Meditations on “God of Transformation: 24: The power of fear
Acts 8:1 On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
Over the years I think the verse that has impacted me more than most in the New Testament, at a practical level at least, is Rom 8:28 – “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It is “in all things” that leaps out, the fact that God will be at work in whatever is going on in the world and He will be working in it for our good. Now fear is a funny thing; it is what we would call a negative emotion and yet so often it acts as a safeguard to protect us, so it makes us run away from a blazing building or a tsunami of persecution and the threat of imprisonment. You only stand around in the face of these things if you are fireproof, or in a watertight bunker, or in God.
Now that last bit makes us think about what was going on in Jerusalem and why different people reacted in different ways. Saul of Tarsus was wreaking havoc in the church, taking Christians and imprisoning them. The apostles stood fast but most of the rest of them fled and “were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria”. The apostles knew the call and the power of God and they knew they had already stood before the Sanhedrin and been threatened and yes some of them had been in prison and been released by God. But other people didn’t have that security and so they fled, they got out the way of the marauding Saul.
So were these people who ran, lesser Christians? Did God write them off? Does He write us off when we don’t seem able to stand up to the pressure sometimes? For the answer to that, watch what happened to one of those who fled: “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city.” (Acts 8:4-8)
Isn’t that amazing! First of all, it seems, all those who were scattered took the word with them and shared it. Philip is a classic example. He ends up in a city in Samaria, starts sharing about Christ and finds the Lord is with him to perform miracles, and bring healing and deliverance and the city is transformed! And he was just one of the runners! Until then he had just been a deacon in the Jerusalem church and so the Lord took the opportunity of the persecution to take him out to new pastures where he could be stretched and used even more.
But, says the cynic, you quoted Rom 8:28 and so are you saying that that persecution was God working for Philip’s benefit? No, I am saying that the Lord who is sovereign over even the devil, allowed it in His greater will, but that it was something that happens in a Fallen World and so the Lord simply uses it to spread the Gospel. Was it for Philip’s benefit? Well in which zones, so to speak, do you think Philip was most blessed in? As a deacon in Jerusalem or in Samaria where he is seeing people being saved, healed, delivered and so on, and the city being transformed by the joy of the Lord? I know which one I would be more blessed in! Oh yes, without doubt, he is more blessed in what he is doing. Transformation from deacon to signs and wonders evangelist, courtesy of a nasty bout of persecution!!! Awesome!
So your world turns nasty or you are presented with a major life difficulty that threatens your future and at least your peace. Do we lie down in the middle of the road and let the steamroller of life in the Fallen World run us over, or do we say, “No way, Lord, please use this change to your glory and for my good as your word says”. Sometimes life seems to go really pear-shaped. It may be our own fault or it may be caused by other people or simply circumstances beyond our control. Actually, it doesn’t matter the cause; what does matter is what can the Lord do with us in and through these things?
We’ve already seen, earlier in this series, the story of Joseph in the Old Testament, where he was sold into slavery but was brought by God into the place of most power in the whole of the Middle East. His bad circumstances had been brought on by a combination of a) an insensitive father who had a favourite, b) his own pride and youthful arrogance and c) the jealousy and hostility from his brothers. Into that melting pot came two prophetic words that created even more hostility initially, and then circumstances where the brothers were given the opportunity to sell him as a slave, which they took, and then a variety of other negative incidents that ended up with a long-term jail sentence.
It can’t get much worse than that story. And yet in the midst of it we find, “The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered,” (Gen 39:2) and “while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden,” (Gen 39:20,21) Yes, all circumstances of a Fallen World, but the Lord was still with him in the midst of it all and yes, He was working for his good and the good of the world, so much so that by the end of the story we find Joseph saying to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20) Yes, he had learnt it, that even though he was living through the negative circumstances of a Fallen World, the Lord had been with him throughout and, even more, the Lord used it to bring good.
So, whether it be persecution or other life challenging circumstances, remember, as God’s children He IS there for us and He WILL be working for our good in it all. To conclude, remember another person we considered earlier in the series – Habakkuk – who by the end had come to a place where questions had given way to a trust that could say in the midst of the Fallen World stuff, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Hab 3:17,18) How could he praise the Lord in the face of all that? Because he had learned that God was at work and that to bring change and that change to bring blessing. True then, true now. Praise Him in the midst of it and watch for the transformation, watch for the opportunities, watch for the blessing. Hallelujah!