What is it?

Looking through my journals and email, I found out that I was wishing for a lot of good things to happen. I claimed to be “hoping,” but I did not/could not be confident the desired outcome would happen. That is not what hope is about. Hope is more than wishing. [Want to know more? Click here.]

Thursday, March 23, 2017

What's Real Fellowship Look Like? Acts 20:36-38

At the end of Paul’s time with the Ephesians’ leaders before Paul left on his final leg of the journey to Jerusalem, a couple of things took place that indicated to me that true fellowship involves focus on Christ and prayer. These leaders were greatly moved by Paul’s message to them and greatly saddened by the fear that they would no longer have an opportunity to fellowship with and learn from Paul. They would miss Paul immensely. There was real affection and care for Paul on the part of these elders. There was also great affection and care for the Ephesians on the part of Paul. A mutually loving and caring relationship existed between the believers.
Acts 20:36-38 describes the relationship and gives us some ideas for improving our fellowship.
And when he [Paul] had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they should see his face no more. And they were accompanying him to the ship.
First off, they had been listening and discussing Paul’s ministry among them. That’s the “these things” the passage was talking about. Paul had covered several key points in his longest recorded message to Christians. He discussed four concepts with them:
1.  Paul’s ministry as an example to them (vs. 18-21)
2.  Paul’s future prospects (vs. 22-27)
3.  Warnings of coming heresies (vs. 28-31)
4.  Proper attitudes toward material goods (vs. 32-35)

Having finished the discussion, Paul, and presumably the rest of the elders, knelt down to pray together. I know we say a prayer at the end of the sermon on Sunday mornings, but for many of us (myself included) that is the only time we engage in group, corporate prayer. I feel this was a pattern in Paul’s life: to pray whenever meeting with believers. I find that is an, often overlooked, aspect of the times we get together for what we call fellowship. I try to involve prayer with others in my activities with others, but I’m not always successful. Maybe that’s because what we are doing is not actually “fellowship.” Maybe it’s just having fun with other Christians.
I also find it interesting that they knelt to pray. This is from Acts so it’s not a “rule” or “commandment” for us to follow. And I’m not going to say that we always need to be in a kneeling position when we pray. However, Paul left us with that example of reverence and respect, an we should make sure we pray from a position of reverence and respect. Kneeling is one way of doing that. I know that it is not always possible to position ourselves in such a way (I can’t get up after kneeling and my husband can’t kneel due to knee surgeries), but we should, at the very least, position ourselves in a way that shows reverence and respect to God.
I noticed their attitudes when parting with Paul became eminent. They were weeping aloud and embracing Paul. There was grieving over the possibility of never seeing Paul again. Do I feel anything like that when leaving the presence of fellow-believers? Probably not because I have a reasonable assurance that I shall see them again. But that’s taking a lot for granted. I should not be so cavalier because it’s quite possible that those we part with may never be seen again. We should make sure they know we will miss their fellowship and that we will be praying for them.
Finally, parting should be hard to do. The elders wanted every last minute with Paul so they accompanied him to the ship he would be sailing on. I confess, sometimes my attitude is “will they ever leave?” It may be hard to find closure for our fellowship times, yet if we have shared Scripture, prayed and loved on each other, the parting may be less traumatic than it was for these believers.
I’m going to try to pray more with the groups (or individuals) I meet with. I think we need to include more prayer into our meetings and partings.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Turning to God: Acts 20:1-16

Several thoughts came to mind while studying this section of Acts. And, it just so happens, my Quiet Time (based on the Our Daily Bread guide), also addressed some of these same issues. Primarily, the thoughts were about turning to God in times of struggle.
Just like David, Paul had trials and tribulations to deal with. Some of the struggles were from without. In David’s case, these without struggles were often about trying to deal with the death threats and persecution from King Saul. Paul’s struggles were often with the non-believing Jews he encountered on his various missionary journeys; they wanted to kill him and squash his message. I have external conflicts I have to deal with also. And, like David and Paul, when I turn to God and try to do things in a way pleasing to Him, sometimes things get better and sometimes things get worse. We can’t control what other people do or say in response to us no matter how kind and compassionate we tried to be. In those situations, my peace comes from knowing that my salvation is not reliant upon the actions of other people. It’s dependant only upon God’s love for me and my response to Him.
However, both David and Paul had their inside struggles to deal with. These internal struggles seem to be conflict with who they are and who they want to be. Those struggles often lead to what appears to be a depressed state in both of those leaders. I can also relate to those struggles. I like Psalm 30:1-5, one of David’s songs to God, because it talks about how we may feel we are without hope, but then there’s God:
I will extol Thee, O Lord, for Thou hast lifted me up,
And hast not let my enemies rejoice over me.
O Lord my God,
I cried to Thee for help, and Thou didst heal me.
O Lord, Thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol;
Thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.
Sing praise to the Lord, you His godly ones,
And give thanks to His holy name.
For His anger is but for a moment,
His favor is for a lifetime;
Weeping may last for the night,
But a shout of joy comes in the morning.

David says he was in a state where he needed help and healing. He felt his soul was in Sheol (Hell) and he was afraid he would go down to the pit if it weren’t for God’s hand on his life. He indicates that weeping was a part of his life. Yet, despite his depression thoughts and feelings, he knew the remedy was to turn to God. He says that God has kept him alive, that God has healed him. And he focuses his attention on God. He sings praise to the Lord and gives thanks to His holy name.
In Acts 20, we find a situation where Paul also may have been feeling alone, afraid, in the pit, and there were times of weeping (Acts 20:19 says, “. . . serving the Lord with all humility and with tears . . .”). It is speculated by several commentators the Paul experienced depression, yet he kept proclaiming the message of Christ in the midst of that. At one point in Acts 20 (verse 13) Paul chooses to go by land while the rest of his team went by ship to a designated place of meeting. There are lots of possible reasons why Paul decided to do this, none of which are explained in the Scriptures. However, I like what Spurgeon had to say about this walk: “A quiet lonely walk of twenty miles suited Paul, it would give him space for prayer and meditation, and help him to shake off some of the depression which had gathered over his mind while he waited in Philippi. Those who labor much for the Lord must have their times of retirement for self-examination, prayer, communion with God, and preparation for future efforts.” Again, I want to say that we don’t know why Paul, in this particular situation, decided to go by land because the Scriptures don’t explain it. However, I like to think Paul was communing with God and praising Him (as David did when he was down).
I see that as the way out of my depressions. When I get my eyes set on Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s great power, I feel loved and cared for. That goes a long way towards lifting the depression, at least for a period of time. Then it’s good for me to keep praising God and giving thanks for His compassion, love and care for me, each day to maintain a spirit of hope. It works for me if I let it. Maybe it can work for you.