It's easy to think of church as a busy fast-paced movement full of near-death experiences and close calls on the razor edge of faith. Like it says in Matt. 11, "The kingdom of God is forcefully advancing and forceful men lay hold of it". It could be easy to assume that the church is supposed to be going at break-neck speed full of painful toil, sacrificial service and daily opposition. We can even pride ourselves in thinking that the more "difficult" it is, the more we must be threatening Satan and prevailing against the "gates of Hell". There are certainly seasons of difficulty, but I saw something in Acts today that hadn't stood out to me before.
"Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers."
I can't tell you how much I needed to hear this today. I feel like my mind can race with pressure to do more. Little peace. Little encouragement. Little strength. I start to tell myself that this is the Christian Life...striving. It's about standing against darkness and battling the spirit of this age. It's about burning the wick on both ends to the glory of God. It's about persecution and revolution born out of strain and struggle, weakness and worry. Sleepless nights combined with tireless ministry. Read that last sentence. This is nuts.
There are days like this for sure, but isn't it nice to know that there are times of enjoyment. I love that word. The church enjoyed itself for a time. And this expressed itself in 4 forms:
1. Peace. The church had a season where peace descended on them like a warm comforter right out of the dryer. They knew seasons of persecution and pain. They had witnessed their friends being martyred before their very eyes (Stephen). They had run from the law and hidden in the catacombs. They had been thrown into prison and beaten silly for sharing their faith. Believe me, they knew seasons of suffering. But God granted the church a time of peace. The church needs this respite from the restless and reckless advancement of the kingdom. In fact, the kingdom can't advance on the backs of the beatdown. They must experience rest and peace in order to create movement and meaning.
2. Strength. They get pumped up by God again. They spent time getting nourished and nurtured. They got invested in and trained. They got ministered to instead of ministering. It's easy to go, go, go...but there are times to say no, no, no. No more doing. No more serving. No more giving. Not until I get strengthened. You will give and give and give until you give out and give up. God wants us to enjoy time of strengthening and once we're strengthened, we can use that strength to move the movement. It's hard to enjoy movement when you can hardly move anymore.
3. Fear of the Lord. We don't know much about this refreshment, but I think it has something to do with an orientation on our origin (how things began...how things are). We are not God. He is not us. He can do what he wants. He is powerful and more than capable of pulling things off with our without me. It's a time to stop thinking about "Me" or "We" and getting our thoughts on the great "He". He is timeless and boundless. He is gorgeous and glorious. He is self-sufficient and omnipotent. He is "I am". Quite simply, "He is to be revered and reveled in." He is awesome. That is refreshing to know that we don't have to be awesome. We just have to know he is. Enjoyment follows this realization.
4. Encouraged by the Holy Spirit. Really? Really? You mean we don't have to live discouraged and disappointed the better part of our lives? The Spirit will breathe courage into our lifeless lungs? The church must have the intimate friendship of the Spirit in order to make it. You simply can't carry on with your "Human Spirit" if you're going to "be the church". You can "go to church" and make it with just your "Human Spirit", but "being the church" requires the "Holy Spirit". His encouragement. His empowering. His inspiriting life.
The text says that during this time when the church enjoyed peace, strength, reverence, and encouragement...the church increased in numbers. It is a lie that the church can only grow if you kill yourself making it happen. Sometimes the church explodes when it relaxes into a time of enjoyment.
May your peace hover over your church, Lord. Grant us seasons such a this.