What would you call a really good day? Is it a day when everything goes perfectly, everything on your list gets done, everyone at work and at home is agreeable and cooperative, and somehow you have time for a good book and a bubble bath, or some t.v. time and your favorite drink? Is it a day without any trouble or setbacks?
Or, is it a day when you meet every trouble and setback with grace and a gentle tongue, people at work and at home are terrible to you but you love them through it, forgiving them everything, where nothing on your list gets done but you praise and thank God for making you able to persevere, trusting the Lord with your agenda and your time? Hold onto those thoughts.
In the next few chapters, we’re going to see a cycle:
- It begins with prayer and prophesying (speaking forth the mind and counsel of God) which includes scripture.
- This leads to power, lives are changed, something notable happens.
- Which in turn leads to opposition, which sometimes comes in circumstances, and sometimes comes in persecution.
- Which drives Jesus’ followers back into prayer and the cycle begins again.
Each problem drives the believers on to the Lord
In our lives today, you and I have to cope with much the same kinds of things that are in these chapters—meeting people’s needs, dealing with people who don’t like us or what we represent, who want to stand in the way, dealing with discord in our churches and relationships, dealing with lies, suffering, injustice, and personal injury. The list goes on.
Then we ask God to give us wisdom through the Spirit, and the Lord will, James told the church. When we make a decision and act on it, we have confidence in God’s approval of us and God’s guidance for us, though there may be further upset and resistance, because we know God’s love is unconditional, and God’s approval is not based on success or failure.
Every time you and I meet difficult circumstances, setbacks, pushback and the like in the Holy Spirit, the situation will always provide opportunities for growth for us, and for the people around us. At least, that’s how James wrote the opening lines of his letter to the churches.
James, who led the 1st century church in Jerusalem, had a great way of putting it:
My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.James 1:2-4 (NRSV)
Consider troubles as opportunities, knowing God allows trouble. It’s not always clear why. I think it’s true God is sometimes teaching you and me something, sometimes God is teaching one or another person who is watching us, or involved with the situation in some way. Sometimes, God is rescuing someone, might even be us. Sometimes bad things just happen, trouble happens, calamity and tragedy happen. We can’t forget it’s a broken planet simply swarming with broken people. Those jagged edges can cut deep.
Let’s not make light of it, or try to cover it over with a Band-Aid Bible verse! Horror, despair, gut-wrenching sorrow, despondency, rage over injustice, terror…these are no small things.
Still, what we do know is that God is there in the midst, experiencing the pain with us, and offering God’s own presence as both comfort to endure, and strength to persevere. As James said, “you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature.”
The believers needed good, strong teaching like that to help them through what was coming, for remember, they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.
This chapter opens with Peter and John’s habit of going up to the temple for prayer every day, and also to pore over the scriptures. Jesus could easily have passed by this beggar every time he went to the temple. The text says the beggar was over 40 years old, so he’d been begging here a long time, but Jesus had left him unhealed.
I have no idea if John and Peter were late to prayer, or had plenty of time, but the text indicates this beggar’s request was an interruption to their day. These disciples had their hands full, with thousands of believers overnight needing teaching, shepherding, and literally feeding and housing. It’s hard enough cooking and cleaning, and providing for one family!
When the beggar asked for money, Peter and John both really looked at him. They took the time to slow down, and be fully present with this interruption in their very full day. They gave the man their undivided attention…and care.
“I don’t have what you want, but I do have something, that if you’re willing to receive it, is better.” As Peter took the beggar’s hand, the power of the Holy Spirit flowed from him into the man, and restored his ankles and feet – for the first time in his long life the man felt strength.
It was quite a spectacle, no decorum, unfettered joy, cranked-to-11 praises – I love Sunday morning worship at my church, because everyone sings at the top of their lungs, with great gusto. It’s that kind of all-out praising this man gave God! So, no wonder a crowd gathered, giving Peter his chance to preach.
And preach he did!! He was even more pointed than in the last chapter. He hammered them with hard truth, truth that hurt. But, I think they were ready for it, just like the people in chapter 2. Just like when God knows I’m ready to see something about myself that I couldn’t have handled before, because I was too fragile. But now, now that it’s revealed, I remember, “Ah yes, God knows I’m ready to hear this, and to grow.”
So, here’s parts one and two: Peter has prayed over the man, now he’s preaching (prophesying, remember, whole counsel of God), then the Lord’s wild, wonder-working power comes, and something notable happened. Stay tuned for parts three and four to come!