Scripture: Acts 4:23-31
If you have heard the Bible verse from the book of Proverbs, “God helps those who help themselves” please raise your hand. That saying is familiar to many people. It is impressed into the thinking of many Americans, including Christians. The problem is the Bible nowhere says it. Benjamin Franklin said it in Poor Richards Almanac in 1757. Still, there is an attitude ingrained in the minds of many believers today that the responsibility of living an effective Christian life depends upon each individual. If you want to be a blessing to your spouse, your family, your church, your community, you’ve got to do the work. That’s the way of thinking that many folks have. It goes along with a strong American work ethic. If you want to experience good things, you’ve got to contribute the sweat equity. Even if you are in the midst of difficult times, the key thing to do is to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and keep moving forward. While that way of thinking is very American, it isn’t Biblical. A Biblical lifestyle isn’t all about self-reliance, its all about God-reliance. You follow, you surrender, God works. In John 15:5 Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (NIV) So if you have a strongly independent, self-sufficient mindset, you may feel good about your efforts to do things on your own, but you won’t accomplish anything of lasting value in God’s eyes. If you however, depend on Jesus, and rely upon him to do the work of transforming your life and the lives of people around you, then you’ll accomplish great things in the midst of challenging situations. Actually God will be accomplishing great things through you. Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I was put to death on the cross with Christ, and I do not live anymore—it is Christ who lives in me. I still live in my body, but I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself to save me.” (NCV).
In this passage, the believers in the early church were really in a tough situation. The Jewish leaders were putting heavy pressure on them to keep quiet about Jesus. They were making threats to them, which no doubt included physical harm to themselves and also to their families. These early believers had no recourse in themselves. They were no match for the power of the Pharisees and Sadducees. So rather than relying upon themselves when they were under the gun, they relied upon God. They called out to God in prayer. What happened to them gives great inspiration for Christians today. There are three things that happen here as a result of relying on the Lord in hardship.
First, when you rely upon the Lord in hardship, the Holy Spirit shakes things up. Acts 4:29-31 says, “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken…” Did you catch those last few words? “the place in which they were gathered together was shaken.” These believers had been frightened and intimidated by the threats of the Jewish leaders. They were aware that they had great power. Immediately after praying however, God reminded them of his power that is far greater than alliance formed against them. He was letting them know that he was able to guard them, to protect them, and to enable them to rise above the circumstances that threatened to overtake them. Then in the remainder of the book of Acts these believers do that very thing – they rise above the challenges before them and do the work that God had trusted them to do. What was that work? Acts 1:8 describes it, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” When these frightened believers gathered together and prayed, God responded by shaking things up. He shook things up literally. The walls shook, and their perspective on the balance of power was shaken. God then shook up the world through the power of the message of Jesus. He will do the same in your life today. When you rely upon the Lord in hardship, the Holy Spirit shakes things up.
Then, when you rely upon the Lord in hardship, the Holy Spirit fills you over. “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…” Any sense of insufficiency they may have had, any feeling of being too little for the task ahead of them, was now gone. They had been filled with the Holy Spirit. Before they prayed, they were filled with many things. They were filled with fear, with doubt, with frustration, with anger, with discouragement. When the Holy Spirit filled them however, all the other things were displaced. When the Holy Spirit fills your life, there is no room for all the other negative things that can drag you down and trip you up. That’s one of the main reasons why you should pray for the Holy Spirit to fill you again and again. It’s important to understand that a person only receives the Holy Spirit once – that happens at the time of becoming a part of God’s family. It happens when a person is saved. That’s the only time you will receive the Holy Spirit. Being filled with the Holy Spirit, however means that He displaces everything else that is in your life. The problem is that other things have a way of working their way back into your life: fear, anger, bitterness, resentment, etc. So when you are filled again with the Holy Spirit, all those other things have no place to go but out. This last week someone called me who was upset, and wanted me to pray for them. I prayed, and as a result the Holy Spirit filled that person and displaced the anxiety and the turmoil, and replaced with His peace and presence. That person went on then to help someone else. The filling of the Holy Spirit was essential for the helping of someone else. If you’re having some kind of a struggle and someone else needs your help, or looks to you for support, you’re going to share whatever is inside of you. If you have fear and bitterness there, they’ll get it. If you have anger there or anxiety, they’ll receive it. If you take the time to be filled with the Holy Spirit however, they’ll get Him. When you rely upon the Lord in hardship, the Holy Spirit fills you over.
Then, when you rely upon the Lord in hardship, the Holy Spirit compels you forward. “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” There is no indication of any struggle in this passage. The disciples didn’t have to work up their courage, they didn’t have to focus on their own willpower. When God shakes things up, when He fills you over, you cannot help but move forward. You move forward to serve, to share, to speak, and even to sing. Christian songwriter Chris Tomlin wrote,
I will lift my eyes in the darkest night
For I know my Savior lives
And I will walk with You knowing You’ll see me through
And sing the songs You give
How can I keep from singing Your praise
How can I ever say enough, how amazing is Your love
How can I keep from shouting Your name
I know I am loved by the King and it makes my heart want to sing
You’re likely facing some kind of hardship or challenge right now. The challenge could be your eternal destiny. You’re not sure you’ll go to heaven when you die. It could be something that is blocking your path from continued service to Jesus. You can make one of two choices. You can respond to it with your own energy and efforts, and go down in a valiant demonstration of self-reliance. Or you can rely on the Lord. When you do so, the Holy Spirit will shake things up, fill you over, and compel you forward. What will your choice be?