The Book of Acts is a history book. It tells us the story of the early church following the Ascension of Jesus up to and concluding with Paul imprisoned in Rome. It is not a doctrinal book. It tells us what happened. Some of what happened may help us know what can happen—what are the possibilities.
But we cannot lay out any game plan of how God always accomplishes His purposes using the Book of Acts. We build our beliefs on what God promises to do, not on what He did under unique situations with specific individuals.
God never cookie-cuttered His activity. He didn’t want people to restrict Him to a formula. Do these three things and God will respond. Say this phrase and God will work. Posture yourself in this position and you can count on God coming through.
Men discussing prayer positions. Lineman for the power company.
In the Book of Acts, some had quiet moments of surrender to the Lord while Paul had a blazing light blind him in the middle of a road. Some came with a measure of understanding [like Apollos] then were brought up to speed by others with deeper knowledge [like Aquilla and Priscilla]. Some experienced God with visible signs and wonders – speaking in tongues or prophesying – while others simply believed and were baptized. Some came to the Lord by themselves, others came with a group. Some came doubting. Some came believing.
Some were very old. Some came as children (we assume from a whole household coming to the Lord on two occasions). Some were influential people, others were plain ole folks like us. Some were soldiers, some were doctors, some were laborers, some were business owners, some were politicians. Some were religious, some were pagans. Some came in response to a public message. Some came by direct, one-on-one witness.
But there is a common thread running through each story. Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. Then that thread continued so that once they were saved, the Spirit then manifested Himself to and through those individuals according to what He wanted to accomplish in them. Some experienced Him in ways similar to others. Some didn’t. That inconsistency of what the Spirit does in each life is beautifully consistent. His work in each of us is unique.
If we were to build doctrine for how God operates in believers’ lives, we’d need a repeatable pattern. This is the way God always works. Here’s what you can expect. But with the Spirit, He’s like the wind. Jesus said: The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." (Jn 3:8)
He may come with gale force winds or a gentle breeze. He may whip up a tornado or hit with a soft southern gust. The Spirit cannot be limited to exact specifications as to how He operates, when, where or why. You don’t grasp a hand full of wind and cram it into a container shaped the way you want it to fit.
Because of that, God gave us a variety of examples in Scripture that we all could identify with, not making any one person’s experience the standard for how He does business in everybody else’s life. How He works in your life may not be how He works in mine.
I’ve read the material, heard sermons, listened to testimonies that have tried to make the case for one size fits all when it comes to the Holy Spirit. Sorry, but the Bible doesn’t teach that.
It is like the Gifts of the Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. (1 Cor 12:4-11)
In Corinth the people were judging other’s spirituality by what gift they could manifest, thinking the gift was some reward giving them status rather than a tool by which God could accomplish His work through them. They made the gift about them, not Him.
The Craftsman can create incredible woodwork. He wants the best tools he can get, but it is the skill in his hands that makes the tools useful.
The people wanted the more visible gifts. Forgetting it was the Holy Spirit who determined how He would manifest Himself through them. Their gift was a badge of identity that they proudly wore. And if you didn’t’ have a visible badge like everyone else, you considered yourself inferior.
Tights in Madrigals – I didn’t want to be different. I wanted to be like everyone else. My costume looked dingy. I stated my case. I shared my heart. I was replaced. The ecru made me feel inferior. I wanted a badge like everyone else. But I didn’t realize until much later that my role in life was not to be like everyone else. God had unique and specific plans for how He would use me.
Manifesting Himself is God using us to demonstrate His presence in a moment. It is the Spirit’s prerogative. Our responsibility is submitting and yielding access. That’s what the booklet was all about last week.
Submission speaks of flexibility. I get rigid when I want my way. I don’t want to bend. When the Spirit is wanting to manifest Himself in my life, He needs some room to work.That’s why God gave us new hearts, made us new creatures. The old life could not contain the expansive work of the Spirit.
And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. (Luke 5:37)
We are not to be rigid containers holding the Holy Spirit as a deposit of God within us. We are flesh and blood temples – wineskins – from where the Holy Spirit will manifest the glory of God to the world. When God filled the old Temple the people knew He was there. When God fills His new temples the people know God is here.
Marble – I was in the middle of a break down called burnout. But God used that crisis to help me yield to His control. My counselor there said simply, “God must love you very much.” It melted my heart. I sensed God filling me with more of Himself than I could contain. It took that breaking for me to yield to Him.
When God knows we are living far beneath what He has promised and offered, knowing there is more available just on the other side of surrender, He often provides a breaking moment. Breaking us open to fill us but also to release what He wants to do through us.
Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (Jn 12:1-3)
My odor cannot accomplish what the fragrance of God can. When He wants to express His fragrance through my life, and my stubborn lid is stuck and just won’t budge, He may have to break off the top.
How dreadful that God would intentionally hurt us to make us better. Ever had surgery? Every had a knee replaced?
On rare occasions, after someone has had a knee replacement, certain lubricants may have evaporated during surgery. That can cause the joints to dry out and create adhesions that restrict the range of motion. Under severe cases, you may need to be placed under anesthesia so the doctor can manipulate your joints, using specific maneuvers to break up fibrous adhesions around the joint and surrounding tissue. This tears away the binding and frees up the motion. Breaking up what binds us.
It’s like God pulling the reigns out of our hands, pealing our fingers off the steering wheel, prying us away from being in control, breaking us from the habit of leaning on our own understanding so we can yield to Him to direct our lives.
Some get it the first time. For others it may take a second touch: Taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on him, He asked him, "Do you see anything?" And he looked up and said, "I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around." Then again He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly. (Mark 8:22-25)
Jesus wasn’t taking a do-over because the first time didn’t work. This wasn’t an example of sometimes God comes through and sometimes He doesn’t. He was giving us a story that teaches us God may need to take us through steps to change us. Maybe we’re not ready for all God wants to reveal about Himself until later.
I’m not so concerned or interested in how God manifests Himself in your life, only that you allow Him to do so. There is no limit to the ways God may want to use you. Just let Him. Our church needs that. You need that. I need that.
I have heard God speak to me through some of you on occasions. I have seen God touch lives through you. I’ve experienced the comfort, hope and encouragement you give to those struggling to keep going. I’ve watched you touch those who grieve with a hug, a phone call, a meal. I have felt the joy God has given you spill out into our whole church, welcoming new folks, reconnecting with old friends, worshiping in spirit and truth. I regularly trust in God’s outcome when I listen to you pray.
Not me. I don’t know how to do those things. I don’t know what to say or what to do. “I’m not using you because you know what to do or say. But because you carry My fragrance, I’m using you to let others know, through you, I’m in the room. Because you have been comforted, I’m going to comfort others through you. Because you are saved, I’m going to save the lost using your testimony. Because you have been delivered, I’m going to deliver the captives through your example. I will touch them with your hands. I’m going to love them from your heart. Just don’t mess it up by trying to be in charge. Just be there. Let me do My work through you.”
So how do I do that? By continually yielding to His control. By being filled with His Spirit. By giving Him room to work in your life and through your life.
Difference in the Sea of Galilee and Dead Sea. Sea of Galilee receives its water and allows it to flow through it. Dead Sea receives the same water but simply contains it. No outflow. The fresh water dies.
Why does God fill us? He doesn’t fill us to simply contain Him. He fills us to flow His goodness through us to touch the world.
- God’s intention in salvation is to fill us with Himself (the Holy Spirit) and flow His purposes through us.
- There is no formula for how this works.
- The Holy Spirit is infinite and may manifest Himself however He chooses in our lives.
- Our job is to yield complete access to Him.