Such a good comic, right? I’m always amazed at the industriousness of our fathers and mothers in the faith. They were not messing around.
Lately, I’ve been reading through the book of Acts. Many things spring to mind as I read of the exploits of the first Christians, not least the crazy-boldness of the early church. No wonder they took the world by storm.
Non-stop traveling. Persecutions. Imprisonments. Beatings. Healings. Teaching. Even miraculous teleporting. Just reading about the Spirit’s energy and power echoing down through the ages is enough to get me up and out of my recliner.
But then what? I am tempted to jump in to the nearest opportunity. After all, the need of the world is great, and the time is short, and, after all, I only have one crazy life. It’s all very American of me, I know.
I’ll never forget the sermon I heard several years ago. The Rwandan bishop who came and preached. For an hour over the usual time. Which is very east-African of him.
But one thing he said I’ll never forget: “You Americans,” he said. “You are so competent. You could build a church without the Spirit of God.” He went on to speak of our education. Our money. Our skills. With every description, I felt the clang of truth deep down in my soul.
We are very competent. We get things done. We, the powerful. The educated. The ones who actually have the luxury of “free time.” We can do many good things on our own. As a church planter’s wife, I think of this often. We have the capacity to move on ahead, laboring in vain, and putting up something only we ourselves are calling a church.
“We Africans,” the bishop went on. “We have nothing. Unless the Spirit of God shows up, nothing will happen.”
I’ve thought of this often in the years since. His insight was profound. We can be blinded by our perceived sufficiency. We can think we are doing God’s work when in reality it’s all about us. But do you know what?
Our perspective doesn’t matter. We, too, have nothing. Unless the Spirit of God shows up in the American church, nothing of eternal significance will happen. We may have deep pockets and pretty buildings, but we also have shattered souls and lives worn thin by addiction and despair. We have broken families and tormented minds and failing bodies.
The African church has tangible daily evidence of their insufficiency. Ours is hidden by the illusion of our competency. Both of us – all of us – have no sufficiency in ourselves.
You know who else came to realize this? St. Paul. That very brave, very sold-out, very industrious leader in the early church. His lack of sufficiency didn’t paralyze him.
“Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant…”
Our sufficiency is from God.
The early church walked in the power of this truth. Faces fresh with the heat of the Holy Spirit falling on them, they had no illusion about sufficiency or scarcity. And they moved in boldness. In energy. Led by the Spirit.
And that sufficiency is ours. That Spirit is ours. In the midst of our insufficiency. In the midst of our incapability, Christ is ours. This phrase that’s sprinkled throughout Acts keeps coming to mind. “This same Jesus,” the apostles were always saying. “This Jesus whom you crucified.” “This Jesus who was raised from the dead.” “This same Jesus who we saw.”
So we do not lose heart. This same Jesus is with us. This same Jesus is the one we lift high in our churches. This same Jesus will draw all people to himself. This same Jesus is with me. This same Jesus is with you. When the truth of our insufficiency creeps in, let’s not hide from it. Let’s join with Paul in celebrating it: Our sufficiency comes from God.