A few weeks ago, Jason challenged us to read through the book of Acts. I’m ashamed to admit that it took me a while get to it. Yes, reading an entire book of the Bible in a sitting or two can be intimidating, but when it came down to it, it only took me two or two and a half hours. That’s a relatively long time reading the Bible for most people, including myself, who usually only read a chapter or two a day. But two and half hours is not really that long. Have you ever impulsively watched a movie because nothing was on TV? Then you have enough time to read through Acts.
As Jason mentioned, it’s pretty much impossible to read though the whole book of Acts and come out of the experience with a theology that Christianity is a life of ease and comfort. And if you read Acts with any sort of self-introspection, you’ll most likely end up feeling like there is so much more to living for Christ that you are missing out on.
And that’s exactly why Jason challenged us to read through the entire book. So that we would notice where the disciples’ lives differ from ours, and at what point our hearts start to resist obedience to Jesus’ radical call to take up our crosses and follow him.
Before I opened up my Bible several nights ago, I prayed that God would use his word to hold up a mirror to my life, that I would see myself for who I really am. He answered that prayer. And honestly, I didn’t like everything I saw. But good, bad, or ugly, these are the things that struck me between “In my former book, Theophilus,” and “with all boldness and without hindrance!”
1. I do not devote enough time to the things of God
I do not have any legalistic preconceived notions about the amount of time that it requires to be a good Christian. Sometimes that’s a good thing, because if you had to spend exactly an hour in Bible reading and prayer every single day to be saved, there are a lot of days when I just wouldn’t make the cut. But sometimes, its a bad thing, because knowing I can’t earn salvation with praying or reading my Bible sometimes, subtly, leads me to neglect those things all together.
But the real problem is that I’m still thinking of the time as mine. Sometimes, I get lost in a passage of Scripture or lose track of time praying heartfelt, desperate prayers. But on a normal day, reading my Bible or praying is something I have to just do so that I can get on with the rest of my day. I give a little bit of “my” time to Jesus, and keep the rest of it for myself. And I’m stingy with the time that’s mine.
This is not what the disciples did. They poured themselves out continually, without a thought to how much time it cost them. Sometimes this meant that they met with believers every single day. Sometimes this meant that they went back to the same place, Saturday after Saturday, reasoning with people about Jesus. Sometimes this meant that they’d stay put somewhere for a whole year, teaching new believers and finding ways to support themselves. They gave and gave and gave of their time, because they knew their lives were no longer their own.
2. I do not want to suffer
If there’s anything that a read-through of Acts should make painfully obvious, it’s that the life of a sold-out follower of Jesus is not a life of ease. The early disciples suffered physical persecution, exile, imprisonment, slander, and the death of close friends. They didn’t always enjoy it, but they had joy in the midst of it. Peter and John rejoiced that they were considered worthy of enduring suffering for Jesus’ sake (Acts 5:41). Stephen prayed for his killers’ forgiveness as they were throwing stones at him (Acts 7:60). Paul and Silas, after a brutal beating, sang praises to God from the inside of prison cell (Acts 16:25).
Reading these stories always makes me examine my own heart, because there is nothing in me that wants to experience pain. It is only when I look to the cross of Jesus, and remember what he endured for me, that I find the strength to endure the pathetic, meager hardships of my own life. I pray that if I was ever called upon to make a greater sacrifice, like those I see in Acts, that the Holy Spirit would help me to find joy as they did.
3. I am hesitant to be used by the Holy Spirit
The gifts of the Spirit show up all over the book of Acts. People who are filled with God’s Spirit prophesy, perform miracles, speak in foreign languages, see dreams and visions, and heal the sick. In Acts 28:4-5, Paul is even bitten by a poisonous snake but is unharmed, just as Jesus had said would happen (Mark 16:18).
All of these things are astounding to me. I grew up in a Spirit-filled church, where we have always believed that God still operates this way, and that things like this are still possible. But that doesn’t mean they are happening in our churches, which grieves me. Why aren’t we seeing this in our churches?
I’ll tell you why: because you and I and everyone else I know want God to use someone else. Do I want to see miracles? Do I want to see people healed? Do I want to see visions and prophecies come to pass? Yes, yes, yes. But do I want to be the one to step out in faith myself?
No. If I’m really honest with myself, that is my answer. My stubborn heart says, “okay God, I’ll volunteer in the nursery and pray for people and give my tithe, and that’s enough for me.”
But I want to want more. In his discussion about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians, Paul says “Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts.” (1 Corinthians 12:29-31)
That is my prayer – that God would fill me with a desire for greater gifts.
4. I want to keep all my money
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” Acts 2:44-45
Acts is full of examples of people going above and beyond the call of duty to help out a fellow believer when they needed it. When I see the example of the early church, something wells in up my heart that desires–LONGS–to be a part of that kind of community. No one was ever in need. People who had more gave from their bounty to the people who did not have quite enough.
But there is always a small part of me that wants to hang on to my stuff. My heart whispers that I will be less happy if I give money/things/time away rather than spend it on myself. Heaven forbid I not be able to afford that cute new top or extra shot in my Caramel Macchiato this month.
But my heart is lying. First of all, spending money on myself is not the path to happiness. And even if it was, it’s not the path to godliness. Jesus is our example – Jesus, who was the prince of heaven, only Son of the living God, and who gave all of that up to spend 30 years in a decaying, human body so that we would have a way into the Father’s presence.
Secondly, I’ve believed the lie that any of this stuff is even mine in the first place. The whole earth belongs to God, and that includes my home, my salary, my vehicles, and even my $6 purple lamp from Goodwill. It’s all his. I am only a steward, and someday, I will be called to account for how I invested the things he entrusted to me. I don’t want to be ashamed of where I placed my treasure.
It’s humbling to read through the Bible and see how unlike Jesus I still am. But as I continue to let the Holy Spirit work in me and make me holy, I think the reminder is a good thing. I am no Savior, and I never could have been. Only Jesus was perfect, and without his grace, I would be so hopeless. I am so thankful for his gift, and for the ability to read the Bible in my own language, and study it as I try to be more like my beloved redeemer.
So, here’s where I turn the tables on you: Have you read through the book of Acts lately? If not, I challenge you to do so, and in a single sitting if you can manage it. Let the Holy Spirit speak to you, and come back and tell me what you learned. I’d love to hear from you.