I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death [Phil 1:20]

“What a fool I have been, to lie like this in a stinking dungeon, when I could have just as well walked free. In my chest pocket I have a key called Promise that will, I am thoroughly persuaded, open any lock in “Doubting-Castle.” “Then,” said Hopeful, “that is good news. My good brother, do immediately take it out of your chest pocket and try it.” Then Christian took the key from his chest and began to try the lock of the dungeon door; and as he turned the key, the bolt unlocked and the door flew open with ease, so that Christian and hopeful immediately came out.” [From Pilgrim’s Progress, written by John Bunyan]

Paul had one passion: to spread the glory of Christ to the ends of the earth. He saw the beauty of Jesus and that vision radically changed the trajectory of his life. He was not only saved, he was sent. You could not separate Paul’s mission from his life. He was obedient to his commission and he went. His obedience not only led him into great victories for the cause of his Lord, it also led him into shipwrecks, beatings and prisons. That is where we find him in our text.

I think we all have times when we have done things right and got ourselves in trouble. Our experience may have been surprising but it was not unique. Joseph, Daniel and John the Baptist and a host of faithful witnesses have done what was right and because they did were thrown into jail. Those moments are groaning and growing times. One moment we are feeling the winds of God’s pleasure pushing us onward and the next moment we find ourselves shipwrecked, dead in the water. It is a perilous time where many disturbing questions can afflict our peace and confidence.

For over forty years I was a part of the ministry of a local church. Every week Sunday stood before me as a goal and an opportunity to fulfill my calling. The needs of the church family provided me with plenty of opportunities to find joy in personal ministry to my church family throughout the week. That has now changed. I am pretty much “out there,” much of the time alone, writing or preparing for ministry to people with whom I will spend little face-to-face time with. I confess I have had times when I wondered what God was doing, wondered if my best days were behind me.

But, like Christian, I have been given a key that I have hid in the pocket of my heart. Those promises, remembered and believed, open the door and set me free from “Doubting Castle.” Here is what came to me this morning in a little one room school house in the midst of the cornfields of Wisconsin. The promises I found are in Isaiah 43.

But now, this is what the LORD says — he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

First, I realize that some sanctified interpretation is needed. This is written in poetic language and it is specifically written to the people of Israel. I need to do some hermeneutics so that what was said then to Israel can be applied to me now. I know that we who are in the Church of Jesus Christ are a part of the new Israel. The promises of God to them are promises to me in Jesus Christ. The same God who created and formed Israel created and formed me. I am owned by Him. His name is on me. I exist for his glory and he takes his glory very seriously. He simply will not allow any “accident,” “tragedy” or “enemy” to keep Him from glorifying His awesome name in and through his people. That means me!

Second, there will be waters, rivers and fires to pass through. That is the nature of the pilgrimage. The glory of our God is seen not just when He delivers us from trouble but when he delivers us through trouble. When we are joyful in prosperity we are no different from the world. But when we are joyful in adversity, we display an unseen but powerful illustration of God’s faithfulness operating in our hearts. We have the assurance that we may suffer and we may go through dark times, but they won’t last. They will end in God’s time when they have fulfilled His purposes.

It is crucial for us to know that God’s ultimate purpose in all of His works is to enable me to see and enjoy more of His majesty. Life is so much bigger and wonderful and eternal than our puny desires for safety and comfort. As we enjoy Him above all other things, He is glorified. We will spend the rest of our days both now and into eternity discovering the infinite perfections of our God. So, the Lord says in Isaiah 43:10, “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He.”

One of the truths that keep us strong and persevering in joy is the promise of future, greater blessings. The more we know and understand God, the greater gifts he can pour into our lives. That is the sense of Isa 43:18-19: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”

This is not an exhortation to forget the wonderful things God has done for us in the past, but not to dwell on them. The past is gone. What God did then was awesome, but he is not dead nor are we. If we are still breathing, there is more and even greater things that He desires to do in our lives. We are sure of this because there are always more of the infinite riches of Christ to be discovered. For an old man who left what he thought would be his vocation for life and ventured out into the unknown, these are encouraging words. In the strength that Christ supplies, my best days are not in the past but lie ahead. All that He has shown me, all of the experiences he has faithfully lead me through, are under me, giving me a foundation for greater heights of the pleasure of being a witness to his beauty.

Although Paul is in prison, he is not alone. Neither am I. God has given me an army of prayer support, people who love me and believe God is working through me. Through the prayers of those friends, the Spirit is working, making the truth of God’s promises come alive in my heart. Although I do not know the details of my deliverance, I can expect to be granted the courage and the hope to fulfill God’s purpose for my “prison time” unashamed. The key to freedom from “Doubting Castle” are the promises of God hidden in my heart. I pray that you will take that key out of your pocket and find true freedom and joy in Jesus.