Following his bold testimony at the Diet of Worms, in order to protect him, friends had Martin Luther imprisoned in Wartburg Castle. Initially, he did not know who had captured him or where he was confined. While the drama of the Reformation raged on in the world outside, Luther remained in seclusion for nearly a year.
During this time he endured bouts of depression through which the Lord taught him lessons of faith and humility. During this time, several convictions that were in infancy matured in his mind to guide his life afterward. Most significantly, during this time he translated the Bible into German so the common man could read the Bible for himself. Luther’s biographer noted, “That same God who had conducted St. John to Patmos there to write his revelation, had confined Luther in the Wartburg, there to translate His Word.” The Reformer’s confinement in Wartburg castle protected him, refined him, and equipped him for greater service.
Luther’s experience is not unique. In the Bible, Moses spent forty years as a shepherd in Midian. David spent years fleeing from the vindictive King Saul. For over three years Elijah hid by the brook Cherith and then dwelt as a foreigner in Zarephath before returning to show himself to King Ahab. God made Philip the evangelist leave a fruitful ministry in populace Samaria to go to the desert of Gaza. The apostle Paul languished for several years in an uncertain incarceration at Caesarea and later at Rome.
Why would God set such people aside instead of employing them in a way we might consider more useful?
For Moses and David, these were years in which circumstances ordered by God’s providence were being worked out, and the character of God’s servants was being tempered to prepare leaders for the nation of Israel.
For Elijah, the years of hiding may have seemed long and pointless. Yet the widow and her son with whom Elijah dwelt were doubtless grateful to God that he came their way as they experienced through him miraculous provision and healing.
Why would God send an evangelist to a desert area where few people were found? A passing chariot carrying a Ethiopian government official reading Isaiah the prophet was the answer. Philip led this man to faith in Christ. Eternity alone will reveal how many people this Ethiopian went on to influence with the gospel in his own country.
What possible design could there have been in Paul’s being unable to travel and preach? His bonds in Christ encouraged others to be bold in their witness resulting in the furtherance of the gospel (Phil. 1:12-14). During this time Paul wrote the prison epistles which have blessed the people of God for two thousand years.
I have often listened as people in nursing homes or confined to a hospital bed for an extended stay lamented feeling imprisoned. “What possible reason could God have for my being here?” “It seems as if God has forgotten me.” “I feel so useless.” Most of us in our lives will experience a season of confinement. But God has His way. Confinement may liberate us for service that otherwise would not be done. We may be placed strategically where a Christian testimony is most needed. Confinement may also simply be God’s way of sanctifying us and weaning us from this world to look with greater longing for our heavenly home.
I do not want to be confined. And I have sympathy for those who are. But remember that it was while imprisoned that Paul wrote, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content.” (Phil 4:11) God is in control. God has a plan. God is present. God is good.
Scottish pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne wrote, “It has always been my aim, and it is my prayer, to have no plan as regards myself; well assured as I am that the place where the Savior sees meet to place me must ever be the best place for me.” May God grant such a spirit to each of us – especially when we are confined.