At the close of each Bible Study Fellowship year, we are encouraged to consider what truth from GOD’s word has most impacted us over the past nine months. Reviewing lessons and notes from the book of Acts and select New Testament letters, a few key concepts rise to the top.
One over-arching theme for me is found in the BSF notes from Lesson 3:
“The work of the Holy Spirit within one human being is like dropping a stone into a pond. From one small point of entry, circles of waves move out. Sometimes a big splash affects many. At other times, few notice, but the water moves in ever larger circles. On the Day of Pentecost, a new chapter in the lives of GOD’s people began. The Spirit came in power and filled all who trusted in JESUS CHRIST. As GOD revealed Himself through His Spirit, His powerful salvation changed GOD’s people and the world forever.”
This wave of transformation began with individual encounters with the good news of the gospel. Hearts touched one by one, drawn to trust the LORD JESUS as the true Messiah! Although large numbers of new believers joined the early church on the day of Pentecost, they were not swept away in a tide of crowd mentality. An impersonal, mass conversion was never what the LORD had in mind. Each heart, each life, had its own “pebble drop” foreknown by GOD from the beginning of time – possibly imperceptible to others, but with eternal purposes and plans in view.
BSF notes for Lesson 4 mention another important truth:
“GOD strengthened His people and spread the gospel through every problem the infant church experienced.”
In our discussion of Acts 15, our group also concluded that service for GOD is not without complications. I jotted this challenge on the side of my paper that day: “Rather than shrink back from the tension, ride the wave, fight for truth, fight for relationships grounded and growing in that truth – with the LORD and with others!”
Each believer (brand new or more seasoned) needs continual, fresh encounters with the Savior! Struggles may cause us to question the foundation of our faith, but ultimately drive us back to JESUS, desperate for Him to step in again and again to do for us what we are incapable of doing for ourselves. The Holy Spirit uses each fresh wrestle to clarify and reiterate the truth we first heard, peeling back new layers for our understanding, revealing new depths of GOD’s heart. Those challenges stretch us. And we grow. Our capacity for faith and knowledge of GOD expands. And our passion to share the reality we are experiencing strengthens.
As GOD’s servants, the apostles understood the importance of repeating the clear message of the gospel. When they could not visit those early churches in person, they sent letters to remind them of the reality that gripped their hearts when they first trusted CHRIST. Those letters re-centered their view and reinforced their faith, encouraged them to embrace the trials as wondrous avenues for the LORD to become all the more real to them … and those baby believers grew!
Ever Widening Circles
As individual “circles” strengthened, their sphere of influence expanded as well.
“GOD’s message was preached in ever widening circles! The number of believers greatly increased.” Acts 6:7
Another note on the side of my page posed the following personal challenge: “Where is the Word of GOD flourishing? – show up and be authentic!” In other words, the LORD calls me to join His team! To reach beyond my own personal growth to desire an outreach circle that widens to others around me.
Our side study of Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth put this GOD-given mission into words for me:
“GOD has given me this sacred trust [of preaching]. I have no choice [but to persevere at any cost].” I Corinthians 9:17
I sensed the Holy Spirit applying those words to me personally in this way: “GOD has chosen me for this sacred trust [of writing]. I have no choice but to faithfully complete the job He gave me, regardless of personal cost or challenges.”
The early believers leaned heavily on the LORD to direct their mission. In Acts 13-14, we noted how they worshipped, fasted, and prayed, asking the Holy Spirit to show them how to share the gospel. They weren’t depending on their own ability to speak His truth, but on His Spirit to guide them and to give them words.
Reading and pondering the way the LORD used Paul’s eventual imprisonment and trial to give him an audience with high Roman officials like Felix and King Agrippa, it became clear that GOD will place us exactly where and when He needs us to tell His story. And He will give us experiences that bring His truth to life. I may doubt my place in life, personally, professionally, or even geographically. But I can trust the LORD has a purpose in every detail of my story.
