This devotional is about saying good-bye. Uncle Bouzer (brown rotti-pitbull) usually gets the fireplace all to himself, but two nights before Gussy (my grand-dog) moved to Salt Lake, Bouzy decided to share with his little buddy. Good-byes are hard on everybody, and I think the dogs sensed change in the air and needed a little comfort.
I find it ironic that our devotional passage covers Paul’s farewell to the Ephesians on the same week our daughter and son-in-love are moving 800 miles away. Coincidence? I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe in an all-knowing God with an incredibly loving heart. We began this study of Acts a year ago with no schedule for future devotional titles. I don’t map out the weeks or chapters or lessons. The lessons come as the Lord speaks to my heart. Neither did we have any idea our kids would be making a job change—until three weeks ago. But God knew. And I know His plan includes the very best for all our lives.
But good-byes still hurt.
Paul would agree with me, and I learned some important lessons from his farewell to the Ephesians that made this week’s good-bye more meaningful. Perhaps the best lesson was this overall realization: When we embrace change from God’s loving heart, we can smile through the tears of a hard good-bye…
Acts 20:13-15 – “We went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, where we were going to take Paul aboard. He had made this arrangement because he was going there on foot. When he met us at Assos, we took him aboard and went on to Mitylene. The next day we set sail from there and arrived off Kios. The day after that we crossed over to Samos, and on the following day arrived at Miletus.” (emphasis added)
When preparing for the good-bye, our tendency is to plow forward into a huge list of tasks or to soak up every moment we can with the one who will soon be leaving. But Paul recognized the most important preparation for saying good-bye. A little time alone. Purposely traveling on foot while others sailed ahead, Paul had a day alone to plan, to adjust, to think—just him and Jesus.
Acts 20:16-21 – “Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost. From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them: ‘You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews. You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” (emphasis added)
Paul chose to whom and how he said good-bye. Rather than a free-for-all cry-fest in Ephesus, Paul chose a private meeting with the elders he’d ministered with, and then he trusted them to convey his heart to the other Ephesians he loved deeply. During highly emotional times (like farewells), people will inadvertently be offended. If we choose an inner circle wisely, they can become an extension of our good-bye to those we physically cannot reach—a wise and caring proxy to communicate our love.
Acts 20:22-24 – “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” (emphasis added)
Explaining God’s plan for our lives—when that plan includes sacrifice—can be misinterpreted as blaming God if those listening don’t understand or accept God’s loving heart. Paul knew prison and hardships awaited him, but he wasn’t telling folks that to gain sympathy or to turn his listeners’ hearts against the Lord. He was describing the width and breadth of his passion for Jesus, his commitment to the One he had once persecuted. Sometimes a good-bye is hard to explain, but it may be an unexpected opportunity to affirm the depth of our commitment.
Acts 20:25-31 – “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” (emphasis added)
“Nature abhors a vacuum” is the brainiac quote attributed to wise folks from Aristotle to Tennessee Williams, but Paul realized it in 60 A.D. He knew the Ephesians would miss his leadership and try to fill the void, but he reminded them to guard their aching hearts. Be cautious not to fill the void with people or busy-ness that might lead us away from Jesus.
Acts 20:32-35 – “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (emphasis added)
Though Paul warned the Ephesians to be on guard, he also recognized that yearning hearts may be most open to evaluation. How are we doing on giving, serving, placing others first? When our eyes are opened to those we’re losing, we may also have eyes to see those people or projects we’ve been overlooking.
Acts 20:36-38 – “When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.” (emphasis added)
They prayed. They wept. They grieved. They stayed with him until the last possible moment…and then the good-bye. We must all say it sometime—in every relationship on this earth. We have choices in how we prepare for good-byes, and each one has the choice of how he/she prepares for eternity. Jesus paid the price once for all—being separated from the Father for a time, so we could be reconciled forever—and now, we can spend eternity without good-byes.
- Lord, thank You for prayer that unites us even when we’re miles apart. Thank You for tears that wash away the sadness for a little while. But most of all, thank You, for eternity that awaits—a home in which I’ll never have to say good-bye again.