And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Melita. And the barbarous people shewed us no little kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold. And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. - Acts 28:1-3
Poor Paul! He's already been imprisoned multiple times, stoned, beaten, shipwrecked and now bitten by a snake. To the average onlooker, it might seem that God was trying to get Paul's attention. I mean seriously, how much bad can happen to one person, right? But those thoughts are derived from our warped sense of tribulation. When bad things happen in our lives, we often automatically assume that we've done or are doing something wrong. We assume that the trial we're facing is a punishment from God, and sometimes that may be the case. But if we take a close look at the life of Paul, we'll see that such is not always the case.
With the exception of his call on the Damascus Road, Paul's difficult circumstances always followed on the heels of his doing the Lord's will. He was preaching. He was testifying. He was being a witness. He was helping others. He was being a true servant. Take the example in the passage above. Paul was gathering firewood. He could have sat there and allowed others to serve him, but he didn't. He chose to serve, and what was his reward? He was bitten by a viper. I don't do snakes!!!!
If we're going to make it through this life with our joy intact, we need to realize that bad things in our lives don't always indicate punishment. In fact, if we're doing our best to serve God, we can rest assured that we will face hard times. Why? Because Satan doesn't want us to serve God. He wants to distract us. He wants to discourage us. He wants us to grow so weary that we throw up our hands and quit. Even when we're serving God, the snake still bites. The key is how we will respond.
Like Paul did with the viper, our response to difficult circumstances should be to shake them off. And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. (Acts 28:5) Paul shook it off and went on with his business. We need to do the same. I won't insult your intelligence by telling you that the process will be easy. It won't. It will take strength. It will take consistent effort. And above all, it will take faith. Faith that God knows what He's doing. Faith that God is in control and is working in our lives to bring about a greater good. Faith that God will keep His promises. It will also take focus. As long as we're staring at the circumstances surrounding us, we will find no peace. But if we'll get our eyes on Christ, then like Paul, we will feel no harm. With our eyes on Christ, we will be able to say without reservation, "Thy will be done."
Have the snakes been biting you lately? Are you distracted and discouraged? Does it seem like your all your efforts to serve God have been rewarded with heartache and pain? If so, take comfort. God knows what you're going through. Talk to Him to discover if your current trials are chastisement for sin in your life or the deadly darts of the devil seeking to throw you off course. If you discover it is the former, get it right and move on. If it is the latter, shake it off. Don't allow Satan to steal your peace and joy. Shake it off and get back on track!