The strength we possess as humans is limited. No matter how many self-help ideas we implement or positive statements we proclaim, our strength will only take us so far. That may discourage some, but hopefully, the truth we read from God’s Word will deposit hope in us instead.
In 2 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul was sharing about a “thorn in his flesh” that continued to “torment” him. He actually pleaded and begged God to remove it. And each time God told him, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Think about that for a minute. God used this man to influence the early Church and take the gospel to numerous countries. And in his moment of weakness, he begs God to help him, and God basically says no. But God doesn’t stop there. God tells Paul that it’s when he’s weak that the perfect power of God is working best. Imagine that! We need to be weak to see God’s power work best. While we see weakness as a barrier, God is using it to uphold us. Our strength as humans may come to a certain level, but with God’s strength boosting us up, there is nothing we can’t endure!
We’re all either in a challenging season or will be in one soon. Life can either bring it gently, or it can hit like an unexpected tsunami. Regardless of how we enter into hard times, we’ll have to learn how to walk through them. We have to rely on God’s help, because what we possess on our own just isn’t sufficient. We need God’s strength.
So, when we’re in a trial where we have our own “thorn in the flesh,” we can derive power by admitting we can’t do it on our own and calling out to God. As we navigate the fiery trials in our lives, it’s an opportunity for our faith to be proven genuine. It’s a chance for God’s strength to strengthen us so that we will be “perfect and complete, needing nothing” (James 1:4).
We’re living in an unprecedented time as we navigate the life-threatening and economy-shaking struggles we’re facing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past, we’ve seen catastrophic diseases, disasters, and wars impact various countries, but this is different. At this time, the whole world has something in common: we’re trying to survive a deadly virus.
So, as followers of Jesus, how do we make sense of this? What do we do with our questions to God and our questions of God? How do we find good news in a continual stream of bad news? And how do we grasp how this fits into the all-familiar passage of Jeremiah 29:11?
For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. (NLT)
This verse gives hope and is our spiritual security blanket in hard times. It’s printed on t-shirts, etched on coffee mugs, and stamped on greeting cards. While God is a hope giver, we have to understand the context of this cherished verse.
Jeremiah prophesied to the Israelites in the southern kingdom of Judah before they were taken captive in 586 BC by King Nebuchadnezzer of Babylon. In Jeremiah 27, he prophesied that they would serve this king, his son, and his grandson, and that everything would be under their control (Jeremiah 27:6-7 NLT).
In the next chapter, a false prophet named Hananiah told the people that God would free them and restore everything to them in two years. Jeremiah challenged Hananiah because of his lies. He also said Hananiah would die and in two months, he was dead.
In chapter 29, Jeremiah encourages the people to live their lives while they’re in exile—to work, marry, plant, eat, and multiply! He tells them they’ll be in Babylon for 70 years and then, they’ll be brought home again.
God’s plans of a hope and a future for His chosen people probably didn’t match what their idea was. They wanted to go home, yet God said it would be 70 years. They wanted their own king, yet God said they would serve the Babylonian king. They wanted to flourish in their homeland, but God said to do that under a government that was holding them captive. Possibly the hardest part was that the older generation would never go back home. They would die in a foreign land serving a foreign king.
We can’t insist on our idea of a bright and hopeful future. We tend to be short-sighted and earthly-minded. But God’s ways are so much higher than what our minds can grasp. His plan is better! And it will include forever with Him in heaven, not just a short portion of our lives on earth.
If our hope is laced with doubt, fear and anxiety, we can change that today. We need to eliminate our“hope-so” attitude and replace it with a “know-so” mindset. Our hope should never be tethered to the conveniences and pleasures the world offers or the ease of a situation. Instead, we fasten our minds to the promises and truths in the Word of God and fix our sights on the day when our bright, glorious, and eternal future is made a reality. Instead of wishing away our days in the predicament we’re in, let’s have confidence that God will deposit hope into us no matter what we’re facing.
We often look for peace in our relationships. The easiest way to have peace is to first have peace with God followed by the peace of God. This allows us to see things from a heavenly perspective, which will infiltrate our earthly relationships.
But we don’t always have that viewpoint, do we? Sometimes our lack of peace with others is because we’re stubborn and don’t want to meet in the middle when we don’t agree. We think arrogantly that our way is the best way. Another reason we don’t have peace with others is because we don’t want things to go well for them, either because they’ve hurt us or we’re jealous of them. We don’t want them to flourish, but instead want them to fail.
But we can learn how to live in peace with others from a variety of verses in God’s Word. Here are a few:
When someone persecutes us, we bless them in return (Romans 12:14).
Never pay back evil with more evil but instead be honorable (Romans 12:17).
Don’t retaliate with insults but pay back with a blessing (1 Peter 3:9).
Even when we’ve blessed those who persecuted us, have chosen not to pay back evil, and been honorable in our actions, there still may not be peace. Why? Because people are people, and as good as we try to be and as much good as we try to do, we still fall short of perfection. Not every relationship can be salvaged, but let’s do everything we can to ensure that we’ve done our part.
Let’s love and be tenderhearted toward each other.
