In our house right now there are a lot of “first.” First words, first time swimming without a float, first time eating real food, first steps, and the list goes on. Now that Valerie and I are raising our second child, the firsts have become more regular. If it’s not our oldest giving us some amazing first, it’s our youngest daughter doing something for the first time. I grew up an older brother so I never saw the view point of my younger sibling, but now that I have children I get to see the viewpoints from both. What I have noticed in our youngest is that the firsts have come quicker than they did with our oldest. Maybe its because she has an example to follow in her older sister or she wants to keep up, but whatever the case, she seems to be wanting to do the “first” much sooner than her older sister. What is impactful about her actions is that she starts and continues, as clumsily as that might be, right where she is. What I mean by this is that she doesn’t fall down trying to walk and just say, “well when I’m older give this another shot.” No, she falls down and then almost instantly pulls herself back up and tries again.
In our society today, we don’t like the process. Overnight success, going viral, or instant fame are words used to describe many of the celebrities and famous "influencers" in our world. The process of hard work, learning your craft, and staying the course have been exchanged for right now or never. The acronym YOLO (You only live once) is a phrase that has only been coined in the last decade or so, but GOD never intended life to be this way. God is a God of process. He likes plans, precision, and processes. The birth of Jesus was a process that started in the garden of Eden and moved all the way through the Old Testament up until that night in Bethlehem. Thousands of years, millions of people, and the process from the beginning came into manifestation. Process. Plans. Precision.
In Acts 6, Luke describes Stephen, a man who understood the process. He was a gifted man: “full of faith and of the Holy Ghost,” but even in his gifting he was humble enough to serve where the church needed him the most. At this time in Biblical history, the church was just beginning. The traditions, rules, and orders of service that we have today did not exist back then. Many of Paul’s letters in the New Testament speak to how a church service should go and who should lead. In Jerusalem there were many people coming to know Christ at a rapid pace and the heart of the early church was to take care of these people not just spiritually but also physically. When the disciples saw that the care of many of these new believers physical needs started to become burdensome to them, they appointed 7 men to oversee what we would call a soup kitchen or food distribution service. Stephen was one of these men. Full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, God chose Stephen to help serve food to widows and children. Instead of getting prideful or angry, Stephen shows us a great example of how we should live our lives in service: He started right where he was. Even though Stephen was very talented in the faith, many people didn’t recognize this yet. God saw his talent and ability, but in order to be used Stephen needed somewhere to start and the soup kitchen was the perfect place. Look at what verse 8 of Acts chapter 6 says:
“And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.” Acts 6:8 NKJV
Where did Stephen do great wonders and signs? Among the people. And what people? Probably the widows and families he was serving in the soup kitchen. Stephen was being used by God right where he was serving. Stephen didn’t need a big platform or large instagram following in order to do signs and wonders for God. All Stephen needed was someone who needed to be served and that is where God showed up in a big way. Stephen’s service put him in a position to be used by God. Stephen would eventually be the first martyr for his faith in Jesus, but what he taught us about service is a great way to start off the new year.
1. Service brought Stephen closer to God.
“And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel.” Acts 6:15 NKJV
Stephen was so close to GOD that his face beamed with the glory of GOD. The other mention of this sort of thing happening is in Exodus 34 when Moses went up on a mountain to spend time with God and when he came down, his face radiated the glory of God. Apparently, Stephen had the same encounter Moses did and his face radiated the glory of God as well. But where was Stephen when God visited him personally? He was still serving food in the soup kitchen. This just proves to me that GOD isn’t concerned about your instagram followers or facebook friends, but He is concerned with your impact. Are you impacting people right where you are?
2. Service allowed GOD to work miracles and great wonders
“And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.”
Acts 6:8 NKJV
The Bible isn’t clear about where Stephen was when GOD used him to perform great miracles and wonders, but we can probably assume that he was doing his job. If Stephen had been too prideful to serve in the soup kitchen, how could GOD have used him to perform miracles? Maybe a widow came in for food who had been sick for many months and Stephen prayed for her and she was healed. Or maybe a little child was there who couldn’t walk and Stephen prayed and this little child was healed instantly. Whatever the signs and wonders were, GOD used Stephen right where he was. GOD can and will do the same thing through you. Are you willing to serve right where you are?
