The Mystery of Christ from a Prisoner
Paul's Prison Prayer
Imagine you are unjustly in prison. You’re behind the bars without daily rights to privacy or freedom. You’re separated from family, friends, and any sort of community you once had. What would your prison prayer be?
Would you ask the Lord “why me”?
Would you beg for Him to intervene and get you out of prison?
I know I would.
That’s why I find it so fascinating to read Paul’s prison prayer. They are never what I expect. Not only does Paul refuse to consider His own temporary needs, but He even takes it a step further to consider how to advance his evangelistic mission inside of prison instead of focusing on getting out.
“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison” (Col. 4:2-3).
Paul didn’t ask the Lord to meet his personal needs in his prayer. After all, he was in prison, so it would make sense to ask for freedom, justice, or even simply better living conditions.
Instead, Paul asked for evangelism and edification. He wanted the doors wide open for the Word. He asked to “declare the mystery of Christ,” even though this declaring of Christ is what locked him in prison in the first place.
Christ as Mysterious
Describing Christ as a mystery is appropriate because He is the Son of God – completely holy and completely set apart. We can’t fully comprehend His ways, so there will always be an element of mystery to His character.
When finite humans try to comprehend an infinite God, there are gaps in our understanding.
We try to know the Lord through the construct of our earthly time and way of thinking. However, God operates out of time and space. He is not forced to work within limits or constructs. Neither is His Son.
There is a mystery to this holy God.
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom. 11:33).
That we can’t fully understand God is all the more reason to worship Him and His almighty goodness.
If we associate the mystery of Christ with confusion and questioning, it will leave us feeling fearful and frustrated. If we associate the mystery of Christ with deep riches and wisdom, it will leave us in wonder and worship.
Frustration or Faith
The mystery of Christ creates rejection or awe. It depends on someone’s outlook. Some view the unexplainable characteristics of God’s great redemption plan as part of His divine nature. Others long for all of the answers and walk away from religion frustrated.
The beauty of faith is that we can simultaneously recognize our need for a Savior and our own limitations in thinking. We don’t have to fully get it. We don’t have to memorize the whole Bible or have the perfect one-liner response to everyone’s questions.
Instead, we can recognize that there are elements of Christianity that require faith.
Faith moves beyond our human understanding into a place of trust. It requires relying on what we can understand, remembering personal experiences where God has intervened, and reminding ourselves of past instances of faithfulness.
The mystery of Christ can be the most frustrating or the most beautiful thing.
When the unanswered questions make me feel agitated, I try to remember my place in the universe. Just like a child doesn’t need to understand all that his parents know, so neither do I need to understand all that my Father knows. He directly tells us:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts because He has all of the answers. We don’t need to know everything because frankly, we aren’t mature enough to handle it anyway.
Rest in knowing that God has it all under control. His ways are set apart. He is working out all things.
The Mystery of Christ is Valuable
The mystery of Christ is worth sharing. It was more valuable to Paul than getting out of jail. That's humbling. I think about my life and how much I devalue the gospel when I fail to make it a priority.
Sharing his faith is what actually put Paul in prison in the first place, but still, it didn't stop him. Paul knew this good news of Christ was too good not to share. I want to value the good news as much as Paul.
Prayer of Reflection
The mystery of You is tough to comprehend. You are set apart. You are Other. It makes it hard to understand Your ways because they are so unlike the world’s ways. Help me to declare Your Word correctly through my actions and character. Jesus, help me to be steadfast in prayer that I might have a heart of thanksgiving. Help me to delight in You, becoming like Paul who wished to spread Your Word over safety or freedom or comfort.