Understanding Holy Courage, Embracing Godly Fear

Day 5 of 5 • This day’s reading


When Hard Times Hit

I love the account of Stephen’s final moments in the book of Acts. Stephen is already declared to be a man full of faith and power who displayed signs and wonders among the people, when called to account by the High Priest in chapter 7. And Stephen lets loose. He covers a good share of the Old Testament by explaining who God is and what He Has done, and concludes with a poignant chastisement as the people seem to have not learned a single thing from their own history.

Perhaps we should sit silently with that discomfort for a moment?

The people listening, however, didn’t. They went on attack immediately, and Stephen, in humility, gave his life for the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s a beautiful story, but we would be remiss if we stopped there.

You see, I’m sure that story seemed anything but beautiful to the Christians living at that time. Acts 8 starts out telling us the persecution of the church was great and spread from Jerusalem to the surrounding areas of Judea and Samaria. Keep your finger there, friend.

The book goes on to tell us of the depravity and subsequent conversion of Saul, soon to be Paul. It’s not all that surprising that after his conversion, when Saul tries to join the disciples, they are afraid of him (Acts 9:26). Who wouldn’t be? 

Barnabas somehow assists in Paul’s assimilation, and when he starts being all Paul, for the sake of the gospel, the Hellenists attempt to kill him. The brethren send Paul north from Jerusalem up through the surrounding areas (that should sound familiar, friend!) to safety.

And then we come to verse 31. Let’s pause and do a quick review. The church is a bit of mess right now; sufficiently persecuted, thinned, and spread. Over-the-top Saul has become fiery Paul and there is a new price on his head. The Bible does not explicitly say it, but these have to be some tough and trying times. There have to be believers who are disappointed, disillusioned, and downright scared, right? But verse 31 tells us this:

“So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”

Well, that is an unexpected result, isn’t it? 

Perhaps persecution and division does not mean destruction. Perhaps dissension does not have to result in dissolution. When the church was under attack, they stayed the course. Even when separated, they had peace and built each other up. And walking in the fear of the Lord, being comforted by the Holy Spirit, growth happened!

This does not mean it was easy, friend. It means God was faithful even there. They still needed the comfort of the Holy Spirit and His peace to surpass their understanding. But not only could growth and depth and strengthening occur; praise God, it did occur. 

This is who God is and how He works. Let’s not be like those who don’t learn from the past, blindsided as those of old. We’ve been given the Word as both proclamation and declaration. When times get hard, let’s remember Who is worthy of our fear and move forward in bold faith in who He is and how He works.

This 5-day devotional is inspired by the book I Choose Brave: Embracing Holy Courage and Understanding Godly Fear by Katie Westenberg. In I Choose Brave, Katie digs deep into Scripture and shows that finding the courage to overcome our fears must start with fear of the Lord. Learn more at  http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/books/i-choose-brave/400760