Recently I’ve been writing about the book of Acts and Christianity’s tendency to treat it like a history book and not a roadmap. A brother stopped by and asked a great question: How has the book of Acts informed how you live your life? It’s a really important question because we can spend so much time talking about the book but not really living out what it’s instructing us. So in no particular order, here are some ways the book of Acts has informed my life and practice.
Miracles Didn’t End with Jesus or the Apostles- This is an easy one to understand. Miracles and the gifts of the Holy Spirit are found on nearly every page of this book. In fact, the more I read it, the more stunned I am that the supernatural ministry of Jesus was really continued in the Early Church instead of ending with Jesus. Now most people are okay with believing that the apostles did miracles, but we see all throughout Acts that other people did them as well. Stephen, Phillip, Ananias, and Agabus are all non-apostolic figures who where powerfully moved upon by the Holy Spirit. Some of the people who the Holy Spirit moved through were so ordinary, we don’t even know their names. Peter’s promise at the beginning of the book of Acts is as true today as it was then: “This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all who have been called by the Lord our God.”
For me, seeing the continued activity of the Holy Spirit working in the life of the church and for the expansion of the Gospel constantly pushes me to believe God wants to do more miraculous things through me. God will still heal, deliver, and speak into situations in order to encourage the church and point the lost towards Christ. I’ve seen these things happen with my eyes, but Acts always forces me to believe for them to be a reality in my own life.
Apostolic Passion- I don’t know about you, but when I read through the book of Acts, I feel my heart rekindled in the area of apostolic passion. What is apostolic passion, you ask? It’s being gripped by God for the things He called you to, specifically in the areas of reaching the lost, making disciples, and planting churches. Obviously the greatest example of this in the book of Acts is the apostle Paul. I always marvel at this man because he would go into a city, preach the Gospel, lead many people to Christ, and then, after doing so would get stoned by the other half of the city. Most people wouldn’t survive this, but Paul not only survived: He went back in to the town that stoned him. While he left the next day, he would return and his missionary activity would speed up, not slow down. There was a passion in Paul to be faithful to what Christ had called him to even in the face of difficulty. We, especially as Americans, have a lot to learn from that.
In my life, I remember early on being taught about Paul from the book of Acts. The teaching wasn’t from his apostolic travels, but from his defense before Felix and Festus where Paul would tell the story of his conversion. When he was completely done, Paul would say “I obeyed that vision from heaven,” (Acts 26:19). I remember older believers encouraging me to model my life after Paul and give myself completely to being able to say at the end of my life “I obeyed the vision Christ gave me for my life.” More specifically, as I began to understand Christ’s call to reach the lost, make disciples, and plant churches, Paul’s persistence has taught me much about enduring for the sake of the Gospel. Reading Acts again and again has in a sense been like having a brother from another age cheering me on to be faithful in the same way he was.
That’s enough for today. Tomorrow I’ll write a bit more. Until then, what has the book of Acts taught you about following Christ?
Often when we hear people talk about God’s power from the front of a room it’s in the context of words like faith, holiness, “filled with the Spirit,” or even words like fasting or prayer. There are times I’m even one of the guys sharing messages just like that. Sometimes, though, I wonder if we may be missing one of the true keys to seeing God’s power activated in our lives because it’s something we fear talking about.
What would be so scary, you ask, that we would purposely not talk about it? What topic would be so off the table that even though it leads to God’s power being manifested, we avoid it? What truth would be so unthinkable to talk about that we would not pass on a secret to God’s power?
The answer: Your weaknesses
Now, I know that seems a bit counter intuitive and maybe even a little too easy. Isn’t that not speaking in faith? How could talking about your weaknesses give you access to more of God’s power in your life? Paul tells us this:
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
-2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Pay attention to what Paul says here: I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. There was something about the way that Paul would talk about his weakness, his set-backs, his trials, and possibly even the ways he still felt imperfect in himself, that actually caused him to trust more fully in the God who raises the dead and does what no one else can do. As Paul boasted about his weakness and trusted in God’s power more, the power of Christ would dwell more in him.
