Acts 8:3-8 (the message)
And Saul just went wild, devastating the church, entering house after house after house, dragging men and women off to jail. Forced to leave home base, the followers of Jesus all became missionaries. Wherever they were scattered, they preached the Message about Jesus. Going down to a Samaritan city, Philip proclaimed the Message of the Messiah. When the people heard what he had to say and saw the miracles, the clear signs of God’s action, they hung on his every word. Many who could neither stand nor walk were healed that day. The evil spirits protested loudly as they were sent on their way. And what joy in the city!
I have never been a person who lacked something to say. I was the kid in elementary school whose teacher always commented I talked too much in class. I had a hard-earned reputation on into high school of speaking my mind. Now, as I grow a bit older I realize a few things. First, it’s not always wise or necessary for others to know what I think. My opinions aren’t that important. Secondly, when I do have something worthwhile to say it leaves much more of a punch if there are actions that back it up.
Christmas Eve day, as we were driving to visit my in-laws, I was reading this scripture and the following jumped out at me: “When the people heard what he had to say and saw the miracles, the clear signs of God’s action, they hung on his every word.” You know why the people listened to Philip? You know why they hung on his every word? Because Philip’s words were accompanied by clear signs of God’s action. Philip wasn’t just talking the talk. He was walking the walk. I guess I just think about how easy it is to let the “right” words come tumbling from my mouth but never really stop to check and see if there is anything in my life, any God’s signs, to back me up.
Let’s be honest. If you are a veteran of church-world then you probably know the lingo. If you are like me, you have probably talked about how good the Lord is and told folks you would be praying for them and then forgot what you said the minute you walked away. Much less ever thought about actually praying with them right then! Philip’s life impacted the people he came into contact with. His words were not empty shells carrying nothing but air…His words were backed up with something the people could actually see. They saw God moving in Philip’s life and because of that they were much more willing to listen to what he had to say.
I totally get this. I am much more likely to absorb words, even ones of correction, from a person that is “real” and actually walks with God. I can trust the words of a person whose life reflects that they actually believe whole heartedly what they are saying. I am not looking for them to be perfect representations of Jesus. I am not shattered to discover they are human and have faults. But when I see consistent God signs and actions in their character and behavior then I am more likely to trust their words. Bottom line, it doesn’t really matter what we say if our lives don’t back it up.
The last part of the scripture above talks about how the evil spirits protested loudly as they were sent on their way and what joy was in the city! When we determine in our hearts to let God work in our lives so that what we profess to believe can be validated by how we live, there will be protesting! The devil will protest against it (he doesn’t care what we say we believe as long as we don’t actually live it). Other people around us may protest against it. When we cross the line..when we choose to be faithful to the words we profess about Christ in our lives…when we make choices that reflect something real is happening in our hearts with God…it will make some folks around us uncomfortable. And that can make us uncomfortable.
As I grow into my mid-thirties, I can look back and see how many times I have had too much of the wrong thing to say. Too many opinions. Too much judgement. I am sure there have been times when I spoke words of encouragement with a loving heart, but it’s only now in this season of my life I more clearly see how words flowing from a heart where God is at work produces much more joy and freedom than all my professions and opinions. Yes, I am a Christian. I asked Jesus into my heart as a child. And even in the desert seasons of life I know that God never left me and always loved me. But there is so much more to being a Christian than just professing it. Not because we ought to be checking off our spiritual to-do lists, but because there are people all around us who need Jesus. They need to know that He really, really loves them. That Jesus can heal their broken hearts and minds. That He can put them back together. That there is no distance they can travel from Him, no sin or rebellion larger than His mercy and grace. People really need Jesus. But we can’t give them our professions of faith when our lives are no different from theirs and expect it to mean anything. We can’t show them the way to forgiveness and healing and joy and peace if we don’t experience these things ourselves.
Living this way carries a weight with it. It means learning to let God lead our words and actions with His words and actions. Our emotions, pride and rights don’t get to run the show. Of course this is a journey and a work in progress, but the more I experience the mercy, grace and healing Jesus can bring the more compelled I am to see others have it, also. That means when I am in a long line with little girls tugging on my sleeves at the store, I have to remember that my attitude, words and behavior carry a weight. What if the clerk or person behind me in line sees a bad attitude and then I try to greet them with a big smile at church the next weekend? I know what it means…it means my big smile is a big fake. What if I see people who need help but I don’t feel like being inconvenienced and yet when I try to share Jesus with them they seem disinterested or disgusted? People know the difference. They know when our heart is in it or we are just playing a part. What if I know deep inside that God is trying to deal with me about something or draw me closer to Him and yet I just keep trucking right along, pretending I don’t hear Him and that I am spiritually fit? I lose out on what Jesus longs to do in me. I’m not talking about being a fake. And when we mess it up (as I often do), then we make it right with God and the person we hurt or offended. I’m talking about being a Philip…having a heart that hungers for God to act and flow through our lives in ways that back up the Holy Spirit words we speak.
We need that sincere joy in our cities…our homes…our hearts, but we must get real about it. Does your heart secretly long to take off the mask? Are you tired of pretending? Or perhaps will these few moments be the first you have really stopped to evaluate your life…your heart…your words and level of living? Either way, Jesus is calling. He loves you so very, very much. He isn’t waiting to disparage you or punish you. And He isn’t far removed. Jesus is right here…whispering to your heart…asking you to come out a little further…live a little more deeply. Jesus can heal your heart if its broken. He can melt your heart if its hard. He will fill you in such a way that all you can talk about is how good He is in your life.
That kind of living and talking makes people stop and listen.