Faith Comes First

It was prayer time, and Peter and John were doing what they usually did.

It was prayer time, and the lame man was doing what he usually did.

They were going to pray. He was going to beg. No one expected anything out of the ordinary. Isn’t that how it often feels when God begins to work?

Acts 3:1-10.

When the lame man saw Peter and John passing through the Beautiful Gate, he asked them for money, just like he did everyone else. I imagine there was a blank look in his eyes, like the injured mother with a baby I once passed on a street in South Africa, her sore leg blocking the sidewalk so I couldn’t help but stop. The lame man looked at them but didn’t see them as people. They didn’t look at him. That’s how we interact with beggars, isn’t it? Within a second, the lame man had already shifted his absent gaze on to the next group of people, asking out of habit far more than expectation.

But then Peter and John stopped. They looked the man directly in the eye, and they asked him to return their gaze. Now this was unexpected.

Did Peter know what he was
going to say before he stopped?

Did Peter know what he has going to say when he stopped there at the gate? Did he actually see the lame man afar off and begin praying/thinking about what to do? I think the Holy Spirit must have compelled him to stop and speak because his words are so bold.

Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.  –Peter in Acts 3:6

Stand up and walk.

Here’s the thing: Peter hadn’t healed anyone since Jesus sent the twelve out into the towns of Israel (Matthew 10), and we don’t have any documentation of what actually happened during that time. Sure, he’d been with Jesus when Jesus healed, starting with his own mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31). Sure, he’d walked on water when Jesus told him to step out of the boat (Matthew 14:22-33). But Peter himself hadn’t healed since long before Jesus left. There was significant risk in speaking aloud.

Was Peter’s voice shaky?

Was he even a little doubtful?

Did he hesitate before that last word…before he said, “walk”?

His confidence in Jesus’ power and the Holy Spirit’s work was growing exponentially. Still, I wonder if he took a deep breath before speaking. I would have.

If Peter hadn’t spoken, the miracle wouldn’t have happened. Peter had faith first. He believed God would work through him before he knew it as fact.

But that’s not all. Take a look at the next verse.

Taking him by the right hand, [Peter] helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.  –Acts 3:7

Note the order of events. The lame man took Peter’s hand, then he started standing up, then his feet and ankles were strengthened. Do you see it?

He made the effort to stand
after a lifetime of not standing.

The man had to believe first. He had to grasp Peter’s hand and make the effort to stand…after a lifetime of not standing. He could have been skeptical. He could have demanded evidence of the miracle before he acted on it. He could have sat there, saying, “I don’t feel any different.”

But he didn’t. He had faith first. He believed Jesus, through Peter, was healing him before he felt the muscles growing in his legs.

Clearly, Peter had taken on the authority the gospels show so often in Jesus…that attitude which drew everyone around to believe Him even before they saw miracles. Okay, not everyone, but remember the lepers who left Jesus to report to the temple, then on the way were healed (Luke 17:11-19)?

Maybe even Peter was surprised by the authority in his voice and the immediacy of the miracle.

Faith comes first.

Faith is believing what we do not see, and the reward for this kind of faith is to see what we believe. –Saint Augustine (quoted in Streams in the Desert July 24)

When the writer of Hebrews contemplated examples of faith through the ages, he (or she!) said,

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  –Hebrews 11:1

Confidence…assurance…unbounded by sight.

Because we fundamentally trust
God, we can act on unproven faith.

This verse applies to the big things, like our assurance of a Heaven we haven’t seen, but it also applies to the small things, like speaking a truth you can’t yet touch, like sharing your story with that wayward teenager. Honestly, sometimes the big, far away things are easier. Yet, because we fundamentally trust God, we can act on unproven faith…faith that will be proven in the next ten seconds or ten minutes, not just faith that’s proven at our deaths.*

I’m not talking about some kind of name-it-claim-it gospel here. I’m talking about heeding the Holy Spirit even when you have no logical basis for it, about trusting that God will act in a situation to which He has specifically drawn you. It doesn’t matter which side of the situation you are on.

Peter opened his mouth and commanded a healing into existence.

The lame man began trying to stand before he could see or feel any difference in his legs.

There aren’t a whole lot of miracles anymore. I wonder if part of the reason is because we don’t let faith come first.

Prayer time on a random day of the week, and three guys were just doing what they usually did. Until God did something extraordinary in and through them. My #faithinGod is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Have you been there? Have you had no certainty of an outcome, but God provided or created one? Want to share that story with us in the comments? Want to say something else? I always like to hear from my readers, and I respond to every comment!

*You’ll see this same idea in Jesus and Martha’s conversation near Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:23-26). Jesus is the resurrection for that moment, not just for the end times. More about this in Dwell: Mary, Martha & Lazarus.

Related: Faith is in the Gap*

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When Your Ministry Falls Out the Window

Paul only had a week in Troas—not long to share everything God had placed on his heart, to encourage all the leaders, and to meet new people with whom he could share the Gospel. The week passed quickly. On Paul’s last night in the city, the church planned a special service where Paul would speak, and they would all share communion.

Paul didn’t just share a thoughtful devotion.

Acts 20:6-12.

Now I’m from the south, and I’ve heard some long-winded preachers. Very rarely do they truly have that much to say. Did I say “rarely”? In fact, only once, in my experience. Most of the time, they have a good message but lack a good editor.

Everything Paul said was
important and relevant,
but that didn’t matter.

I’m not saying Paul falls into that category. I’m sure everything he said was important and relevant. But still, as someone said, “The mind can only absorb what the behind can endure.”

Enter Eutychus.

