I have made it my goal to write short posts reflecting on my devotional reading every day. These posts are composed off the cuff, in 30 minutes or less. The following is one such post. Before writing this post, I read: Acts 12–14 and Psalm 50.
Watching the story of the book of Acts unfold is simultaneously incredibly challenging and incredibly encouraging. The book is challenging because it shows Christians facing extraordinary challenges and committing to proclaim Christ no matter the cost to themselves. (In these chapters, for example, Paul is dragged outside the city and stoned, after which he gets up and goes on proclaiming the gospel.) So often I find myself wishing that even the ordinary trials of my life would pass more quickly and am all too quick to complain about them (internally even when I am too socially savvy to do so out loud). Looking at Peter sitting in prison, fully expecting to die at the hands of Herod just as his master had, or at Paul and Barnabas nearly everywhere they went, I am challenged to grow deeper in my own faith and my own commitment to Christ. I am convicted that I ought to complain less and praise God more, that I ought indeed to be thankful to God for the opportunity to show that I value him more than the passing comforts and pleasures of this world (even as I offer heartfelt lament to him at the brokenness of this world).
At the same time, the record of Acts is encouraging because it is abundantly clear throughout the book that the church advanced because the Spirit of God was empowering otherwise ordinary men and women to do great things for him. As Paul himself put it to a crowd who tried to worship him and Barnabas, “We are also men!” (Acts 14:15). As extraordinary as the faith these men and women demonstrated was, they were just people like you and me who God used. This is encouraging looking at myself, and looking around at the state of the church. Though we are all frail and broken, often quick to seek the world’s favor on the one hand and insular and unwilling to engage the lost on the other, hesitant and fainting in our proclamation of the gospel, hungry for men’s affirmation over God’s, little in faith, weak or inarticulate in speech, insufficiently thoughtful, unkind and sometimes overly politic, licentious and legalistic—still God can use us, and still it is ultimately he who saves and not we. Paul had his sharp edges, Peter his fear of man, and the early church no small number of legalistic ascetics and licentious antinomians, but God was at work nonetheless. His Spirit drew people to Christ through these earthen vessels, and he is doing the same today. God uses us in spite of our foibles, and in truth sometimes he uses us in the particular ways he does because our foibles highlight that it is he and not we who are really at work.
In short, then, the book of Acts is joyfully humbling. It is convicting of the need for deeper faith, and it is convincing of the need to depend on God. Both of these are cause for joy, though. Deeper faith and greater commitment to make much of Christ will bear great fruit in our lives and in the world around us when it is coupled in greater dependence on the Spirit of God to work rather than on our own techniques. Hallelujah. Go and make disciples.