“But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.
When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”
This is the story of the early church. They are beaten. They have crowds set against them. They are left for dead. They get back up and keep on keepin’ on. Amazing. Inspiring. Words really don’t do it justice. And here’s why: They are so connected to the leading and the power of the Holy Spirit, that they simply move forward despite enormous, overwhelming opposition. The only word for it is “miraculous”, and ordinary ways of describing human endurance, can’t capture why they kept at it, year after year.
I try to imagine myself in Paul’s position: If I had been stoned; dragged out of the city, unconscious; left for dead; and, then came to my senses, and stood up in front of my friends – if all that happened, how would I react? How would you?
I know I would be tempted to think the following: ‘Maybe God doesn’t want me – doesn’t want us – here. Maybe this is the irrefutable sign we needed to move on, to the next town. After all, didn’t out Lord say: “if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.” (Matthew 10:14) Maybe this is a dust-shaking moment.’ But that isn’t what Paul does.
We read that he marches right back into town, and preaches the gospel. Disciples are made among people who tried to kill him, or who at least watched as others did. How do you find the courage to do that? Unreal. The courage comes from one source – the one Paul himself named: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
What has knocked you down, recently, maybe for the fifth, fiftieth, or one-hundredth time? Are you thinking this: “Should I go back in? Should I try again? Does God want me to move on?” The answer, of course, is that He may want you to move on. Jesus did say that, sometimes, we are called to allow our peace to return to ourselves, shake the dust, and move on to what the Lord has for us, next.
If you are at the point of deciding whether to stay or move on, it is very important that you do two things: Invite God into the process and check in with people who know God. God is present, in this moment, but it is possible to ignore what he wants you to do. And God does want you to be his lonely man, or woman, in this decision: There are many people, just like you, who have been through what you’re going through. Talk to them, and ask how they discerned the right, faithful thing to do.
Prayer: Father, I don’t know whether to stay, try one more time, and see if there really is a way forward, or to go, and find a new way forward. But I do know that I should not do either of these things without you. Come, Holy Spirit, speak to me in prayer, in your Word, and through people who know and love you. Amen.