Acts: Inspiring or Discouraging?

This summer we’ve been working our way through the Book of Acts as part of our sermon series. We have heard and reflected on this first group of Christians. We have read about healings and miracles and God at work in so many ways.

Acts is inspiring and encouraging and helps us think about the kind of community we want to be. So why, if I’m being honest, do I sometimes also find it discouraging?

I read Acts, and I can’t help but think to myself “woo, boy, I am not that [generous, hospitable, Spirit-led, fill-in-the-blank]. I’m certainly not contributing to a flourishing community like I read about.” But being discouraged like this comes only when I forget three key things about the book of Acts.

First, I grow discouraged when I forget who the story is about. It’s tempting as I read Acts to think that this is a story about Peter or about Paul or any number of human characters. But Acts opens with the main character, Jesus, who also gives the key directive to his disciples: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In other words, every act of the apostles is an act of witnessing, pointing to the main character of the story, Jesus. When I remember this, I remember that the story is not about me or about measuring up to some mental bar; it’s about Jesus.

Second, I grow discouraged when I forget that God is involved in every step of the story. You know all those miracles and healings? The Bible is clear that it’s not as if Peter and the disciples had worked out some secret. Over and over again, these are signs of God getting involved. When Peter heals, he does so in the name of Jesus. In Acts 10 and 11, these pivotal chapters where the Holy Spirit comes upon Gentiles, God is involved every step of the way through angels and visions and speaking directly to Peter. The call to us reading Acts today is not to go out and do big things on our own power, but to partner with God’s restorative, transformative work as he leads us.

Finally, I find Acts discouraging when I forget that at the core of thriving community is daily faithfulness. When I read Acts, it’s tempting to think that this all happened in a week or a few months. But in reality, we are reading about the early years of the church. This reminds me that there are days, months even, that go without mention. There are days and months where there aren’t incredible signs and wonders or the latest deliverance from prison. There are days and months where the Spirit doesn’t manifest himself with tongues of fire. In fact, most of the days are a community caring for one another with simple faithfulness. “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” (Acts 2:46) We might imagine adding “and the kids ran screaming around the house, all at the same time.”

As I remember these things, Acts feels less like a burden, and more of an invitation. It feels like an invitation into a life where Jesus is the main character, where I’m invited to work alongside God, not working it out on my own, and where days of simple faithfulness is the stuff of transformative community. That, to me, sounds deeply inspiring.

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