3. Service gave him opportunities to share the gospel
“And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council.” Acts 6:10-12 NKJV
Stephen was actively sharing the gospel not only where he served but throughout the community. When he was confronted by the religious leaders of that day (the same leaders who crucified Jesus) he proudly proclaimed the gospel and through the Holy Spirit his wisdom confounded the wisest of the wise. Stephens service in the food kitchen brought him to a place where he was sharing the gospel with the people needing food, but it elevated him to where he was sharing the gospel with the most influential leaders of the land. These were men who could change laws, customs, traditions, and now Stephen (the soup kitchen guy) was sharing the gospel with them. GOD elevated Stephen from a humble position of service to an influential position of leadership. Are you willing to serve right where you are to influence your community?
The story of Stephen ends with his martyrdom, but his example lives on forever. Stephen served where GOD needed him the most and from that point of service, GOD elevated him to a point of great leadership. Going into the new year, lets serve people right where we are. How can you impact those closest to you for Jesus? At your job, school, or church, look for simple ways to be the hands and feet of Jesus. This is what Stephen did. He didn’t look to be elevated, he looked to be a servant. I want to be a better servant in 2020. How about you?
My usual routine when I come home from work involves going to an outside window of our house, knocking on the window, and waiting for my daughter, Brooklyn, to show up at the window and get excited about seeing daddy. For about the next 2-3 minutes she tells me everything she has done for the day and then points to the front door for me to come in. A few weeks ago I had a different experience and it brought to mind many of the same situations that we are all in today. It was the same routine as usual: park the car, go to window, knock, wait for Brooklyn, talk through window, and then go to front door, except this time, Brooklyn wouldn’t let me in the door. I had a key and was able to unlock the door, but she had sat down right in front of the door and her body weight was blocking my entry into the house. Now, Brooklyn is only 35 pounds, but some how she had situated her body perfectly where the combination of body weight and leverage kept the door from opening. I could unlock the door, but I could not get it to open to come inside. I could hear her laughing through the door and I smiled at her playfulness. I stepped back from the door and remembered that there was another door in the garage to get into the house. I opened the garage, took the same key, opened the door inside the garage, and easily walked into the house still hearing the laughter of my daughter. When I got into the kitchen, GOD spoke to me and said, “Many of my children face the same difficulty when inheriting the promises I have given them. They don’t realize there’s more than one door.”
GOD has given each and every one of us specific promises that pertain to our life. Those might be personal promises or promises found throughout the Word of GOD, but we all have promises that have been spoken over our lives. Many times we give up on what GOD has said because the way we think it should be doesn’t work out. Essentially the door we want to go through is locked and just like my daughter was laughing at me on the other side, the enemy is laughing at you standing on the front porch, but Jesus addressed this very issue in Matthew 7: 7-11:
“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.”
I like the New Living Translation version because it uses the word, “keep.” This little four letter word carries big meaning when we apply it to our life and the promises of GOD. According to the online dictionary that comes with an Apple iPad the definition of keep is: persist, carry on, do something constantly or consistently, carry on. Many times, I have found, that GOD doesn’t answer prayers and give blessings the way I think it should be done. The whole reason Valerie and I started the podcast series “ Embrace the Delay” for Anchor Movement was because in our own marriage and family we were waiting on GOD to fulfill His promises, but we were in a delay. (To listen to our most recent podcast, click here). Delays are not fun and it’s in the delay that many times we get off course. The enemy likes to persuade us that GOD has forgotten about us or that His promises are for someone else more qualified and spiritual, but that is totally not true. It’s in the delays that we learn to lean on the faithfulness of GOD and remember His goodness. That’s why in Matthew 7 Jesus addressed the delay directly when he said, “keep.” Don’t stop asking. Don’t stop seeking. Don’t stop knocking. Keep on keeping on! GOD has good gifts stored up for you in His perfect timing. I love how the Psalmist puts it:
“Lord, how wonderful you are! You have stored up so many good things for us, like a treasure chest heaped up and spilling over with blessings— all for those who honor and worship you! Everybody knows what you can do for those who turn and hide themselves in you.” Psalms 31:19 TPT
GOD has more than one way to bless you and accomplish his promises in your life. Even if you have missed it because of sin or disobedience, GOD is still faithful to what He has said. Our job is to embrace these moments of delay and keep on seeking Him and remembering His goodness. We have the key and GOD will point us to the door that we should open in his timing. Don’t let anyone stop you from inheriting what GOD has for you. Remember what the Psalmist said, “You have stored up so many good things for us, like a treasure chest heaped up and spilling over with blessing!” Treasure chests aren’t something that lays out in the open. Most of the time you have to follow a map and diligently seek the treasure outlined on the map. Our treasure from GOD is found the same way, by diligently seeking Him and following His map. Don’t give up, Keep on going!