I would tell you that in my brief experience following Jesus, the same thing has been true. Whenever I’ve known someone who truly moved in God’s power, they were always telling me stories about how the odds weren’t right, or how they weren’t deserving enough, or some impossible setback that made true breakthrough against the odds for them. They were quick to make Jesus the hero of their story. These people–the ones who boast in their weaknesses–have been the kind of people who I’ve seen God use powerfully.
So, if you want to have more access to God’s power, stop pretending to be a rock star. Instead, purpose to be weak. Be forward, even in your speech, that you are weak. Let the weakness not just be something you say, but something you believe. Begin to trust, not in your greatness, but trust in a God who is great, even when you and things in your life are not. It’s a doorway to God’s power in your life, in a way that few ever truly learn or comprehend.
When I was in Bible College, I had one of the best roommates I could have asked for. We had both come to the school to learn more about the power of the Holy Spirit. My friend was an evangelist, but our school focused almost exclusively on prayer and the power of Holy Spirit. So late in our first year at the school, he got permission from the head of the school to do some intensive research about how those three topics intersect.
My friend completed his paper, but I always remember the conclusion he came to in the paper was simultaneously simple and profound: The New Testament church’s experience was one of rhythms. Instead of focusing on one aspect or the other (something the church is exceptionally good at), the church of Acts would continually move through rhythms: The community would gather and pray, the Holy Spirit would respond, and the result would be a missionary thrust that lead many people to the Lord.
You see this in Acts 1-3. Jesus ascends into Heaven but tells the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit is poured out on the believers and a great harvest is gathered in from Peter’s message. The Harvest continues in Acts 3 with the healing of the lame man and many people coming to Christ.
The rhythm begins again in Acts 4-6. The apostles are brought before the high council and warned not to speak of Christ. When they are released they gather together and pray. This time the building they are praying in is shaken by the Holy Spirit and those gathered were filled with great boldness. Miracles begin to happen, a great number of people came to the Lord, other leaders were raised up, and the mission continues to go forth.
One more example is Acts 13-19. Acts 13 opens with believers in the diverse church of Antioch ministering to the Lord and fasting. It was during this time of prayer and fasting that God by the Holy Spirit spoke to the church to send Paul and Barnabas on their first apostolic mission. This apostolic mission was marked by signs and wonders and culminated in a number of new churches in Galatia and Asia Minor.
This is important for a simple reason: There is a great divide in the church. Often people who devote themselves to prayer are separated from those who give themselves to evangelism. Oddly enough, people who experience the Holy Spirit in profound ways are often separate from the people who pray and the people who evangelize. This isn’t the way God designed the church to function. We weren’t designed to live in continual prayer meetings that never see the Holy Spirit spill out to the streets and touch the lost. Nor were we designed to be constantly evangelizing without the power of the Holy Spirit that comes when we gather together and pray.
Instead, the church often will find itself somewhere in this cycle, praying, going in the power of the Holy Spirit, and then proclaiming the Gospel to lost people. In fact, this is the testimony of many of the great moves of the Spirit throughout history, starting with the book of Acts right up through the church planting movements that are happening across the globe right now.
Are you in a season where evangelism and mission is low? Maybe it’s time to return to the place of prayer and ask God to pour out His Spirit. Are you continuing in the place of prayer, but not much else? It may be time to lift your eyes to where the Holy Spirit might moving. Are you experiencing the Holy Spirit in profound ways but not seeing much harvest? It’s possible that the Holy Spirit is sending you to people outside of your church community to share the Gospel with power. The key is knowing what season you’re in. We get stagnant (even disobedient) when we choose one activity over what the Holy Spirit has us in.
So, what season does the Holy Spirit have you and your church in right now?
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ around the country,
Our house church network is in a season where we need to hear from the Lord about a number of things. There is no external threats, per se, but a number of us our sensing its time to gather together and seek the Lord in prayer in the way I described above. We are gathering tomorrow night for an extended time of prayer and listening to Jesus. Will you pray for us, that God would speak and help us forward in the next season of our lives together?
I would greatly appreciate it.
