As I prepare to be sent halfway across the world today, the Lord has been busy wrecking my heart with the beautiful truths and Christian example found in the book of Acts.
I studied Acts while on a mission trip last Christmas season so I expected rereading it for this trip would be easy, a simple refresher of what I read last year, right?
I’ve spent the past couple of weeks reading, taking notes, writing prayers and being genuinely awestruck. There are verses and even full chapters that, had it not been for the faded notes penned in my handwriting in the margins, I would have bet I’d never read them before. I’ve had my heart torn out by the power of God’s word, by the examples of His provision, by the accounts of His love for His Church.
The best, most heart-wrenching part? The life of Paul.
Now, I’ve never been Paul’s biggest fan. Before you start throwing stones, allow me to explain.
Paul is unarguably, hands down, without a doubt the most influential person in the New Testament aside from Christ Himself. His words compile nearly half of the New Testament and his testimony has brought multitudes to Christ. You simply can’t deny his impact for the Kingdom of God.
Nonetheless, Paul seems like one of those people I wouldn’t be the best of friends with. Our personalities just wouldn’t click. I used to feel bad about this (can you really dislike someone who’s done so much for the sake of the Gospel?), until I read about Paul and Barnabas, their disagreement and their decision to go separate ways, resulting in a wider spread of the Gospel (Acts 15).
For me, Paul is a great example of how God can make us all so differently, but we can still learn from each other, despite those differences.
All of this being said, I don’t believe there is a single better example of how a Christian should respond to the sacrifice of Jesus than in the life of Paul.
Everything about Paul’s life exudes passion. Before his conversion, he was passionate for the persecution of the Christian church. He devoted his life to finding, imprisoning and killing Christians. His meeting with Jesus is built on that very passion. It was on his journey to Damascus, on his way to arrest Christ followers that Paul encountered Christ for himself. Immediately, that same passion Paul used to drive his persecution of the Church became the fuel the Spirit used to send him to proclaim truth to countless lost people.
And while it may seem out of place to talk about Jesus on the cross at Christmastime, instead of say, Easter, Paul’s all-consuming passion to respond to His sacrifice has rocked my world as I prepare to leave this Christmas.
So if you’re wondering how we should respond to Jesus’ life-giving sacrifice on the cross, if you’re looking to feel empowered by the Gospel of Christ, look at the life of Paul in Acts.
Read of his boldness, his persistence, his determination, his fearlessness, his reckless abandon of his own life to follow the Spirit’s guidance. He gave his entire life to the purpose of God’s mission for humanity.
That’s the beautiful call God has given each of us too.
He chose us so He could use us in the same way He used Paul, to fill us with the same spirit of courage and surrender and send us out into the world with His Gospel.
“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” –Acts 20:24
When I graduated high school, my youth pastor wrote me a letter with this verse scribbled at the bottom. My heart for missions began to bud in that year, and as I read this verse for the first time, my heart was so encouraged. I knew I was following the Spirit well. Yet as I look back now, I had no clue how the Lord would continue to rock my world, teach my mind and grow my heart for His purpose.
While I can’t trace God’s call on my heart for a missional life back to a specific day, I can clearly recall the day He called me deeper.
Earlier this semester I randomly signed up for a day-long missions class hosted by my church. I wasn’t necessarily excited to spend four hours of my Saturday in a lecture-type environment, but I’d been talking about how I wanted to get more involved with my church, and missions is right up my alley so I decided to go.
To say I didn’t expect God’s plan for that day is an understatement. I was more concerned with the upcoming Alabama/LSU football game and how to entertain my friends who were going to my hometown with me later that day. In the midst of those thoughts, I had a moment comparable to Paul’s meeting with the Lord on his trip to Damascus. Okay, so maybe not quite as major, but important nonetheless.
As I heard the staggering numbers being thrown at me – more than 7 billion lost people in our world and about 3 billion living in unreached people groups with minimal access to the Gospel, with 25 million of those having no access to the Gospel – my heart shattered. People are dying daily without knowing about their heavenly Father, His son, all the hope and love and grace and joy He gives.
I was overwhelmed by a feeling of uselessness.
What can I do? I’m only one person.
The Lord gently nudged me, reminding me to lean into Him, and He whispered a beautiful, slightly terrifying truth in my ear: You can’t do it all, but I can do so much through you. Look at Paul.
Tears flowed down my face as I allowed God to wrap me in His embrace, to break my heart for those who don’t know Him and to prepare my heart to be sent out to those very people.
My prayer for you is that you have an encounter like this with the Lord. That He will overwhelm your heart and soul and mind and body with the height and depth and breadth of His love shown through the sacrifice of His son. I pray that as you bear that weight and come out on the other side stronger, refined, changed, you will respond in the only way possible.
Go and tell.
When we have truly received and believed the grace and love and sacrifice of Jesus, we can’t sit still. We must go. We must tell others. We simply must — the Gospel refuses to sit stagnant within us.
Paul is evidence to this. We can’t all be like Paul, but that shouldn’t necessarily be our goal. Surrender all that you have to God, and He will use you in mighty ways you could never imagine. As Christ gave His life, so we give ours.
“It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.” –Philippians 1:20-21