For as weighty and voluptuous of a moment in history as this is, it seems like an appropriate time to be reading the book of Acts.
When the book begins, the disciples had just seen the glory of God manifest in a once-and-for-all, sin-obliterating sacrifice, a prophesied, impossible resurrection, and had bare-eye-watched the Son of Man taken up into the clouds to sit on the Ancient Throne and rule over eternity. Pretty monumental stuff! We still talk about it today. I doubt if anyone is going to be talking about my or your life in a couple thousand years!
But, if the world’s still spinning in the 41st century (and at this point, I’m not so gullible to imagine it will be), they might be talking about all that is taking place on the planet during this time. Though, it still won’t be a bizillionth as significant as the life story of Jesus.
Part of why this moment feels so weighty, is because things seem to be shifting in the cosmos. What the early Church was about to experience in the book of Acts was severe persecution and intense revival. They often go hand-in-hand. The Church was about to transform from a handful of devoted believers to many thousands, overnight. The Emperor Nero was about to begin impaling Christians, setting them on stakes and lighting them on fire, to light the way to the Colosseum, where he would have “entertainment” which involved sending more Christians into the arena to be devoured by lions, while folks watched and cheered. (No, that story isn’t recorded in the Bible, but it’s a well-known and heavily recorded part of history).
Revival and persecution are often siamesed together. I kind-of forgot about that, when I (and many others I know) had been begging God for revival over these past many years. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss, because my ignorance empowered me to pray for revival anyway. And I’d far rather see His majesty displayed and folks given a chance to face their own mortality before it’s too late, than to continue in our apathy-invoking American comforts. Our easy, busy, full-bellied sedation.
There is a bit of revival happening in my own soul. I find that, in this time of immense social unrest, I have to face my own idols. For me, that looks like becoming keenly aware of what is temptation and what is holy… then (hopefully) choosing the holy. My knees knock a little more when I don’t, because it feels like heaven is closing in and the days are few. That the time is urgent and not to be wasted! It also looks like using my voice with greater wisdom, conviction and fearlessness. I have been known to speak useless chatter, and no one but me and Jesus would know all the things I haven’t said because I cared too much about people’s responses.
Two idols I have had a show-down with lately, are fear and comfort. The invisible realm feels nearly tangible. I close my eyes and see a war where a raspy, emaciated, wanna-be lion is roaring in my ear almost as loud as the Holy Spirit is whispering His comfort. Yet, His comfort is not the same comfort the world provides. It is not a promise that I will come out of this alive, and be able to fly to Alaska to see my kid, or grocery shop whenever I want. When Jesus was bringing comfort to His disciples, He warned them He was going to die. That they would also die. That His bodily torture would spill into their bodily torture. Yet, He did so, in order that when it took place, they wouldn’t be taken by surprise. They would have already laid hold of the promises of future glory which far outweigh the world itself. They would have released their affections for temporal comfort, and gripped hard onto the promise that soon enough they would see His face again, and from that day forth live in everlasting bliss.
Fear is unholy (unless it pertains to trembling before a holy, holy, holy God, and it fills us with awe!). We are not given a spirit of fear, but of power and love and discipline. Yet, in this time of personal revival, the Lord is stirring up what lay dormant in me: the undercurrent of fear and attachment to a predictable, comfortable future, with a lapful of grandkids and as much freedom as I now experience (or rather, did until about a month ago). He only stirs these things up, in order to expel them. I could have gone on living with my control issues, ignorant of how much I wanted the future to accommodate my desires. I would have told you before that I lived for eternity’s joys, rather than earth’s pleasures. And I really believed it. And it was somewhat true. It’s still only somewhat true. But the Lord wants to revive the deadened nerves of my soul. He wants to burn the dross and bring me deeper into communion with Him, and let me just tell you, this is better! The intimacy far outweighs the comfort!
He never shuns us for running to Him with our needs, folly or brokenness! In fact, in Hebrews 4:16, He uses all of that as an invitation into His hallowed Throne room!
Before all this revival and persecution took place in Acts, the scene opens up with this “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14a).
I just want to inhale, and let it out slow. They were of one mind. And they were having a prayer meeting. The entire church, at this point, basically fit in one upper room. In the next chapter, the church explodes in number. But let’s sit right here for a moment., in the bathing light of this gathering.
One mind. How does this happen? I know there’s plenty of division over what we should pray. Do we pray for Kingdom come? Do we pray against this virus and against evil dictators? Do we pray for courage and surrender? Do we pray what we think is the will of God, or do we just try to listen to the Spirit within, guiding? As I pray with others, it would seem that our prayers are transforming from the demands of impatient toddlers, telling God exactly what we want for our personal futures, into a fragrant aroma.
How does this happen, this transformation into one mind? There are two things these early followers knew, that we can also know, and pray in accord with. And it wasn’t the future. We don’t really know God’s will for the future, we only know that He is still in control. The future was unpredictable for the early church, as well. What we can know and be unified on are these two things: WHO God is, and WHAT He says.
Church, we can be of one mind if we just read our Bibles! The Bible isn’t just “an instruction manual” (Don’t even get me started!), it’s the writings of God Himself, displaying His character, His affection, His justice, His mercy, His warnings, His triumphs, His Majesty, for about a thousand pages (give or take, depending). These early disciples didn’t even have all of the writings that we are gifted with. And many, across the globe, are warring through this unrest without a single page of this holy Scripture to sustain and fortify them. But we with this American privilege, have every opportunity to spread the pages of ancient Script and look into the face of holy God for wisdom and glory!
The other thing I want to marinate in, is the fact that these early saints were praying together! A few years ago, a few friends and I would weekly, walk the perimeter of our town, praying. What were we praying for? Revival. Over and over and over again, this was our battle cry. Lord, bring revival! Let the lost see! Let the deadened ones rise! Let the Church become one! Lord, make Your glory touch earth!
Months later, maybe a year, I was talking with another friend, who happened to tell me that, during the same time, she and some other friends had been doing the exact same thing. Walking around Athens, praying for revival! I have heard whispers of this and seen it’s effects swirling across the globe, long before we ever heard of this virus or watched the entire planet go into hiding. I believe there were many more of us, across continents, praying in unity, for revival… because I see the effects.
I cannot help but know that God had inclined His ear. He was listening. He was bringing our hearts into unity. You know what we had in common, other than a burning desire to see the Kingdom come? That we all love the Scriptures! We fully believe that Jesus walks with us, within us! That He never leaves or forsakes us. His Word is a shield about us. We know that He is the same God who allowed His disciples to be burned at the stake (knowing full well that, in doing so, they were both testifying of Christ’s worth, and inheriting something far more glorious than a comfortable time on earth!).
Yet, He is also the God who brought great deliverance for His people, throughout history. Deliverance that could not be acquired in any sort of logical way, and was nothing short of a miracle. I could spend hours typing out stories of His deliverance, but I think it would serve all of us well, if I simply pointed you to the Scripture. If you want some courage, read Exodus, Judges, Kings, Chronicles, Esther, Acts. Heck, just read the whole Book! It’s holy and nourishing and strengthening and good!
And church, even world, now is the time for repentance. The idols that we have clung to are a false sense of hope. They are weighing us down from richer intimacy. Let me just tell you that intimacy with Christ is the greatest gift of all. I have known many a suffering saint who had more joy than the wealthiest, most comfortable of men… because in the secret places of their soul, they had Christ, and they’d sell the whole world for a moment with Him! I would, too!