Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you. (Philemon 21–22)
There is a poignancy to these verses. We don’t know how Philemon received Onisemus when he finally got back to Colossae, although I suspect he heard Paul’s pleas and accepted the runaway as a brother. Paul is confident of Philemon’s response, and we should be too.
What we do know, though, is that Paul never got to use that guest room. If, as seems certain, Paul is writing from Rome we know that he will soon be martyred for his faith. He hopes, through Philemon’s prayers, to visit him again but it is not to be.
There is an ongoing pattern to the Christian life. Very often we plan one thing, but God has something else in mind. Paul thought he had more ministry to give, but God had determined that martyrdom was the ministry to which he was calling Paul.
The lesson here is that we might plan - and that in itself is not a bad thing to do - but all our plans are provisional. We might pray, but God might not have the answer to our prayers which we wish. Peace is to be found when we accept that God is God, and so trust in his purposes. As Paul would write elsewhere “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11). That is a lesson we would all to well to learn.