It was the bottom of the sixth inning. The Montreal Expos’ most feared hitter, Tim Raines, was at the plate. The pitcher glared at the catcher and checked the runner on first base. Then, kicking high, he pushed off the rubber and threw as hard as he could. It was the last pitch he would ever throw. A loud, sickening crack was heard all over the stadium. Weakened by undiscovered cancer, the humerus bone in Dave Dravecky’s pitching arm had snapped in two. “My arm felt like I’d been hit with a meat axe,” said the San Francisco Giants’ and former San Diego Padres’ hurler. He grabbed his arm to keep it from flying toward home plate as he screamed, tumbling headfirst to the ground.1
While his baseball career was over, his adversity had just begun. After many examinations, the doctors told him that his pitching arm would have to be amputated at the shoulder to guarantee that the cancer would not spread to other parts of his body.
I can’t imagine what Dave must have felt as the reality of that news set in. He was in the prime of his career, and under normal circumstances could have expected to play baseball for many more years. But now it was over.
Several weeks after his surgery, Dave Dravecky came back to Jack Murphy Stadium to say thanks to his many San Diego friends. He was greeted with a standing ovation. As on every other speaking assignment since he came out of the recovery room minus his left arm, he glorified God and gave praise to the name of Jesus.2
The day after his appearance at the stadium, I read in the San Diego Union that he had received over seven hundred invitations to speak during the next year. The apparent tragedy in his life had begun to take on a look of victory!
God often has hidden purposes in the adversity He allows. I am reminded that several letters in the New Testament are called Prison Epistles. Paul wrote these letters, including the letter to the Philippians, while he was incarcerated. The book of Revelation was penned by the apostle John while he was in exile on the island of Patmos. It was in prison that John Bunyan saw the great vision that later became the immortal Pilgrim’s Progress. The prisons of our lives can often become places of great opportunity and ministry. Charles Colson, the famed Watergate conspirator, concluded his book Loving God with this analogy:
My lowest days as a Christian (and there were low ones—seven months’ worth of them in prison, to be exact) have been more fulfilling and rewarding than all the days of glory in the White House.
And it was that way for the apostle Paul. When he referred in verse 12 to “the things which happened to me,” he was reminding the Philippians that he had experienced some difficult days. He was writing to them in response to a letter from the Philippian church that had been carried to him by Epaphroditus. These believers in Philippi loved Paul dearly and were very concerned about his welfare. For two years he had been a prisoner in Caesarea and now he was a prisoner in Rome. Because Paul knew of their concern, he set out to put their minds at ease.
What were the things that happened to Paul? Although he did not itemize them in his letter, Luke told the story in Acts 20–28, and Paul himself summarized his troubles in 2 Corinthians 11:23–27.
By his own testimony, we know Paul had a great desire to preach the gospel in Rome.
- Acts 19:21—“After I have been there [Jerusalem], I must also see Rome.”
- Romans 1:15—“So, as much as is in me, I am ready [eager] to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also.”
- Acts 23:11—“The following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.’”
When Paul prayed that he might have a prosperous journey to Rome in the will of God (Rom. 1:10), I’m sure he had no idea how that prayer would be answered. As Warren Wiersbe has observed, he wanted to go as a preacher but ended up going as a prisoner.4
Jeremiah, David. 2016. Count It All Joy: Discover a Happiness That Circumstances Cannot Change. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook.
Check out our Bible Study on the book of Philippians, using David’s Jeremiah’s book, Count It All Joy as a guide. It is on Amazon as well as part of the Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.