Recently I had the opportunity to preach at the University of Essex Christian Union. I was asked to preach on 'The Power of God' in Acts 16. I know the chapter fairly well and dived straight in and looked for 'The Power of God' displayed in the chapter - that was easy!
Firstly, we see God's power over the human heart as Lydia's 'heart was opened to pay attention' (16:14) to what Paul was saying. Faith comes with hearing - that is often the means of God's power opening hearts - through proclamation. I had my first point - God's Power in Proclamation! That's hugely encouraging and releasing! Our responsibility is to proclaim, His is to save - to open hearts!
Secondly, Paul 'prays' and the slave girl is freed from her controlling spirit. I believe this happens still - most of the world see it happen regularly! May God use us in that way - prayer is powerful! God's Power in Prayer! I had my second point! I was flying through my preparation.
Thirdly - well you can't miss it! The Earthquake! Not just an earthquake...but one with finely tuned vibrations so that the locks of the doors and stocks were unpicked (well that's what I think happened!). God's power to rescue his people! God's power over creation! But Creation doesn't begin with a 'P' so I cant use that...just kidding, although I do like things neatly tied up!
But as I thought about it a bit more I had some problems - Lydia was saved by God's power. The slave girl was saved (at least from the controlling spirit) by God's power. But God's power through the earthquake didn't save anyone...in fact it nearly, and would have, led to the jailer's death. Think about it. I nearly missed it. What caused the jailer to cry out 'what must I do to be saved' (16:30)? NOT the earthquake, not even the open prison doors and stocks. No - that only served to make him pull out his sword.
The PRESENCE of Paul and Silas led to that question. The PRESENCE of men who he would have mistreated, put in a foul prison cell, men who had been shamefully treated...with the chance to walk free and know the jailer would have been severely punished for letting them escape. Think about it - SURELY the earthquake and open doors and released stocks means God was setting them free?! I'd have read it like that. Maybe I would have walked out , casting a glance at the jailer thinking 'Tomorrow he gets justice for what he has done!'
Not Paul and Silas. They remained. WHAT CASUES MEN TO FORSAKE THEIR FREEDOM, THEIR COMFORT, THEIR 'JUSTICE' FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS?! THE POWER OF GOD, IN THE GOSPEL, CHANGING THEIR HEARTS! We often presume God's saving and preserving power is to snatch us out of trouble. Sometimes it is to make us so free we choose trouble for the sake of others.
The PRESENCE of Paul and Silas demonstrated God's Power. After all didn't He choose to remain? On the cross. Facing injustice. Able to call down angels...yet he cried 'Father forgive them.' When that grips you, you find God's power to remains.
YOUR PRESENCE may be the answer to your prayers for GOD'S POWER to change live around you. HOW we suffer, HOW we live, HOW we incarnate into people's lives is the 24x7 demonstration of God's power. As one preacher put it 'Maybe we should stop asking God to take away this week, what we asked for last week.' (JD Greear). Last week we asked God to use us, to help our friends. This week we are in the midst of brokeness, break-ups, bust-ups, sickness, suffering...and we want out. I wonder why we are there? Last week's prayers maybe?!
Lydia probably goes to church. Not the slave girl, but she is in touch with spiritual things - maybe you can find a connect with her. Many people we encounter are like the prison guards -amidst their jobs, outside the church and unlikely to go, going through stuff..and we are there too. The Power of Presence. His, through us.