STRUGGLE TO GLORY
The early church in today’s passage is going through a series of struggles. You can say that the church is having a rough start and is a start that most people would not like but there is something about struggle that is right. I am not saying that we should love struggle or that we should create opportunities for it to rise up but we view struggle as if we are heading in the wrong direction but what if I were to say that the presence of struggle is the indicator of going in the right direction?
I’ve played games since I was a kid. I played a lot of RPG (Role Playing Games) when I was growing up and in this game genre, you would have a set of characters that you go through a virtual world to finish a particular story. The most frustrating part of an RPG is when you go through a dungeon and you are lost and do not know where to go. At times you would go through a series of the same rooms, looking for a clue to move onto the next stage but you get frustrated because you can’t seem to find it and it is amazingly boring because you already cleared out all the bad guys so that most of your time you’re just moving around with nothing to do! I didn’t notice it then but as an adult I realize that when you progress through a game, you don’t see less bad guys but more and not just more but harder! That’s how you know you’re progressing because the game is getting harder and it is the same way with our walk with God.
As we are progressing we are finding that the enemy will not just simply sit down and do nothing but will come against us harder as we get stronger in the LORD. As we also become more Christ-like we see that more of what is not Christ-like gets revealed and what we were unaware of or numb to becomes painfully obvious but that revelation leads to our restoration.
Brothers and sisters, persecution, revelation of sin, and all those things that we do not enjoy and try to minimize are actually the very places where God is going to be glorified if we but choose to obey and walk in the path that He has for us. Don’t be discouraged by the struggles but have a mind-shift that God wants to use those areas of struggle or persecution in your life to upgrade you to the next level!
54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God
Stephen gave a long explanation of Israel’s history and how people have a history of disobeying God. Stephen calls out his accusers by saying that they are just like their ancestors that came against God’s will. As they hear this, they are angered to the point where they are about to kill him but Stephen keeps his eyes towards heaven and is given a revelation from God. Majority of times, Jesus is described as sitting down at the right hand of God but in this moment we see that Jesus is standing up. As Jesus is standing up we see a moment where Jesus is receiving Stephen into heaven and thus stands up to receive not only Stephen but approve of everything that he has just testified on behalf of God.
When we are not liked for being Christian, our temptation is to respond with anger but the solution to persecution is keeping our eyes towards heaven and God who is our defender. Because Stephen kept his eyes on God he was able to act like God when he was able to pray for his persecutors in verse sixty. This is very important because the answer to hate is not hate but radical love with boundaries. Now that seems strange because why does love need boundaries? Love needs boundaries because love must distinguish from right and wrong for it to work properly. It is not loving when you accept evil. It is not loving when you accept abuse. It is not loving when you allow people to walk all over you and that you stand for nothing. Love is when you accept the people in front of you but not accept the evil actions that they may do. Love has boundaries and love is a reflection of God.
TAKE AWAY: The first step of dealing with persecution is to keep our eyes on God so that we can respond like God.
8 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
Great persecution rose up and it seemed that it was working by spreading out the church but this is God’s commandment being fulfilled despite the enemies efforts. God uses the desire of the enemy for His glory when the attack of the enemy fulfilled his will. The very place the enemy chooses to destroy, shame, and defeat you is exactly the same place where God is going to preserve you, honor you, and give you supreme victory for His glory!
To be discouraged by struggle is a natural response but it is not the response that will bring deliverance! You need a mind shift. This was something profound for me this morning because in terms of my own personal struggles, I am going to see God be glorified in it because He is going to redeem it as a testimony of His faithfulness, grace, and redemption. Even my struggle will be used to glorify his name and I am encouraged today that what the enemy meant for evil upon me or you will be used by God for our good, His good, and the good of others!
TAKE AWAY: Where the enemy wants to defeat you, God will redeem it as a testimony of victory for His glory.