- Acts 8:1 (ESV)
The verse from Acts is from the story of Stephen, a devout follower of Jesus who told His Savior's story in front of crowds wherever he went. His work came at a time not too long after the death of Jesus when the Temple leaders wanted the Truth as spoken by the new Church of Jesus believers silenced. They saw this story as a threat to their positions and they were unwilling to open their eyes to understand. Accordingly, men like Saul of Tarsus, who later would become the Apostle Paul, supported his persecution and even death. Stephen was stoned to death by a crowd with the event witnessed by this future great teacher of the Gospel. Yet Stephen refused to yield in his views and his adversity from those on earth ended with death.
Saul continued in his efforts to bring the Jews who accepted Jesus to Jerusalem for trial and severe punishment, often death. But that all changed when he was blinded temporarily on the road to Damascus and very soon "saw the Light of the Lord." And from there he became Paul, a man truly touched by the Holy Spirit and given insight into the mystery of the Christ unfathomable to most. And because of his not being a native of Israel and his sordid past, he was chosen to spread the word outside of Israel to those in any of the man lands he visited. God knew that only a man with a record like Saul's could be a great tool to convince sinners everywhere of the power of faith. To do this the Holy Spirit truly entered him, changed him and used him for God's purpose and it started the spread of the Christian faith throughout the world, something continuing today despite the hardship and suffering that witnessing meant in many places.
Those early believers, like Stephen, then Paul and the others who saw the Light faced adversity everywhere they went. For some it was just merely verbal shaming, for others imprisonment, and for others, like all of the Apostles except for John, it ended in a horrific death. And while they had doubts about their strength to face their oppressors, the Holy Spirit which was sent to them from Jesus after His Ascension remained true to the end. They overcame their adversity and ultimately were awarded with Eternal Life at the foot of their Lord and Savior in the glory of heaven.
What about each of us individually? What kind of oppression do we each face? Is it something mentally painful and hurtful like being considered an outcast for what we believe and stand for? Is it a painful disease that is wracking our body? Or is it a weakness for sin even though we know what we should do, yet we put that aside for our gain and/or pleasure despite the ultimate adverse consequences? Whatever it might be, there is an answer for whatever torment we face, physical or psychological, if we experience the presence of God's self within us. Within us is that same Holy Spirit who Jesus sent to His closest followers after the Ascension and it lies dormant within us until we open our heart to experience it.
So, how do we accomplish the opening of our heart? We begin a conversation with the Living God and ask for His help. That opens the heart to The Spirit, The Third Person of God, who will guide us and direct us to the Son, who is our Mediator with God the Father. And the tools to understand what He asks of us and do on His behalf are readily available in prayer, the fellowship of worship and the Bible. Establishing a regimen including each of those three factors will build and grow our belief and our strength to do what is right in all that we do. And while we might falter, once we truly commit to believing in Him by faith, we will learn from our mistakes and right our course. And that, my friends, will afford us the ability to handle any adversity that will come in our path.
God doesn't say that we won't face adversity, but He does promise if we put our faith in Him to help us weather the storm, He will provide it. And that will overcome any rough situation we face and provide us the route to Salvation. Put Him first, trust His guidance and we will live like we've never lived before and it will be glorious.
Dear Lord, We thank you for giving us the opportunity to overcome all obstacles and cleanse ourselves with your love and grace. Give us the strength to stay strong and true to you, knowing that putting you first is our path to life everlasting. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.