Part 4: Resilient Relationships
“A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria…Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Phillip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” Acts 8:1,30-31 NLT
If you’ve never read Acts 8, or haven’t in a while, first go read it.
There’s this amazing scene of Philip with the Ethiopian in Acts 8. Philip, following the guidance of a messenger of God, walks along the road an Ethiopian official was traveling. The Ethiopian official is reading the book of Isaiah aloud while traveling. Philip joins him to explain the Gospel of Jesus to him thru the reading in Isaiah. The Ethiopian asks to be baptized right then as they come upon some water. Philip baptizes him and then is miraculously transported by the Spirit to another place – he disappears the moment the Ethiopian comes out of the water!
And to think this scene happens – and the spreading of the Gospel to the people of Ethiopia (one of the first regions in the world to adopt Christianity as its religion) – because of the scattering of the believers due to persecution.
It displays one of the foremost necessary traits of someone becoming Christlike: resilience.
Don’t miss the significance of this. Christianity had mostly existed within the areas surrounding Jerusalem up to that point. But now the Gospel would go to the places Jesus told his disciples (Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth) because they are being empowered to be witnesses of Him after persecution scatters them.
The scattering of believers is a crucial part of the story of the early church in Acts. It’s a crucial part of the story of God’s people period.
If we left off with just the initial portions of the book, we could assume everything was fairly easy…somewhat organic…maybe systematic even: The Spirit comes. People are converted. They form simple faith communities. And the Gospel slowly but surely spreads methodically from place to place.
Except that isn’t what happened.
What happened was disruption. What happened was the real world. What happened was an opportunity for Jesus’ disciples to follow the Spirit into the wilderness. What happened was the chance for them to become like Jesus by being resilient.
There are some aspects of our discipleship that can only be developed in the wilderness – out beyond the places we “know.” And one of those is certainly resilience.
Other words like it might be perseverance, longsuffering, or endurance.
Resilience has two basic aspects to it: toughness and flexibility.
It means someone can handle the pressures, the difficulties, and the unknowns of life. They aren’t weakened by them, but rather are able to navigate them however is needed.
In the life of those in Acts 8, this looks like dependence upon the Spirit after they are scattered by persecution. It looks like the loss of their comfort zone and the giving up of control.
Too many times in American Christianity we’ve made it about staying in comfort zones and staying in control more than surrendering to the Spirit. We don’t want to embrace significant change (unless it’s on our terms). We don’t even really want to tolerate it. In fact, we do everything we can to guard against it.
Why? Because comfort and control have become things we worship alongside Jesus. And that never works out.
The problem with it is that by worshipping those things it actually makes us weak and inflexible – both qualities that are antithetical to the resilience needed to live as disciples of Jesus in this world.
Jesus promised that in this world we will have troubles – if our master did, then how much more so will we as his servants. But He also comforts us by reminding us that He has overcome the world (John 16).
Following Jesus into the world – knowing troubles will come but He has overcome – requires resilient relationships. We must have a relationship with Jesus and with other believers that is both tough and flexible. And resilience is best displayed when we find ourselves in the wilderness.
There is little need for it in the safety and predictability of Jerusalem. But thru the difficulties of persecution and in the unknowns of Judea and Samaria, it will be required. At least that’s what Acts 8 shows us.
We may not find ourselves actively persecuted for our faith and scattered to the areas bordering the one we call home.
We may not find ourselves literal immigrants (and yet this reality that as Christians we live as immigrants in this world is very real).
We may not find ourselves taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth more so than the ends of our neighborhoods.
But we certainly will find ourselves being called by the Spirit into areas of our communities and our world where we can take the Gospel to places it has not gone – in order for people to be fully aware of the God who is with them – that we might be Jesus’ witnesses to those who have yet to know Him personally.
The kingdom of God does not grow without resilient relationships. And we cannot form resilient relationships without being led by the Spirit into the wilderness.
How are we fighting against this calling into the wilderness instead of growing in resilience thru it?
How are we preventing this calling from shaping our lives under the guise of protecting ourselves, our kids, and others?
How are we idolizing our comfort over this calling by trying to put a “hedge of protection” around our comfort zones?
And how are we striving to control the relationship we have with God and with His people instead of walking into this calling by faith?
Relationships cannot become resilient if we try to confine them to a couple hours a week.
They will not be produced if we try to define them by what we do in a building.
They will not be refined to the degree we need them within the context of our comfort and control.
Resilient relationships with God and others happen as communities of character form around personal experiences with the Spirit as we follow Him together thru the wilderness of life.
May we find ourselves being known for our resilience and not our resistance when it comes to the troubles of this world.
May we be known for our Christlikeness in how we navigate the wilderness and not cling to our Americanness in our desire for comfort and control.