In a recent conversation with a friend, I recounted a situation that left me feeling kind of yuck in my heart. Ninety-nine percent of the time, running brings a lot of joy and goodness to my world. Time to commune with the Lord, escape from the worries of the day, and work hard. But in this particular scenario, I allowed my frustration to get in the way and have a negative attitude about someone in a race. As time went by, instead of feeling content with my effort or even victorious of the outcome, I was left feeling pretty blah and embarrassed about the thoughts going through my head about this other athlete. It definitely took away from the joy of the hard work.
Most friends, when hearing this story, would brush it off and say hey, that other athlete has issues. Don’t worry about it, we all have negative thoughts. She said some pretty rude stuff in the past, anyone would think those thoughts. Shake it off.
But not this friend. She’s a wise truth-teller. She made a point of saying, ‘if you’re feeling that press on your heart, I’m not going to speak contrary to the work the Holy Spirit is doing in your life’. She asked me some really insightful questions to help me get to the root of why the Holy Spirit was working on me in this area. Multiple times I have recalled the conversation, mostly her example to allow the Holy Spirit to work, and not gloss over it, justify it, or try to absolve my conviction. There’s definitely a time to lift someone up, and there’s a time to allow the Holy Spirit’s conviction to do his work. My friend had the wisdom to know the difference, and clearly she is filled with the Holy Spirit herself.
I’m reminded of this outline I came across years ago – which helped me pray and process through different thoughts. It can be HARD to distinguish between thoughts from the Holy Spirit, my own thoughts, or even thoughts from the enemy. I love this tool to help recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit:
When we recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit, we can continually empty our hearts and minds of other voices, and make more room for him.
Today’s reading is all about Stephen, Acts 6-7. He’s often remembered as the first martyr, stoned to death, but his testimony begins much before his stoning.
The early church was growing in size in Jerusalem and they needed to differentiate roles. Specifically, they sought out disciples that were filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom, to coordinate the needs and sharing across the body of believers. Stephen was chosen, and recognized as a leader in the church. As the church grew and multiplied, Stephen kept showing up, with more grace and Holy Spirit power, miracles following. Fear spread across the Jewish leaders. They made false accusations against him (claiming he was going against Moses), and chapter 7 outlines Stephen’s response. Picture a courtroom setting and this is his closing statement to the Sanhedrin (the same Jewish council that sent Jesus to his death). Again, so filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom, Stephen rehearses for them how they are behaving just as their fathers did and resisting the Holy Spirit. From Abraham, to Jacob, to Joseph, to Moses, to Joshua, to David… he pointed out salvation through Christ, and their history over time of disobeying God and persecuting his prophets. Stephen’s testimony of Jesus hit them right between the eyes. Verse 55 tells us that in that moment, being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the Glory of God and Jesus standing at his right hand. This enraged the Sanhedrin and they took him out and stoned him.
Because of this persecution, the church scattered, and the salvation through Jesus was brought to more parts of the world. Instead of Stephen being shut down through his death, instead his impact was multiplied! His witness of living a Holy Spirit filled life and boldly proclaiming the truth of Jesus, was the catalyst for the church growing outside of Jerusalem.
Yes, Stephen was stoned to death and the first Christian martyr. But much more than that is the life he lived, recognized for how the Holy Spirit filled him, equipped him, and strengthened him.
I can’t help but think of this hymn, All of Thee, that verse by verse shows the process of sanctification, from a life of pride and self, to a Spirit-filled life.
God, You are so faithful and abundant. Show me areas I need to surrender so I can continually be filled with the Holy Spirit. Amen