November 10, 2014
When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us.
If you’ve been with me for any length of time, you know by now I am master of the obvious insight. Here’s another one:
Chances are, your autobiography will never be written, unless you write it. And chances are you will never write it.
We’ve been tracking Paul for weeks now and the journey is coming to a close. Today, after more than two years, he finally sets sail for Rome.
As I turned the page into chapter 27, I found myself wanting to have a big picture view of Paul’s life. Sure, we get a two years here and three years there along the way from the text, but the Bible doesn’t offer us a nice and neat autobiographical timeline. I want to know how old Paul was when he held those coats at the stoning of Stephen? What was his age when he saw the blinding light on the Damascus Road? To track a person’s journey, accomplishments and achievements alongside their age always fascinates me. It’s fun to think about what Paul did by a certain age and compare it to all I hadn’t even come close to doing by that same age.
I thought it might be helpful to map it out in a simple way here. Note: scholars will debate timelines and dates until Jesus returns so I do not offer this as definitive. It’s a guideline to give us a sense of his life’s unfolding.
- Born somewhere around the year 2 to 4 A.D.
- From around age 10 to around 13 he was trained by Gamaliel in Jerusalem.
- Around the age of 29 he found himself holding the coats at the stoning of Stephen.
- From 29 to 30 he became the chief persecutor of Christians.
- At 30 he “saw the light” on the Damascus Road
- From 30 to 33 he was in Arabia, growing in his discipleship to Jesus.
- At 33 he returned to Jerusalem
- From 33 to 40 he is in Tarsus.
- At 40 He goes with Barnabas on the First Missionary Journey.
- At 41 he goes on the second missionary journey.
- At 44 he goes on the third missionary journey
- At 47 he’s back in Jerusalem and arrested and imprisoned in Casarea for two years.
- At 49 he is sent on the ship to Rome (today’s reading).
- From 50 to 52 he’s imprisoned in Rome when he begins to write his letters.
- From 53 to 56 he’s free again and at work.
- At 57 he’s imprisoned for the last time in Rome
- At around the age of 60 he’s executed.
It gives perspective doesn’t it. I’m 47 at the moment. When Paul was my age he was in prison and wouldn’t get out for another five years. In other words, things were going pretty badly for Paul at a prime season of his life. At the same time his most important and enduring work of writing letters to churches began to unfold.
Life is short and yet life is long. Sometimes what seem like the longest and most difficult (and even wasted) seasons in life turn out in retrospect to be both the shortest and most significant. It takes perspective to see it.
So back to your autobiography you will probably never get around to writing. Here’s a helpful and somewhat easy step to take in that direction. Timeline your life. Pick the key moments, seasons, relationships and events. Write them linearly across a page and simply put your age next to each of them.
Why do this? It is a powerful exercise in remembrance and reflection, two things we are in short supply of these days. The quiet and often unseen work of the Holy Spirit often becomes visible and clear through this kind of practice. Regardless, it will give much needed perspective and who knows, it could lead to some pretty significant decisions, maybe a course correction, or maybe just a long pause of gratitude.
I’m going to do it. Will you join me?
COME HOLY SPIRIT!
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