There is a story buried in the book of Acts that teaches us a profound reality about serving others in the body of Christ. It starts with Peter and John being asked to give money to a lame beggar. Peter’s response to the beggar is instructive:
I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!
Peter didn’t have money. That wasn’t a resource that the Lord had given him. What he had was the power of the Lord operating in his life. He had experienced healing in the ministry of Jesus. He had participated in healing the sick and casting out demons before. The power of the Holy Spirit was real in Peter’s life, so it was easy for Him to give it away.
There is a spiritual principle here that many people fail to recognize: We can only give to others what we have received from the Lord. Yet I often see people try to give away the things of the Lord that they have no experience in. Some do this in their teaching, trying to teach Kingdom realities that they have participated in themselves. Others counsel or advise outside of the realm the Lord has called them to. This can inevitably get us into trouble.
This issue is one of dependency. We can only give to others out of the overflow of what Jesus gives us. This means that we are completely dependent on receiving all of our love, authority, and giftedness from Jesus before we can give it away to anyone else. The New Testament is filled with phrases that echo this dependency: “…so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord,” (Acts 20:24); “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you…” (1 Corinthians 11:23). Paul was living a life of passing on the things that he had received from God.
Friends, the Lord has called us to access the resources of Heaven for others. So by writing this, I’m not telling us never to step out into new things. I’m simply saying we have to operate in a radical dependence on Jesus and be constantly receiving from Him. It’s out of this overflow that the ministry of Jesus happens. Jesus is generous and wants to give us so much more than we have if we but ask. So receive and out of this receiving, pass onto others that which Jesus has given you!
Recently I wrote about disappointment with prophetic words about revival and how God has surer promises that we can depend on. What I wasn’t necessarily expecting was that for many people, this brought up a larger issue about disappointment with prophetic words in general, not just about revival. I think what I found was that, for many, prophetic disappointment is real and can lead to dangerous places.
First, for those not initiated, the Bible talks about the Holy Spirit gifting people who are part of the body of Christ to hear what God is saying and speak it forth. God loves to speak to His people, so much so that Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit told the Corinthians (who, by the way were known for the over-use of spiritual gifts) that he wanted everyone to pursue spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1). This is still a reality that happens today but everything that the Holy Spirit says should be grounded in and not contradict what God has clearly said in the Bible.
I’ve been part of groups that have believed these truths for the past 20 years and I’ve seen some incredible good come from people sharing things that are clearly from God. I have also seen some people hurt by people abusing the gifts of the Spirit or just through people being wrong about what God is saying. Neither the good or the bad has swayed me, however. Instead, Scripture’s admonition that the gift of prophecy builds the church continues to encourage me forward in hearing God’s voice and sharing it with others. So how do we navigate prophetic disappointment?
Paul actually gives us the following encouragement in regards to those who are struggling with discouragement around prophetic words:
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
There are two areas here where we miss the Lord’s will here: We can despise all prophecy or not test any of it. Each of these is a pitfall that can lead to prophetic discouragment.
Despising prophecy is the first pitfall. It’s actually a form of bitterness of the soul that comes from being hurt. Not only will despising prophecy not profit you as a believer, but the accompanying bitterness can spring up and defile you and others. The fix here is that you acknowledge that just because people have used the gift of prophecy poorly in your life, doesn’t mean the gift of prophecy is evil or wrong. We have to be willing to allow God to use prophetic gifts to speak into our lives–it’s part of learning to be the church.
Failure to test prophecy is the second pitfall. Not testing prophetic words sets people up for prophetic disappointment. Because New Testament prophecy is given en masse to the body of Christ, there is the potential for error. This is why Paul calls us to test the prophetic and hold to those declarations that actually pass the test. For many of us, we’ve been so hungry to hear from God in this way that we’ve blindly accepted every word that someone has spoken. This actually sets up ourselves and others for disappointment later. Test everything. Hold to what is true.