Paul “kept on talking until midnight” (v.7). The room was packed, and the many lamps (v.8) probably also contributed to a stuffy heat. Eutychus found a good vantage point where he could catch the occasional breeze from outside. Never mind that they were three stories up.

Eutychus got drowsy.

Paul “talked on and on.” Luke’s words (v.9), not mine!

It was hot.

The hour was late.

You know what happened. Eutychus fell asleep, then he fell out the window. The impact killed him.

My mind wandered while our pastor was talking last Sunday. His sermons are less than forty minutes. It’s morning, and the air is well-conditioned. Still, I find it hard to focus. The theater-style seating is padded, and the lights are dim. A guy one row in front of me was almost snoring, head resting in his left hand!

Sometimes, it’s hard to pay attention, even when you know the message is good and relevant. Sometimes, we’re going to fall asleep in the middle of it all. Sometimes, each of us is Eutychus.

But that’s not my point, just a place where we may need to forgive ourselves.

When Paul saw what had happened to Eutychus, there’s no indication that he was insulted. (I would have been.) Paul went down to the young man’s body and wrapped himself around the him. We don’t know the details of what happened next, but God used Paul to bring Eutychus back to life (v.10).

Here’s the part that both amuses and challenges me.

Some people took Eutychus home (v.12), but Paul went back upstairs. The group observed communion, then Paul continued talking until daylight!

He preached all night, breaking only for a resurrection and a snack. Then he left for Assos.

Paul dealt with the issue
then returned to his task.

When something negative happens in our ministries, we tend to think it’s a sign that we’re doing something wrong, like maybe we need to quit. It’s difficult for us to take the event “in stride” and continue the ministry God has given us. Paul, however, dealt with the issue, then returned to his task. He needed to share as much as possible before he left town, and he didn’t let a small thing—like a guy falling out the window (!!)—stop him.

I wish we knew more about Eutychus. Did he become a strong believer, maybe even a church leader? Did he ever sit in a window again?

Paul moved on, first to Assos, then to Ephesus. We can move on, too.

Paul didn’t let a big thing like a guy falling out the window stop him from the ministry God had given him in that town. My #ministrycrisis is #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Have you had a difficult issue arise in your ministry? How did you deal with it? Were you able to continue after it was resolved? I’d love to hear how God worked in you through such an event. Leave me a note in the comments below. You can also let me know what you think of this story or what stands out to you in Acts 20.

A Small League of Unrecognized Radicals (repost)

I’m not good with the crucifixion. I read and write all around it, but I struggle with the actual event. I’ve never even seen The Passion of the Christ. Last summer, however, God gave me this perspective, and I managed to get the words down. So for Good Friday this year, I offer this repost of a biblical fiction piece based on John 19:38-42 (and the other gospels).

“Get me an audience with Pilate. Now.” Joseph’s servant nodded and stepped away, soon lost in the dispersing crowd, but Joseph couldn’t move. He tried not to think about the twelve-year-old who had amazed him in the temple more than two decades earlier. He tried not to list the many who had been healed in the last three years. He forced himself to breathe again and steadied his hands.

Now for his eyes. They hadn’t left Jesus since a centurion thrust that spear into Jesus’ side. Look away, Joseph. You have to look away. You have to take care of this, even if He isn’t what you anticipated. Jesus deserves that much. Continue reading

Generosity Lets People In

Hospitality, as we’ve learned this year, is an essential aspect of generosity. We looked at opening our homes and other spaces not only to our friends, but also to those who are different from us. But here’s a sad fact: We can open our homes without opening our lives. We can put on a happy face, decorate beautifully, and entertain graciously without ever letting people into our personal space. We can have inhospitable hearts.

I enjoy being in homes where they say, “Get whatever you want out of the fridge,” and they don’t bother to say, “Sorry I didn’t get the upstairs bathroom cleaned.” In such homes, I feel welcomed into their lives, into the space where they really live, not just into their square footage. And if their teenager left his clothes on the upstairs, uncleaned bathroom floor? Well, then I know we have something in common.

When we practice generosity of relationship, we break into our own personal space to offer understanding and authenticity. It’s a hospitality of the heart.

Jesus did it. He allowed us to enter His personal space and intimate relationships. Continue reading

[Hashtag] This Is My Life

Julia sipped from the cup of tea in her left hand while she swiped and double-stamped Instagram posts on the phone in her right hand. She didn’t even look at the images, just “liked” them because her friends posted them. Friends with interesting lives and exotic vacations. Friends with fantastic husbands. An Old Navy advertisement: she paused, scrolled back a little, and tapped the now-red heart to un-like that one. She kept scrolling. Friends who always found the coolest coffee shops. Friends with beautiful tables already set for Easter dinner which was still four—no wait, two—days away.

Julia propped her feet on the basket of laundry in the floor but immediately lifted them off again. At least take off your shoes first, Julia! Those clothes are clean. She slipped her feet out of six-year-old tennis shoes and stretched them atop the laundry basket. Both the basket and her feet blurred until she blinked her eyes like windshield wipers to clear the tears.

What would happen if she posted a photo of the full laundry basket? Continue reading

The Strength of His Presence

The actions (or inaction, actually) of three Hebrew friends led to a confrontation with Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon. They did not prostrate themselves in front of a huge golden image, so Nebuchadnezzar ordered that they be thrown into the furnace.

We started this story last week.

Daniel 3.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s calm response to Nebuchadnezzar infuriated him even further than before the confrontation, and his attitude toward them changed (Daniel 3:19). I think he stopped seeing them as employees who made a mistake and began seeing them as subversives, intent on undermining his authority. I can imagine an “after all I’ve done for you!” attitude. He turned to some workmen nearby and ordered them to heat the furnace as hot as it could possibly go. Continue reading