“Begin Again”: A Weekly Devotional for a New Year, Week 8

‘Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is

“ ‘the stone you builders rejected,

which has become the cornerstone.’

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.’

Acts 4:8-13

Do you remember a time when you lacked courage to do the right thing? What did you feel in that moment? Who was there, and how did they react? Everyone has moments like these, and when we think about them – sometimes years after the fact – we can experience some of the same emotions we felt at the time: shortness of breath, sweaty palms, racing thoughts.

When I think about a time I lacked courage, it’s usually not because I set aside time to meditate on it: “At 3:00pm, this Tuesday, I will think about the time I didn’t speak up for that kid who was being bullied.” The feeling, the memory, just arrives, sometimes out of nowhere – there was nothing that “triggered” it – and sometimes because I see or hear something that reminds me of the event.

As difficult as those feelings can be, they can also be a blessing in disguise: You may still have that memory, and experience it in a powerful way, because God wants you to get something out of it. It may be to know that you did nothing wrong – it’s not that you lacked courage, but that you thought the situation was yours to fix, and it wasn’t. And, of course, it may be that the memory is of something you often do, that you need help from God to change. You may need to grow in courage, in that area, and God is reminding you through the memory to go to him.

Our story from Scripture speaks about Peter and John’s courage – it was evident to all. And at the beginning of the passage, it gives the reason for their courage: They were filled with the Holy Spirit. That is our call, too, especially when we discover parts of our life where we regularly lack courage. The Bible speaks about two ways that the Holy Spirit works in the lives of those who believe: At baptism, we receive the Spirit, and we must seek to be filled by the Spirit, after baptism – it’s Both/And.

In Ephesians, we read this: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit…” (5:18) This is written to people who already believe – who are already baptized – who already have the Spirit of God, dwelling within them. This being-filled is meant to strengthen us to do what we could not do on our own: Have the courage to say and live what we believe.

To be filled requires at least these two things: Personal prayer and worship together. God’s Spirit comes and fills people, when they worship in his name. And the same Spirit comes as a result of personal, prayerful longing: To leave timidity, fear, and weakness behind, and press into being the strong, bold person God has redeemed you to be.

If we seek his Spirit, he will come and fill us – if we ask, he will answer. The memory you’re holding onto – of fear, of weakness – may have nothing to do with whether you are courageous, or not: It may be a memory that attacks and wounds, but has no business taking up time or space in your mind. Or, God’s Spirit may be speaking through the memory: “This is something I want you to work on, and the good news? I am here to help you, and I always will be.”

Prayer: Father, this memory has haunted me for some time. Do you want me to let it go? Or are you trying to teach me something through it. Help me, Lord, to know the difference, and – either way – to accept the gift of your Spirit, and the strength, wholeness, and healing that comes by your Spirit. Amen.

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