God is at work!* That is what I believe and you’ll hear me talk about it much. I need to remind myself of it much because it’s easy to forget. It’s easy to forget that we are called to participate in a mission which is wholly dependent on the work of God in us through the Holy Spirit.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is that of the earliest Christians in Acts 4.23-31. The scene for the setting is the release of Peter and John who were arrested for preaching about Jesus and ordered, upon being released, to cease in preaching about Jesus anymore. When Peter and John returned to the church community, the believers began to pray. That may not sound so astonishing but in my experience, when faced with a challenges and obstacles, action committees rather than prayer gatherings are the response.
The content of the prayer offered by these believers reveals just why they went to God in prayer in the first place. Their prayer begins by addressing God as “Sovereign Lord” (v. 24)
and is followed by an appeal to the way in which God has powerfully been at work among his people in the past. This is followed by naming to God the challenge they face from those who oppose their mission. So they pray, “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (v. 29-30).
There it is. They prayed expecting God to work again and to do so, working powerfully among them and through them. Here are the results: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (v. 31).
I must admit that I struggle with this prayer. I struggle because I want to rationalize the boldness of this prayer away because the result of that boldness does not fit within the box I want to keep God in. But then again, God is not in the business of conforming to the box I or anyone else wish to keep him in. So I am challenged and I hope you are as well.
The challenge is to see the results of what can happen when we pray, to not only believe and expect God to be at work but also to remain open enough to accept that God is free to respond however he chooses…even if that response defies the rules of our intellectual rationality and laws of nature that we want to impose on God or if that response defies the boundaries of the box our own church tradition has tried to keep God within.
In a sermon on this very passage, Rick Atchley, who preaches for The Hills Church of Christ in Fort Worth, Texas, had these words to say, “Only a church willing to be shaken can reach a world that is broken. Come Holy Spirit.”
I want to be a church willing to be shaken and I hope you do to. Yet that is a difficult and uncomfortable admission. So I pray that we can have enough faith to recognize and allow God to be at work in those ways which stretch us, shake us, and pull us out of our comfort zones. When we do, I trust that God will work powerfully among us in ways that amaze us and move us to praise God and give him the glory that belongs only to him.
* This was originally published for the Connecting Newsletter, Columbia Church of Christ, Columbia, MD, November 16, 2011.