Let’s believe and hope for the best for others.
Let’s consider things from their point of view.
Let’s apologize when we need to make wrongs right.
Let’s pray for God to do a work in us and also a work in them.
And let’s ultimately remember that people are not our enemies. We have a real spiritual enemy who loves it when we battle and accuse each other. If we blame people, circumstances, or struggles for our stress and lack of peace, then we are inevitably giving them control over whether or not we live in peace. Let’s not give anything or anyone in our lives this kind of power. There is only One peace-bringer, and His name is Jesus. He is the Prince of all Peace.
… God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. Acts4:33b,34a
We often tend to think that the Holy Spirit’s power implies ecstatic expressions, filled with signs and wonders and bold preaching, but here in this section, God’s grace, involved sacrifice and service within and among themselves.
There was unity. ‘They were one in heart and mind’ Acts 4 32. This does not mean uniformity but their dependence on God through prayer united them with that singleness of purpose.
There was voluntary grace giving. Love for God and his kingdom, was evident in the way people shared everything they had. They did not claim anything for themselves. Economic status was not the barometer to measure one’s faithfulness to God. There was no compulsion for people to donate their personal wealth, to enter the community. It does not appear there were sermons preached to induce guilt or a sense of duty or even a sense of urgency to get donations. God’s grace in them prompted sacrificial giving and it was way above the tithe. They donated proceeds from the sale of lands. Giving was not from their leftovers or hand me-downs.
There was transparency. People were aware about the personal needs of one another. Relationships were obviously deep; it would have taken time and effort for people to be open and vulnerable to share personal needs.
There was trust. Trust among the believing community is evident in the way they did not claim any of their possessions to be their own. Either they shared their resources with the community, or they voluntarily made donations and laid it at the feet of the apostles’.
There was service. Those involved in charitable efforts do know the logistics involved in making sure services or even donations get to the rightful people and ensuring that records are kept. This effort is certainly not supernatural in nature but involves common sense and often, hands-on monotonous labor. God’s grace was at work, even in this initiative.
Question! Is God’s grace powerfully at work within you?
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. Acts 4:31
After having spent a night in jail and after being intimidated and questioned by authorities for healing a lame man, Peter and John could have responded in different ways. They could have mobilized the crowds and specifically the 5000 who were now Christ’s followers, to stage a silent protest in the temple, or could have incited them to turn violent. Remember, both Peter and John had a violent streak – Peter had cut off Malchus’ ear (John 18:10) and John wanted to call fire from heaven (Luke 9:24). They could have begun a series of meetings to strategize ways to overthrow the corrupt leadership. Instead the apostles went to the believers and reported all that they had experienced.
The believers’ unified response is amazing, ‘they raised their voices together in prayer’ Acts 4:24. Instead of a mob spirit, we see God’s Spirit at work. It does not appear to be one person’s prayer with a polite echo of amen . Instead of a joint war cry, a helpless wail or the deathly silence of doom, there seems to be the sound of many voices praying aloud in a unified fashion. Acts 4: 24- 30
There was trust in God the creator
‘you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them’.
No power on earth could thwart His purpose
‘Why do the nations rage, and the peoples plot in vain…’
Pain and injustice were part of His divine plan
‘They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen…’
Instead of protection they prayed for more courage and power
‘enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders’
Not only did God shake the place in a supernatural way but now 5000+ people were boldly proclaiming the word of God, accompanied with signs and wonders. When we face opposition and difficulty, may we not rise and shake our fists with rage or clasp our hands in fear, but instead let us, on bended knee call out to God, with uplifted arms in confidence. Let us be assured that He will demonstrate His power through us.
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. Acts 4:13
The Sadducees’ were an influential political body and did not believe in the resurrection, hence they would have felt insecure when listening to Peter. According to Josephus, a historian, the Pharisees were about 6000 in number in all of Israel, hence the Pharisees would have been quite threatened at the rising number (5000 men Acts 4:4) who had turned to Christ. Judeans despised the Galileans for intermingling with the local populace and considered them to have compromised their commitment to the law. Here the contrast is even more visible; the highly educated, aristocratic, religious body in all their regalia, try to question and silence two lone Galilean fishermen.
Peter was not intimidated neither did he try to be diplomatic, or worse still, attempt to deny Christ. Neither did the overnight stay in the prison cell, abate Peter and John’s boldness, given the fact that they were the only Apostles who had witnessed, Christ’s torture, before he was condemned to die. Peter in fact went a step further and called out their guilt by leveling a charge against them. ‘…you crucified …the stone you builders rejected…’. He then truthfully and courageously declared that Christ was the only way to salvation and that he is alive.
The leadership saw Peter and John as unschooled, ordinary men but who demonstrated extraordinary power because they had been with Jesus.
The leaders, did not know…
what to say- ‘…there was nothing they could say. Acts 4:14.
what to do- ‘“What are we going to do with these men?”’… Acts 4:16a .
what to decide ‘…They could not decide how to punish them…’Acts 4:21.
As we spend time with Jesus, His power and courage will stand out. It will silence the accusers. May we not be intimidated by those around us but let us continue to declare Christ with His strength and power.