2b-the-stoning-of-st-stephen-pietro-da-cortona

As a “baby Christian,” I attended a discipleship/ministry school. As we prayed to end class one day, the Spirit fell. Prayers and worship erupted spontaneously. During the joyful pandemonium, I felt a hand on my shoulder. A friend had a prophetic word for me. The Lord said He was putting a spirit of Stephen on me (see Acts 6 and 7). This didn’t mean the ghost of Stephen would haunt me or anything creepy like that. My friend explained God’s Spirit would work in my life in a similar way to Stephen’s.

For the next few days, I shared this word with friends, hoping to understand. I was excited because Stephen did miracles. More than anything, I wanted to see God’s power in action. Some drew attention to Stephen’s preaching ministry or how he confounded theological debaters. All this sounded pretty cool. When I told an older friend, he grew sober, looked me in the eye, and said, “Stephen was killed by religious people.” (Gulp. This was less thrilling but still cool).

As much as these things stirred me, the Spirit didn’t christen or endorse any of them. I still didn’t know what He meant by “putting a spirit of Stephen” on me.

One day, I sought the Lord about what He meant. I sat listening for His voice, I read Acts 6:8 through 7:60 multiple times. Nothing but tumbleweeds in the spirit. I don’t know how long this went on before I realized I hadn’t read the first seven verses in Acts 6. Begrudgingly, I backed up to Acts 6:1. As soon as I read about Stephen serving widows, the Holy Spirit came down. He was like a neon arrow. In Stephen’s service to widows, I could see the self-giving Spirit of Jesus manifesting. The Word became flesh in Stephen, and here was the Spirit landing like a dove so I could see Him.

In this moment, I could also see how shallow I was to desire flasher things like miracles and oratory skills. I didn’t value what Jesus valued. His heart was there, in the section of Acts 6 I skipped as unimportant.

I am hardly alone in holding a spiritually backward value system. The global church might benefit from asking what she is overlooking as unimportant. Chances are, her Lord is there.

Today, I can see how God has fulfilled His word about Stephen in my life: As a social worker, I help “widows” (the elderly and disabled) obtain food, medical equipment, caregivers and other resources. Now and then, I teach at my church or places friends fellowship. In between, I content myself with blogging and sharing Christ at Bible studies. I’ve engaged philosophers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and Christians of all stripes in discussion. Whether any were confounded by Stephen-esque wisdom, God knows. That is never my aim. I’ve also been party to healings, financial provision, changed lives, and other miracles. The parallels between my life and Stephen’s are clear.

My heart’s desire is to preach, teach, and help others grow in Christ. I would love to devote myself to prayer and the ministry of the word as the apostles did (Acts 6:4). Yet most of my time is spent at work, serving “widows.” I confess that this disappoints and even grieves me at times. Sometimes still, in my heart, I overlook Acts 6:1-7.

My prayer, for myself and others, is that we come to value what the Lord values. “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). Amen, Jesus. May we embrace you in what is overlooked and of little consequence.

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