In Acts 16, verse 9 to 15 Paul is told in a vision to go to Macedonia. His traveling companion, Silas, describes how they went to “Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony.”  There they met a woman named Lydia and began to chat about Jesus. Lydia asked that she and her household be baptized and then invites Paul and Silas to be guests in her home. This is not a terrible exciting story, least not compared to other narratives in the Bible. It is such an ordinary and mundane scene thatone is tempted to skip over it in favor of something with greater depths, meaning and drama. This passage seems insignificant and merits littleattention. However, despite its lack of dramatics, the scripture is not trivial.
It addresses two vital aspects of Christian ministry and human behavior. The first one comes naturally to most people: Chatting.
All humans are social animals and most enjoy visiting. Churches have been an integral part of people’s social lives and so it’s natural that we engage in church activities such as meals, meetings, and coffees’. We visit with friends, strangers, even people we don’t like and about things we’re passionate about or have no interest in. We simply like to visit or at least feel part of a group. Few of us ever think that having coffee or being interested in another person’s activities as a form of ministry.
Thereis a story of a young associate minister, just out of seminary, visiting members of his new congregation with the senior minister. At each stop they visit about the weather, local sports, community events, family, friends and pets. By midday the young pastor, bursting with the desire to discuss theology, scripture and spiritual things, ask the older pastor, “When are we going to start ministering?”
The experienced clergy said simply, “We have been.” After arriving in Philippi, Silas writes “On the Sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there.” Paul didn’t preach or sermonized, he simple chatted. They may have spoke about the river flowing by, the warm temperature, a good place to eat or any number of things. Eventually the conversation turned to spiritual matters then Paul and Silas had the chance to “chat” about Jesus.
I can think of a number of times when casual conversation turned into sharing my faith with someone else. There have even been times when someone with doubts would ask me about my faith and share their reservations regarding God and religion. Had I blurted out, “Let’s talk about Jesus!” I may have either scared or antagonized other people and not had the chance to minister to them in and honest and genuine conversation.
This story in Acts demonstrates how we all can share our faith through something which most of us enjoy doing; visiting. There are commons interests that link us to other people. In the course of casual conversation we usually find those links which leads to more personal sharing. Christians should have no problem mentioning to another golf enthusiast that they enjoy golfing after church. Or that they sing in the church choir to someone who loves music. Mentioning that you did a church mission to an Indian reservation might be exciting to a student of American Indian culture. A fellow woodworker would be interested in the wooden crosses I make in my shop, or you can ask a computer buff how to edit videos for a church youth group. Slipping in your church name or activity during casual banter can present an opportunity to make a new Christian friend or help someone learn about your Christian faith. At the very least they will disregard the reference toward faith and focus on the secular subject. Hopefully the foundation for a relationship has begun. Even if the person declares themselves in extreme to your belief, at least a point of reference and possible discussion has been established.
Which brings us to the second vital aspect of ministry: Listening to the Holy Spirit. This is more difficult to do. Most of us are practical and pragmatic. We like to consider our options weight the pro and cons of each situation and then take a course of action which has the best chance of success. We prefer to minimize chance and don’t want to rely on guesses or feelings. To let the Holy Spirit guide us is counter intuitive for hardworking, practical, planning and calculating Christians. How many of us would have woken from a dream and embarked on a long arduous trip to a river bank in a foreign land, in the hopes that we would meet someone who we could talk to about Jesus?
To understand why Paul did so, we need to look at verse 6 and 7. “Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. 7 Then coming to the borders of Misaim, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there.”
Paul carefully set out to evangelize these regions. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus prevented them, at least for now, to minister in those provinces. Instead the Holy Spirit sent them to Philippi to, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” By now Paul was beginning to listen to that small quiet voice and taking it seriously. He wasn’t throwing caution to the wind but had grown confidant that the Holy Spirit was guiding him.
What does the Holy Spirit look like? We use symbols such as a flame, or a dove, or water or wind to represent it. But what does it look like? I have experienced its power but no words can express how it feels. I’ve seen it enter into a Christian brother but it had no physical shape. It simple transformed my friend into a new man as it did me. Jesus said you must be born again” and be made new which is precisely what happened but it cannot be explained or demonstrated, only experienced.
Receiving the Holy Spirit means you have placed you trust in the spirit of Jesus and now have confidence that the spirit will lead you. This does not mean we forgo our practical human disposition. To be a new man in Christ allows Jesus to work in us through his spirit. We become equipped to engage in changing the world around us.
How many times have we faced a task and wished we had the tools or resources to accomplish it? We limit our ministries based on the resource available to us. I call this toolbox ministry. Our ability to do a job is based on the tools we have in our tool box. Then we further limit our work based on our ability to use those tools. What missions in our churches are left undone because we do not have the skills to use the resources we possess? What ministries do we avoid because we choose not to obtain the tools needed to do them?
When we allow the Holy Spirit to work through us, we gain a skill set that allows us to engage in ministries we couldn’t do before. The Holy Spirit takes the tools we have and allows us to make better use ofthem. It also guides us to acquiring additional tools to take on more challenging projects.
A simple, effective but underutilized tool we all possess is talking about our faith. We do not need to sermonize or lecture, but quietly and humble share how God and His church is a part of our lives. These are tools we already posses and are using.
Somehow we convince ourselves that no one wants to hear about our convictions of faith or that we would be thought foolish and closed minded. We will often rattle on about politics, television, our neighbors and sports, thinking our opinions are valid and irrefutable, but we clam up about our relationship with God. Perhaps we try to ignore that voice or the dreams that Jesus sends us and remain quiet about expressing our genuine feeling to other. Or maybe we haven’t allowed ourselves to fully experience the Holy Spirit and suppress its full presence in our lives. If we are doing such then we cannot speak to others or tell people what Jesus is saying to us.
Maybe we need to begin by talking to ourselves or better yet listening to Jesus. Perhaps once that conversation has happened, then the next time you talk about the weather you can say, “My, what a beautiful day the Lord has made.”