“Begin Again”: A Weekly Devotional for a New Year, Week 11

‘Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”

At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.’

Acts 5:17-21

There really are people who choose to explore caves deep, deep under the earth. They exist, but they are not “my people”. I’m in awe of them, because I could never, ever be one of them. I really dislike confined spaces. “Hate” is a better word. When I watch videos of people “spelunking” (exploring subterranean caves), my palms get sweaty, and my heartrate rises. And then one – or all – of the people I’m watching, try to squeeze through a space that they can barely fit through. Or they crawl on their stomach for hundreds of yards to reach another, large cave. No Thank You.

You may not have been spelunking, but perhaps you’ve had the feeling of being trapped: An elevator that stalled; a Ferris wheel that stopped; a closet your brother or sister locked you in. That is a bad feeling: “I want out, now! Who will come, and let me out! I think I have to go to the bathroom!” Those are the physical spaces we sometimes get trapped in, and they help us to understand spiritual spaces that operate in a similar way.

A confined spiritual space might look like: an addiction; an inability to keep yourself from saying what you think, so that you constantly hurt people with your words; an unholy desire to win at all costs; a fear of commitment, or over commitment that dissipates into having to quit almost everything – and a hundred other things, besides. Primarily, it looks like what the Bible calls “sin”: Yes, an act that breaks God’s law, but also a condition – like a fever – that gives birth to sins. We can’t rescue ourselves from the confines of this fever dream, and what we do, over and over, in the dream.

A jail – usually reserved for those whose sin has become unmanageable, and hurt other people – seems like a spiritual cave to me: The worst combination of the physical and spiritual realities I just described. If you are in jail – rightly or wrongly – you want out. You want out, right now.

Do you remember the feeling of the elevator finally moving, and the doors opening? Or of the Ferris wheel beginning to turn? Or hearing your Mom say to your brother: “Where on earth is Sarah?!” Relief. Deep, incredible relief. Like someone or something completely outside the situation had come to the rescue. It’s the feeling the Apostles must have felt, when the angel unlocked the doors.

Almost everyone I know has a rescue story of some kind, and often it is a brush with death: a careless few seconds of speeding on the road; an addiction that began as a few glasses too many, too many nights of the week; a battle with cancer that turned into victory. These, and many more, are when God draws near and speaks to us. An angel, after all, is just a messenger – he only has God’s words to speak, and sometimes those words are actions: Deliverance, healing, new life on the other side of a jail of our own making, or one we were thrust into.

Have you been delivered? Would you like to be?

Prayer: Lord, I confess there was that time that you rescued me. I have tried to forget it – to push it out of my mind. To pretend it didn’t happen. But it did, and like the apostles I want to tell someone about it today. So I’ll begin with you: Thank you, God, for rescuing me. Please give me the strength to continue to heal and never return to that jail. Amen.

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