Reading: Acts Chapter 7
By Sonya and Bill Polino
Ever say, “I want more of God in my life”? “God, I want more of you!” “God I want to see more of your power!” “God I want to bring You glory today.” Ever while singing the song “I surrender all” and truly with your whole being really, really mean it? Of course, you have! We all have!
That “God-shaped space” at our very core is designed only for Him. Our very being knows that and yearns for that! But it is “shaped” only for our God. So when we try to fill that space with something that isn’t the right “shape” it simply doesn’t fit, doesn’t satisfy. We may think it does, but in a very short span of time, that yearning is back.
I have learned and am learning again, that it is because my eyes are fixed on my own personal self-indulgence. My own wants, desires, and “needs”. Me. My eyes are on ME!
Please take a minute, take a deep breath, breathe out and ask Holy Spirit to open our eyes to see Him, our ears to hear Him and our hearts & minds to respond to Him with steadfastness and radical obedience.
Now please read Acts 7.
Again, I am struck by how the chapter begins! “Is this true?” the high priest asks.
Take a moment and go back and re-read how we ended Chapter 6 yesterday. Chapter 6, verse 8 is a good starting point. Now, pause and think of the energy in the room. Think of the tension, emotions and pressure. Put yourself in Stephen’s shoes. I would venture to guess that in our physical natural selves we would start with a simple one word “no” and then launch into explanation. Eyes on ME. When we ask ourselves, where has “eyes on ME” ever gotten me? Ever succeeded, really? Ever brought peace? Ever shown forth the glory or love of God in the way that we truly want in that “God-shaped” space at our core?
Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways.” This is the Lord’s declaration. “For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts,”
What we “think” isn’t even close to the glory that we can bring Him as a surrendered vessel.
“Is this true?” Stephen didn’t even answer their question, not even with a simple small one word. Stephen had it all on the line. Quite literally everything in his life, was on the line here. Ever been in a life situation where everything that you have done up to that moment, hinged on the very moment that you are currently breathing in?
Lord Your ways and Your thoughts are not ours. Please teach us to set aside “ME” and fill us with You!
I praise God, that Stephen was a man just like us! I praise God that he walked, breathed, rejoiced, surrendered and struggled daily just like us! I praise God that His promise to us is not to worry about what we are going to say in that moment. In Matthew 10:19, Luke 12:11 - 12 and Mark 13:11, He promises that He will give it to us “at that very hour”! Not beforehand, but at that very moment. God is always right on time!
In Mark it further says that it will be the not us speaking but the Holy Spirit. And we do see it here: chapter 6 verse 10, they couldn’t stand up to his wisdom and the Spirit by which he was speaking; chapter 6 verse 15, his face was like that of an angel; in chapter 7 verse 55 that Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit.
This section detailing the life of a disciple, just like us, that was living out the purpose God laid before him beautifully was not an example of Stephen’s incredible strength. This is not a story for us to look at and say, “man, I wish I was that strong”. “If only I could walk that life.” Or, “is that even real or possible for us today?”
This is absolutely a beautiful life that was given to us as an example of simple radical obedience and submission.
Think back to your Mama. When she told you something once ... twice ... and goodness gracious - when she told you a third time, you best be listening or running.
Stephen was told by Jesus not to defend himself, not to worry about what he would say for it will be the Holy Spirit speaking. He also saw this example lived out in the very living example of Jesus, when Jesus himself was being judged.
Are we listening?
By Stephen’s example of obedience and submission, we see the Holy Spirit doing what only He can do in that circumstance, a strength and boldness that was not Stephen’s.
Verse 55 catches our further attention, “ ... with Jesus standing at the right hand of God ... “
Throughout scripture we see Jesus sitting on His throne at the right hand of God. Look it up - there are numerous!! I am no Bible scholar, but there are very few if any others that reference Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Don’t miss this! What would make Jesus stand in that moment? Close your eyes for a moment and think this through. Holy Spirit, split the heavens for a moment to give Stephen (and us) a glimpse to see Jesus standing!
I do personally believe that this was a gift of strength and encouragement for what lays ahead. “Carry on my child, I am right here!” Can you see it? Do you feel it?
Taking a step further, what made Jesus stand? What would make us stand in that moment?
I think of Hebrews 12:1 where we are told that we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses. We draw strength from the walks that they have walked and draw strength for our own journeys. We can stand and press through this moment because we know that they did! Did Jesus stand in this moment to cheer Stephen on? Hebrews 7:25 tells us that Jesus always lives to intercede for us, His children. Was Jesus interceding on Stephen’s behalf and then standing in the strength of the moment? Could He simply sit no longer?
Or was Jesus standing, preparing to bring Stephen home? Did Jesus rise to meet Stephen as his final breath was just moments away?
These are simply the scenarios that have played out in my imagination and I truly don’t believe they are the true depth of the story the Lord is telling us here.
As we look into this moment of time with Stephen, let’s remind ourselves of a few things.
Stephen was a man that lived life just like us. He was no extra-ordinary, exceptional human that had access or anything any different than you and I.
Stephen walked 1,000 small menial moments learning and struggling with obedience, submission and sacrifice, just like us. Different struggles, different daily life - just as your struggles and daily life, differ from mine. But yet Stephen’s was very much the same walk as ours in that he took 1,000 small steps, most mis-steps, and then got up again the next morning knowing and trusting that His mercies are new every morning!
Let us be reminded that God has told us AT LEAST 3 times, as well as has given us His living example: to not defend ourselves and to not to think higher of ourselves than we ought. His ways are higher than our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. May we allow that truth of humility settle deeply within us.
Stephen, actually all the other men and women in the Bible, are written to be our examples for a reason. If they are exceptional or extra-ordinary, that makes their walks and experiences unattainable and therefore why even have them written at all? No, God gave them to us to encourage us, inspire us. He gave them to us as a gift, to be our examples and guides! They are our great cloud of witnesses! Let’s receive them!
Finally, let’s remind ourselves that not only do we have this great cloud of witnesses, not only do we have Jesus always living to intercede for us, but we also stand firm on the promise that Jesus is the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). So we don’t even need “more faith”. Jesus authors our faith. He brings it into existence. He created it and launched us on our faith journey. He is the finisher of our faith - He carries it through until our time here on earth is done. Again visualize Stephen seeing Jesus standing. He’s bringing Stephen through to his finish line.
Praise you Lord!
Now let’s step back into our day, week, month and tasks that lay ahead of us. Let’s walk in boldness and courage that this very moment is just one of the small, potentially menial tasks, that are building the foundation upon which the purpose of our life is being built.
Please take a minute, take a deep breath, breathe out and ask Holy Spirit to open our eyes to see Him, our ears to hear Him and our hearts & minds to respond to Him with steadfastness and radical obedience. Today is just today, but He is in control! Lord, we submit to you and trust You fully.