Do you ever read the book of Acts and get a little discouraged? I do.
Take for instance Stephen (Acts 7). Does that name ring a bell? Think alliteration. Stephen = Stoned. Not Woodstock, but big rocks. Pounding into his head. Over. And over. And over. Till he’s dead. Not a good way to go. But do you know what’s amazing about Stephen? Right before the rocks start flying, Stephen gives one of the most amazing, succinct accounts of the epic story of God all the way from Abraham up through the coming and death of Jesus Christ. And yet, it doesn’t read like a script that was memorized to be regurgitated, but a tailor-made and historically accurate story that perfectly fit his audience (Jewish leaders) and would have forced further thought into the minds of those listening.
I’m blown away every time I read the story of Stephen. But then this thought pops into my mind: I could never do that. I don’t have talent like that. Maaaybe I could memorize the story as Stephen told it. But could I re-tell it in such a way as to be understood by any particular audience? Could I take the story of God and show an african villager how it relates to his life? A post-modern painter? A dock-worker? An heiress to the royal throne? And then there’s the whole situation of Stephen’s circumstances... HE WAS ABOUT TO BE KILLED! Would I be thinking straight enough in that situation to tell the most important story ever told? Or would I be flashing my American passport and waiting for marines to swoop in and save me?
Here’s two more examples which come from Paul. In Acts 17, Paul’s in Athens. Athens is at this time a city known for its gods, idols, religiosity, philosophy. He sees statues and idols to gods everywhere. He’s Paul, so he has a reputation. He’s pressed by some people who don’t want him around, and he finds himself in the middle of a bruhaha. With everyone watching and listening he stands up and says ‘You know what I saw today? An idol to an unknown god. I’ll bet you Athenians would like to know this unknown god... (dramatic pause) I know him!’ And then he proceeds to tell them all about the power of the one true God and how it is desperately important they know Him. The other example comes later, when the Jews arrest Paul (Acts 22). He’s put on trial, and he takes the opportunity to tell his story: how God met him, grabbed him, changed him, and sent him. And like Stephen, he does it in such a way that the people around him hang on every word. Again, I’m flabbergasted at the lyrical and situational beauty of it all. But I could never do that.
Or could I?
Today I read a simple little verse in Luke: “When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (12:11-12)
This verse is Jesus talking, and right before this He says that all who confess Him before others on this earth will be confessed to angels by He himself. Jesus knows my life. He knows the mess of it. He knows every little part and He knows better than anyone the total unworthiness of myself and my actions. And yet He will be the one in heaven who stands up and says ‘this man is worthy to be here, and let me tell you why...’ The angels will be waiting for only one answer to follow, ‘because he knows ME.’
And this same Jesus who proclaims us worthy also promises that when we’re in those tight spots before the multitudes, His spirit will give us every word we need. Listen to the spirit inside of you, His story is in there dying to get out.