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The Roman Forum and God’s Surprising Ways in Your Life

Paul’s experiences in Rome mirror the Lord's leading our dreams.

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We have more to do in life than wake up, work hard, and come home only to rinse and repeat. Life amounts to more than a stack of paychecks and a few laughs. God wants so much more for us than that. The Roman Forum offers us a picture of this truth.

Basilica Julia, where Paul was condemned

(Photo: Basilica Julia in the Roman Forum. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

The Apostle Paul was about 50 years when he penned his letter to the Christians in Rome. In fact, Paul held quite a portfolio in his hands:

  • 3 missionary journeys under his belt
  • Many churches planted
  • 6 books of Scripture to his credit
  • Thousands of people impassioned for God

If Paul’s career had stopped right there, no one would have protested. Everyone would have given him a standing ovation. Some might even urge him to start slowing down. But nothing doing. Paul dreamed of doing much more!

But not even he could fathom that his dreams would turn out with him standing in the Roman Forum.

Our lives and our dreams are the same.

A Dream to Do More

Never content to admire his trophy chest, Paul continued to dream of how he could still do more for Christ. He longed to go to Rome and then to Spain—the western limit of the Roman Empire (Rom. 15:22-25). This represented a big and bold dream—audacious, some might say!

But Paul had a big God.

Roman Forum Basilica Julia, Temple of Castor and Pollux

(Photo: Basilica Julia in the Roman Forum. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Christ’s Great Commission blesses us with an incredible purpose beyond paychecks and Netflix binging: “Make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19). So Paul planned for Rome and Spain—and even wrote 7 more New Testament letters.

Paul wrote in the book of Romans a specific prayer request that God might rescue him from those in Judea and allow Paul to come to Rome with joy (Rom. 15:28-33). The answer to that prayer came in a strange way.

Paul got arrested.

Dreams Fulfilled in an Unwanted Way

When those in Jerusalem tried to harm Paul, the Romans arrested him and moved him by night to Caesarea, where Paul remained imprisoned (read: protected) for two full years. After Paul appealed to Caesar, he began his journey to Rome, which included a nail-biting shipwreck and a hand-biting snake.

After boarding another ship, Paul entered Rome along the Appian Way—as a prisoner.

To be sure, Paul came to Rome—but not like he thought he would. Paul lived under house arrest in Rome, where he wrote more epistles—and where the Word of God was “unhindered” (Acts 28:31). After Rome released Paul, he traveled about for several years (probably also going to Spain) and found himself arrested during the great persecution of Christians under Nero—imprisoned in Rome for the last time.

As a Roman citizen, Paul likely stood trial in the Roman Forum at the Basilica Julia, where trials took place. Here a Roman court would have tried and condemned Paul to death.

Temple of Castor and Pollux

(Photo: Temple of Castor and Pollux. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Ironically, just beside the Basilica Julia where Paul received his death sentence stood the renovated temple to the mythical gods Castor and Pollux. These sons of Zeus served also as the figureheads of the ship that brought Paul to Rome (Acts 28:11). Paul likely remembered the ship that day he was condemned.

  • Only three columns remain today from Castor and Pollux’s temple Paul saw in the Roman Forum.
  • Only a few arches and foundation stubs protrude from the Basilica Julia where Paul stood condemned.

But these ruins remind us of essential lessons.

Reminders from Ruins in the Roman Forum

Paul’s desire to go to Rome—and how that dream came about—often mirrors our own experience with the Lord’s leading.

What’s your “Rome”? What’s your “Spain”? Do you have a purpose bigger than your own life? Is that purpose as big as your God?

No doubt, we should make long-term plans for a life of faithfulness and fruitfulness. But we must also be ready and willing for God to redirect. Because He most certainly will. When God gives us a dream, we can’t put Him in a box in regard to His methods. We may plan to accomplish the dream by means of A-B-C, but God often gets us there by means of 10-9-8.

Road next to Basilica Julia

(Photo: Original road next to Basilica Julia. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Paul’s doxology he wrote to the Roman Christians serves as a fitting summary of God’s leading in our lives:

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.  (Rom. 11:33–36)


Tell me what you think: How has God brought about His plans in your life in a way you never expected? To leave a comment, just click here.

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