Lent: Learning from Paul’s Prison Wilderness

Lessons from my migraine and vertigo wilderness challengeThe pillow cradled my head securely which is precisely where I wanted to remain indefinitely. Don’t make me move.

This illness was my wilderness.

A bad headache became debilitating. This debilitating headache impacted my equilibrium so my head swam and my stomach lurched whenever I moved. Adapting, I learned that slow, intentional movement avoided a dash to the toilet. Saltines were my friend as I shuffled carefully between bed and chair.

I endured this 10-day wilderness.

I wanted to die. I didn’t want to be dead; I wanted the pain to stop. While lying motionless, I thanked God for soft pillows and good health, remorseful for taking such things for granted. I appreciated pain meds and trained medical professionals. And showers! How delightful to stand under hot running water.

Words can’t express my appreciation for caring children and dear friends who dropped everything to answer my cry for help, who spoke softly and abided my groans. I felt the prayers and love from my church family. I gained empathy for migraine sufferers and learned how badly I underestimate their pain.

I grew from my wilderness experience.

You and I have examined Jesus’ wilderness experience this Lenten season. We’ve observed His unshakable trust in God’s love, supremacy, and provision even after a 40-day fast.

One might argue that Jesus’ intimate connection with God rendered extraordinary trust. Jesus was 100% human, but He was also 100% divine.

Do we mere mortals respond to wilderness experiences differently than Jesus did because we’re not as closely connected to God? How did the fully human Apostle Paul respond to his 2-year Roman imprisonment? What can we learn from his wilderness example?

Paul awaits trial before Caesar, fully expecting this trial to end with his execution. Facing a trial leading to death, Paul provides a peek into his psyche through his letters to the churches in Colossae, Ephesus, and Philippi. Paul also writes Philemon from prison, but this letter entreaties one person about a singular issue.

Paul, a Roman citizen, enjoys more comfort than most prisoners. Though under house arrest and constantly chained to a guard, he is permitted visitors. So while confined to his rented apartment, Paul continues preaching the gospel.

What has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ.
Philippians 1:12-13

In him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the ridhes of His grace.In each letter, Pastor Paul counsels the church regarding their particular challenge, but several themes are common to all three letters.


Paul prays continually for these young congregations, thanking God for their faith and progress.

In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints.
Colossians 1:3-4


In each letter, Paul extols the supremacy of Christ through whom we receive God’s grace. He stands ever firm in Christ.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Colossians 1:19-20

Glory to God:

Paul’s life points to Christ and every action and decision brings glory to God.

I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ … I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death.
Philippians 1:18-20


Paul pours out heartfelt prayers for greater knowledge and wisdom yielding a closer relationship with God.

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best.
Philippians 1:9-11

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him.
Ephesians 1:17

What do we observe in Paul’s example?

  • Paul’s faith doesn’t falter in the wilderness.
  • Rather than complaining, Paul expresses gratitude.
  • Instead of questioning his suffering, he uses the opportunity to preach Jesus.
  • Even facing death, Paul focuses outward, encouraging others in faith.

Paul is the consummate servant ambassador for Christ.

Reflecting on my days of immobility, I sadly didn’t seek God as much as I might have. While I certainly appreciated my blessings in a fresh way, I confess that I didn’t pray unceasingly. I expressed gratitude but also complained. I pointed to Jesus by kiddingly asking the paramedics to attend church on Sunday and reminding them that Christians can be good people. It’s something, but I have much to learn.

Now it’s your turn.

  • Reflect on a challenging period in your life. Consider how you responded and what you learned. How might you have used the situation as Paul did to encourage others and bring glory to God?
  • Spend a few moments each day noticing blessings in your life that are so easily taken for granted. Keep a gratitude journal of things you are thankful for. Actively express gratitude to others and to God for these blessings, fostering a deeper sense of appreciation.

#seedsofscripture #readthebiblebetter #inthewilderness #apostlepaul #thingswetakeforgranted #ambassadorforchrist #lent2024 #lentenjourney #learnfromchallenges

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