My next stopover in Acts was in chapter 9:
I will show him how much he will suffer for my name.Acts 9:16
God spoke these words to Ananias; the guy who was charged to pray for the Scourge of the Early Church – Paul.
Paul held the cloaks and approved of those stoning Stephen. Then, setting out on a fervent rampage to persecute believers, he met the Living Lord and received a new agenda.
A burning light
“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”Acts 13:47
When this was first written in the Old Testament, fire was only one source of light.
If we’re to be a “light”, do we need to burn?
Maybe it’s like the burning bush in the dessert; it gave off light and heat whilst not being consumed?
But what if it’s not?
What if, in order to be the light of the world, we need to burn. Not just with passion but in the crucible of suffering.
We don’t have to read much of Acts to see Paul suffered greatly for Jesus’ name. But then, so did all of the other apostles … followers of Christ … Christ Himself … and every prophet of the Old Testament.
Acts 13:47 is a quote from Isaiah, 49:1-6:
- Isaiah was known and set apart before he was born
- He’d been honed into a weapon of God’s word for His splendour
- Suffered discouragement at his failure
- But was encouraged by God’s promise, power and purpose.
In this “Servant” passage, Isaiah is talking about himself. He was the one whom God was going to make a light to the nations.
Obviously, standing on the other side of the cross, we see this climatically fulfilled in Christ. But just as Isaiah was a servant of the Lord, then Christ, Paul too claimed the role.
Shouldn’t it then follow, if we receive the gift of forgiveness, adoption, and super-charged-Holy-Spirit-power, that we too would have a purpose?
If that purpose is to be a uniquely crafted light, witnessing Christ’s truth to the world, shouldn’t we too expect to suffer?
Endangered species or raging remnant
22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.Acts 20:22-23
Not only did Paul know he was going to suffer he went willing, in the power of the Spirit, to fulfil his call. This didn’t mean he enjoyed suffering; it demonstrated Paul’s love for Christ and his passion for truth were greater.
This reminded me of Elijah on Mount Carmel facing the 450 prophets of Baal. Yet, after his great victory he fled to the cave to hide.
At times we are raging warriors; fearless, bullet-proof, and unbeatable.
Other times we feel like an endangered species; exhausted, frail failures.
Suffering does not equate with failure.
21 … [T]hey returned … 22strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.”Acts 14:22 NIV
We are the remnant: a remaining fragment. But we are also overcomers.
As children of God, we are called to…
do what we can’t do
be more than we can be
go where we can’t go
bear more than we can stand
How is this possible?
With, by, through and in Him.
In crazy Heaven maths it looks like this:
Holy Spirit + us = awesomely-mind-blowingly-possible.
In my pursuit of discerning God’s plan for this year, whilst intentionally meandering through Acts, I can give thanks for many things:
- Being a purposed child of God
- Baptised in/with the Holy spirit
- Unique 4D witness fingerprints
- Not suffering to the point of shedding blood
Compared to Paul … the prophets … the early church … brothers and sisters currently living in other countries, I haven’t suffered at all for the name of Christ. And to be honest I don’t know what that would involve or look like in my current circumstance.
But maybe, just as suffering is not failure, not suffering like the martyrs is okay too. Perhaps, to start with, there is enough to struggle with, within;
4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.Hebrews 12:4
This year, I believe that God is changing my agenda too; to be more proactive in my struggle against sin so that I might be right with Him. This too is a cause worth suffering for.
- Do you think suffering is necessary to be a victorious Christian?
- Is it possible for the privileged to fully understand true suffering for our faith?