It’s great when different passages of Scripture come together in a way that teaches us something about God. While reading Acts recently, I noticed such a connection about the way God answers prayer when we ask for His help to accomplish something. At one point, the disciples call out to the Lord, and both the reality and the nature of His response illustrate some things about His heart for reaching the lost.
Early in the new church’s life, Peter and John encountered a lame beggar while entering the temple. After the man was healed, Peter preached to the crowd, which caused the Jewish leaders to arrest and hold them. The next day, with no real charges brought against them, Peter and John were threatened and released. They immediately sought out other believers and reported what happened. They responded by voicing prayers to God, including this statement:
“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29–30 ESV)
Part of their prayer was the request for boldness shown here.* Perhaps they saw how the Spirit had acted through Peter and John, and desired the same power. (Acts 4:8, 13) After their prayer, the place where they were gathered was shaken, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke “the word of God with boldness”. (Acts 4:31) Perhaps this was God’s initial answer to their prayer. Some time later, Stephen is martyred, and persecution starts. It is here that we see a clearer answer.
And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. (Acts 8:1–6 ESV)
Imagine that! In the midst of great persecution, their response was to proclaim the Lord. This should encourage all of us, for everyone who was not an apostle was included. God freely bestows His power to anyone He wishes, not just full-time ministers or specially-called evangelists. We can all ask Him for boldness to do His will. Even though this passage does not specifically mention “boldness”, the fact that they were proclaiming the Word in the midst of great persecution counts as such in my book.
So then, isn’t this an example of God granting their request? Perhaps this is also an example of Him answering part of the Lord’s prayer: “Your kingdom come…” After all, what is that if not a request that the Gospel would be proclaimed and people come to know Him. God definitely wants people to know Him, so His answer here is an example of answering those prayers that are completely aligned with His will and plan and heart.
But note that His answer did not result in things being easy for them. In fact, they ended up needing Spirit-empowered boldness to embark on the mission of taking the Word outside Jerusalem, as Jesus had foretold (Acts 1:8 ). Needing boldness in speaking out implies that we will be called to speak when it’s not easy. God didn’t give them easy situations, but difficult situations in which His power was needed. So, asking for boldness reveals a heart more concerned with reaching people for Christ than personal comfort. One might also pray that God would make it easy to proclaim the Gospel, but who’s really the focus of that prayer?
That kind of thinking ends up focusing us on our own limitations, on how hard it is for us to share our faith. Yet these passages teach us that whenever we encounter such challenge, we should ask God to remove those internal barriers from our witness, and that we must not just give into the lie that our abilities are limitations. How often do we ask God to change us, to give us that which we so easily admit we are missing? That’s what the believers did in the early church. They knew they were not bold enough to speak out as they should, but they also knew that God could give them that boldness. They exhibited His heart by asking. All too often, we focus on what we perceive with our natural senses and abilities, rather than seeking God’s spiritual perspective and power.
So now, let’s seek to reflect God’s heart, the heart of the Father Who sent His own Son to death on a cross that people could come into the Kingdom.
Reflecting on these passages has really challenged me. I work with a man who’s known as atheist, but with whom I’ve connected well on secular matters. I’ve never even mentioned matters of faith because of his (presumed) skeptical nature. And yet, he is exactly the sort of person God has lain on my heart. Even if talking to him about the Lord produces no fruit in his life, understanding his perspective could give me better insights for approaching others. I’ve worked with him for over a year now. So why haven’t I raised the name of Christ? According to God’s will, that needs to change.
Lord, please change me. Give me boldness to speak the name of Jesus, and the words to bring people to You. You need to give me the words, for only You know what their hearts need to hear. May Your Kingdom come!
* Note: Part of the prayer was also for signs and wonders. The fact that this was also answered is interesting, and will be addressed in a future post.