Food for Friday

And Saul was consenting unto his (Stephen’s) death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. Acts 8:1

There was a lot of dead grass left behind at the back of one of my father’s hay fields one spring, because that area had not been mowed the previous summer. I was just a boy, and I figured the easiest way to deal with the dead grass was to burn it, so I pulled out a match and set fire to a tuft of hay at one end of the strip. Within seconds, the wind fanned the fire into an inferno that was beyond my imagination, and the fire headed in the direction of the trees along the brook. I realized I would have to do something about it, so I grabbed a large piece of board that was there and began beating the flames with it. Instead of smothering the flames, the board served only to blast the embers further to the side and make the fire much wider. Only a sudden change in the wind saved those trees, and kept the fire to the strip of dead grass. That board I used so ineffectively was like the persecution that was levelled at the early Christians; it served only to fan the flames of the Gospel. The persecution served two miraculous purposes: it resulted in the Gospel being spread much more widely, and it focused the attention of Christians on the chief persecutor, Saul of Tarsus.

Mind you, many of the prayers in which Saul’s name was mention might not have been pleas for his conversion. But undoubtedly, some of those Christians prayed for Saul’s salvation. Saul had heard the Gospel at the time of Stephen’s trial; he must also have heard about it as he carried out his campaign of persecution. Stephen’s death had surely left its mark on his soul. The persecutor was suffering from his own private little persecution, as the Holy Spirit strove with him. Why could have known that he would become the apostle to the Gentiles and see many thousands saved, doing far more to spread the Gospel than he ever did to halt it? In what appeared to be catastrophe for Christianity, God’s purposes were being worked out in a mighty way.

No, we are not suffering persecution in North America. A little reproach we encounter once in awhile, but no persecution. But God still brings into our lives experiences that we feel are disastrous to us, events that force us into major changes of plans such as a move to a new area or a change in employment. We see only the terrible disruption, and fail to understand that God’s purposes are being unfolded.

Are you going through your own little catastrophe? Is God allowing major upheaval in your life? Brace yourself and trust Him. He may be using you to help reach a Saul of Tarsus, or to take to Gospel to someone who needs to hear it. -Jim MacIntosh

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