when the middle feels like an ending). And right there God reminds Paul of the purpose for the voyage, “Don’t fret, Paul. You must speak before the Roman government. So I gotchya and I’ll keep your shipmates safe too. Keep up your courage.” (Acts 27:23-24)
Ok, wait. There they are huddled together in the downpour. The ship is splintering into shards, the sails are whipping in hurricane like flurry. There is not a single source of direction- not sun, not moon, not stars, not an ounce of land in sight- in fact they can’t even tell the difference between sky and water. Hope is lost. Death is imminent. And God says: Keep courage.
Paul’s in the middle. He’s left the shore and not yet made it to the other side. He’s been called out of his comfort zone and he’s on a sinking ship.
Take courage. Hold on.
The ship crashes. There’s death threats and arguments over where they are and where they can go. But instead of caving, Paul and his shipwrecked mates cling to the promise God spoke back in the beginning. “I have faith in God that it will happen just as He told me.” (Acts 27:25)
Paul chose to act on promise, to keep up the passion of his purpose.
In this great detour from his journey to Rome, God sets Paul up. Here on this foreign isle, after being shipwrecked, Paul is miraculously saved from a viper bite, which solidifies his testimony of who God is. Then he prays for a local’s ailing father, whom God heals and this story spreads to Rome. Once in Rome, the stern guard (the one who was shipwrecked with him) becomes his house arrest monitor (let’s call it a probation officer). And all of this gives Paul the space and opportunity to minister to Romans AND write four books for you and me. (Ephesians, Philipians, Colosians, and Philemon).
The storm benefited the outcome. It deepened faith and honed the calling. It sharpened the vision and solidified character. It felt like a detour, but instead, it was a set up.
Maybe this middle isn’t a lost cause. Maybe this middle is the foundation for the ending. I don’t know where you are in this voyage of dreaming. Perhaps you’ve just set sail. Or maybe you’ve arrived after a few detours and set backs of your own. Maybe you’re just like me and you are somewhere in the middle.
Take courage. Hold on.
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