They Tried to Bury Us


Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. 

Jesus, I belong to you.

I lift up my heart to you.
I set my mind on you.
I fix my eyes on you.
I offer my body to you as a living sacrifice.

Jesus, we belong to you. 

Praying in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen. 

Acts 14:21–28 (NIV)

They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconic and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.

From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.


The other day I was driving down the freeway on my now 100-mile trip to the airport in Little Rock (sigh), and I came upon a massive wreck on the other side of the median—complete with a car burning out of control. That’s what yesterday’s text feels like to me in retrospect. We hardly took the time to notice the burning car:

They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. (14:19b)

It’s reminiscent of the thirteen words deployed by Luke to describe the manner with which Herod dispatched the Son of Thunder, the apostle James. (see 12:2)

Dear friends, the crowd picked up rocks and they threw them at Paul—at close range—as hard as they could—a number of which hit his face—knocking him to the ground—where they kept hitting him—until he was dead—and then they dragged him out of the city—and left him. 

Let that sink in. 

This is the author of most of the New Testament—the apostle Paul. 

Turns out that was only the tip of the iceberg for him. Hear him out a thousand miles later in one of his love letters:

Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. (2 Cor. 11:24–27)

All of this brings to mind one of my favorite sayings I’ve learned in recent years:

“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” 

The saying kind of captures the Acts of the Apostles Season 1, doesn’t it? 

There’s a better saying, though. We see it in today’s text. 

“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,”

This is the crystallized message of Paul and Barnabas as they go from town to town, “strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.” 

That’s what we are doing, isn’t it? We are strengthening and encouraging each other to remain true to the faith; because . . . 

“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,”

We get into heaven for free. Thank you, Jesus. But we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God. Why is this? I think it’s because the kingdom of God is a kind of transcendent superabundance. It transcends the most challenging, difficult, and devastating circumstances of our lives and while it may not change those circumstances, he changes us in the midst of them. In another letter, Paul put it this way:

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, (Rom. 14:17).

Sometimes, oftentimes, maybe even most of the time, it takes going through hard things to get this sorted; to sort out the eating and drinking of our happy feasting from the righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. I’m not saying those things can’t go together. They often do; however, the hardships craft the citizens of the kingdom of God. Grapes must be crushed to make wine. Wheat must be ground into flour to make bread. 

I like to play with the Word of God in my journal. I’ll show you a couple of examples on my website today if you care to see them. I would encourage you to explore the craft, and I would love to see your work as well. That’s what journals are for—the mingling of our words with God’s words and seeing what new words and worlds emerge from it all. Anyway, I took James 1:2–4 and wrote the words in totally random placement across the page.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2–4)

Then I began the process of connecting the words in proper sequence with a single line. It turned out to be both a real challenge and a big mess. Need I say more?  

“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,”

From that little exercise, these words started ringing out like church bells. “Let perseverance finish its work.” Suddenly I realized I was not the one doing the persevering. The Holy Spirit is the one who perseveres in us, through hardships, to help us enter the kingdom of God. 

As we head into half time with the Acts of the Apostles, and we get our broken bones reset and our injuries taped up; as we assess our losses and watch the replay reels of the highlights and the hardships; let’s center down on this word: 

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

And be strengthened and encouraged—the kingdom of God is at hand. 

They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds. 


Lord Jesus, I am your witness. 

I receive your righteousness and release my sinfulness.
I receive your wholeness and release my brokenness.
I receive your fullness and release my emptiness.
I receive your peace and release my anxiety.
I receive your joy and release my despair.
I receive your healing and release my sickness. 
I receive your love and release my selfishness. 

I receive your kingdom of joy through hardships and release my kingdom of pain-free safety and comfort. 

Come, Holy Spirit, transform my heart, mind, soul, and strength so that my consecration becomes your demonstration; that our lives become your sanctuary. For the glory of God our Father, amen.


What hardships have you been or are you going through these days? Are you ready to turn the corner into a new way of “going through” them? How might the kingdom of God be breaking into the difficulty and darkness? How might you let perseverance finish its work? 


Today we will sing a medley of songs as our closing act of worship together. You will know them by heart. 

For the Awakening,
J. D. Walt

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WHAT IS THIS? Wake-Up Call is a daily encouragement to shake off the slumber of our busy lives and turn our eyes toward Jesus. Each morning our community gathers around a Scripture, a reflection, a prayer, and a few short questions, inviting us to reorient our lives around the love of Jesus that transforms our hearts, homes, churches, and cities.

Comments and Discussion

3 Responses

  1. Freedom is free, but there’s a cost.
    Do you think Paul ever felt like giving up?
    He obviously kept trial and tribulation records. Aw, not for applause but maybe for others to see the joy of the Lord in Him when others would quit. His obstacle course is one many would pass on. But for Paul, the size or terrain of the mountain of trouble didn’t deter him but drove him.
    He knew Jesus IS Lord and worthy of serving, for the Son had set Paul free.
    For, when the Son set you free, you are free indeed.

    Staying 💪’ Christ
    Ephesians 6:10
    Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.

  2. I find myself having a slightly different take on the issue of the hardships we must endure before finishing the final leg of our race. First of all, I believe that they serve to remind us not to get too comfortable and content with life in this present darkness. As citizens of the heavenly kingdom, we should expect to feel out of sorts with the ways of this world. Secondly, I suspect that the more intense the hardships become, it reveals how much of a threat we are to Interfering with Satan’s work of killing, stealing and destroying the works of God. Our offensive actions will surely bring about a counter offensive from the god of this world. Thirdly, as a gardener, I think of Jesus’s words about He, being the True Vine, and us being branches being pruned in order to become more fruitful. I’m forced every day to pray for grace sufficient to meet the challenges of that day.

  3. The kingdom of God way to face hardships

    The New Testament calls Christians disciples — trained and disciplined Christ-followers. When Paul and Barnabas wanted to strengthen the disciples and to encourage them to remain true to the faith, they told them: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:21-28.) How is that the sound of encouragement?

    Hardships cause true Christ followers to humbly and deeply need each other and to rely more and more on the risen Jesus as our present King, Lord, and Master as we are drawn together in genuine, heart-felt, Christ-led community. To further strengthen and encourage the body of Christ, Paul and Barnabus appointed groups of elders, mature believers to be servant overseers in each Spirit-led, open-sharing community of disciples (see 1 Corinthians 14:26) named and modeled after the ekklesia, the participatory town hall meetings in Greek cities. Then “with prayer and fasting” they “committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.”

    The early Christians didn’t trust in organization or human hierarchy and authority. (See Matthew 20: 25-28.) Their trust was in the living Jesus. They wanted to follow Him and as they did, they lived out the 50+ one another commands of the New Testament, in their daily lives and when they met together. Mature believers served as elders/overseers to keep the focus on everyone listening to and obeying the risen Jesus from their heart, and not on mere outward forms of godliness or on human hierarchy and control. They let their trials and tribulations continually connect their hearts to each other with Spirit-given compassion and caring for one another. They overflowed with joy and love from the real presence of Christ living and working inside and through them.

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