Paul spent between five and six years in prison. I’m just guessing, but I imagine he asked, Why am I here?
In fact, I imagine he got more than a little irritated with God, the One able to free him, and asked why he was entrusted with the Gospel to the Gentiles if he was going to spend his days locked up. If God spent fourteen years mentoring him in the deserts of Arabia, why did He leave him locked up, compromised, and hamstrung in various prisons instead of setting him free to preach?
Paul was about thirty when he became a follower of Jesus Christ. He was forty-three or four when he began his ministry and he was murdered for his faith nineteen years later. This means that Paul spent about thirty percent of his ministry life locked up in jail.
Is it a stretch to assume he asked, why? Why am I here? What’s going on? Lord God, what are you thinking? What are you doing? Why is this happening?
You can’t read much of Paul without realizing he had a fire in his gut. He had visions, dreams, calling. He had places to go and people to see. It was the first century, time to spread Christianity, and the man entrusted with the Gospel to the Gentiles is locked up. He was a man on a mission, a mission given to him by God.
Why was he hamstrung in prison? The devil sure shut him down, didn’t he? Why didn’t God spring him free?
We can see it through the lens of history. Paul wouldn’t have penned the letters that comprise thirteen of our twenty-seven New Testament books if he wasn’t chained to a chair. He would have been out and about, doing what he did when he wasn’t writing. Who has time to do thoughtful writing when they are running here and there and everywhere? No one, including the Apostle Paul apparently.
Can’t you hear Paul asking God? How many times do you suppose the man buried his head in his arms and cried for deliverance? How many quills do you suppose he splintered in frustration? How many screaming, scroll-throwing tantrums do you figure he had? How many curses did he utter? How many complaints to anyone who would listen? How many prayers did he pray, how many counselors did he consult, and how many favors did he call in to get him out—only to be left at the end of the day with, why?
I don’t know, and often God isn’t saying.
But Father God has a plan. If we visit with Him, He lets us know the part we play in hopes that we will be obedient. Sometimes, He narrows the circumstances if He deems our focus important enough that we not digress too far right or left.
For me, when life narrows I ask “why” a lot more than normal. I’m more prone to push and calculate and doubt when I’m under duress.
There isn’t anything wrong with this, I don’t think. The “why” keeps me honest, keeps me searching, keeps me asking, keeps me from drifting, or from taking life at face value. The “why” fuels my mind, and the lack of an answer—eventually—chains me to my proverbial chair to perform in obedience the narrow mission given me, a mission sometimes known only to God.