The best example I can give you in this arena is Shawn Bolz. Shawn is a legitimate prophetic voice in the body of Christ today and he’s known for giving incredibly accurate words of knowledge.He walks in a powerful prophetic anointing and teaches others to do the same. But Shawn is well aware of the hurt that has come from failed prophecy. He has repeatedly taught in his classes that a sign of maturity in this gifting is being able to go back and apologize for the places where we’ve inaccurately shared a prophetic word. This is the side of the prophetic most charismatics don’t want to talk about, but keeps us from growing as those who hear from the Holy Spirit.
God longs to speak to us today. If we want to grow in His likeness and mature as believers, we need to begin to open ourselves to His voice. In order to do that, we must repent of despising the prophetic and begin to believe in it so much that we test the words others give us and hold onto the ones that survive that test. When we do, we begin a journey of powerfully hearing from the Holy Spirit. This marked the New Testament church and propelled them into amazing things. Don’t settle for less than this.
If you’re like me and you grew up in the charismatic movement, you heard prophecies all the time about revival. It wasn’t unusual for a traveling evangelist, prophetic voice, or a writer or teacher to talk about revival, prophesy great revival for America, or encourage the church that they were speaking at to prepare for revival because “it is coming.”
I came to Christ in the midst of this revival fervor, so I’m certainly no stranger to it. I’ve made significant life decisions believing that the revivals that people were predicting were going to happen. While I don’t regret a single of the decisions I’ve made, the lack of revival can be discouraging. I know friends who have been deeply wounded or at least left wondering where the revivals that were promised are.
Some of these promises made weren’t inspired by the Spirit. Some of them came and we didn’t recognize them because they came in a form we weren’t expecting. Some of the promises of revival were true and we are still waiting for them to happen because their time hasn’t come yet. Regardless, all of these things can discourage a person.
I’ve said it before: I still believe in the movement of the Spirit. I believe we need to keep praying for revival. But I also know there is a certain amount of revival fatigue that has hit the body of Christ. It can be the promise that is kept dangling in front of us and that can make us heartsick.
So, this morning, as I was praying and journaling, the Lord brought this verse to my mind:
For the earth will be filled
With the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
As the waters cover the sea.
So in a way that only the Holy Spirit can do, He took the words of the Bible and made them alive in my spirit. It was as if in reading the words of Scripture, He was saying “I know you hunger for people to turn to Jesus and live holy lives. I know there have been promises of revival. Some of those prophecies have come and gone just like the prophets who gave them. But my word doesn’t come and go. I promised that the Earth would be filled with the knowledge of my glory like the waters cover the sea. There is no way that this cannot happen.”
Think about it. Where do you see the water not covering the sea? Nowhere. Everywhere there is sea, there is water covering it. According to the Bible there is a day coming where the knowledge of the Lord’s glory will cover the Earth in that way. While the prophecies of your favorite speaker may or may not come true, the Bible has proven true over and over again and you can trust in its promises.
So friends, you who have believed in the promise of revival, the prophecies of revival may have failed you, but you can trust the Lord. He will fill the Earth with the knowledge of His glory. Don’t let your heart grow weary. You can give your life for this reality and even if you don’t see it in your day, you can trust knowing that God will cause it to come to pass. It will happen.
You can count on it.
Often in pursuit of a more missional, incarnational lifestyle we spend a lot of time serving people. We feed the poor, help where help is needed, and act as family for people who are not yet part of God’s family. Our hope is that in doing these things, people see the love of Jesus, hear the Gospel, and turn to Christ. This is good and part of God’s plan to draw people to Himself.
Let’s not forget, though, that Buddhists and atheists feed the poor, help where help is needed, and even act as family to those who aren’t part of God’s family. While these are all things God’s word instructs us to do, they are also things humans can do.
Without stopping doing these things, we should also begin to seek to do the things only God can do. We can listen to the Holy Spirit while we are serving people and see what He is saying. Then say it. One word from the Holy Spirit will unlock someone’s heart. If we’re serving someone and find out they are hurting or sick, we should pray for them, right then and there. God can and does heal and healing is a sign that the Kingdom of God has drawn close to people who are far away from God.
So don’t stop being servants or feeding the poor, but in all your doing, make room for God to do the things only God can do. Let’s introduce people to a God who can do more than just what nice humans can do. Let’s show them Christ who can do what only God can do.