I sensed the LORD urging me to “stand strong in the face of doubt!” To know that there is strength to be found in quiet confidence in Him. To remember the One to whom I belong! To watch expectantly to see what He will accomplish through me as I step out in courageous faith to engage with hearts one at a time.
Multiplied and Overlapping Circles
As I ponder these ever-widening circles, an interesting analogy comes to mind. Unlike the initial picture of a single pebble in a quiet pond, creating either a visible splash or a quiet wave of larger circles, I imagine many pebbles! Many hearts responding to individual encounters with the Savior, each growing and reaching out with the good news of the gospel. Many pebbles in many different locations, filling the imaginary “pond” with countless widening, overlapping circles! An intricate, exponentially increasing and intertwining web. Each “circle” impacting the other, all rejoicing in the same truth, interlocking, strengthening and emboldening fresh or enduring faith, reminding each of us of the firm foundation on which we stand – our Savior and Redeemer, JESUS CHRIST!
Multiple “pebble drops” can be as soft as gentle rain or as sudden and loud as a thunderstorm. We can trust the exact plans of the One who orchestrates the delivery of His own message to each heart. He may use multiple, overlapping “circles” to pursue hearts. When those dear ones hear His truth from several different people in several different circumstances, they begin to take note! Encounters with the Savior will have impact – on an individual level and always with ever-widening spheres of influence!
Coming Full Circle
On a very personal note, I cannot help but mention an unmistakable “full-circle moment.” I studied the book of Acts with Bible Study Fellowship for the first time when we had just moved to south Florida. It was a deeply challenging season for me, adjusting to our new home in a very unfamiliar environment, wrestling internal struggles that rocked the core of my faith in GOD’s plan.
The standout take-away for me eight years ago came from the early chapters in Acts, when the apostles were given the ability to speak in languages they had not previously known, in order to reach foreigners who were listening. I could not help but wonder… was I willing to walk my difficult and uncertain path, trusting the LORD would teach me to speak a new language? Would He give me new words, a new story to tell of the reality of His Presence and power in my life? Could I bear witness of His tender care through moments of struggle that others could relate to in a way I might not have been able to express before? At the time, I chose to simply trust Him, not knowing where those questions might lead.
How staggering to realize the fulfillment of that sketchy vision eight years ago. The story that unfolded included actual words! All those struggles translated to telling my story – and encouraging others to do the same – in my first published book as a writer! When speaking those words out loud over and over again in the process of recording the audio version of the book, I realized just how many of those words and phrases came directly from years of pouring over Scripture, wrestling truth, and listening attentively for the LORD’s voice.
He has given me a new language! He has literally given me words to describe the experiences I have lived and ignited in me a deep-seated passion to share the priceless gifts I have received along the way. I long to reach every part of my “widening circle” to proclaim the gospel, the incredibly good news that our Redeemer has come, that JESUS our Savior will meet us in any difficulty we face to reveal more of His heart to us, that He freely offers us everlasting, abundant LIFE!
. . .
Through the book of Acts and corresponding letters to newly planted churches in the New Testament, we saw the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the ripple effect of the spread of the gospel! We can now trace threads through GOD’s eternal story – how He worked through Israel’s history, the early days of the church, and continues to touch lives today, strengthening His people through the challenges they face! What lengths He goes to as He pursues our hearts, sharpens our vision of glory, and emboldens us to speak His truth. What a joy to know He welcomes us to join Him in the passionate and compassionate pursuit of others’ hearts, in ever-widening circles, with His love and power that is unstoppable!
The story of these new believers is ours as well. Hearts gripped by the good news of the gospel, drawn to trust JESUS as our Savior. The path forward from that point is fuller and richer but not necessarily easier. Challenges can be discouraging, and even knock us completely off course, causing us to question what we truly believe. But in those struggles we encounter His heart in fresh ways. We begin to hunger to understand the One who not only offers personal redemption but has a much bigger plan always in motion.
As He sharpens our focus, we realize He uses the very challenges that seem to hinder us, to propel us forward – in our own growth, but also with loving outreach to others. Our GOD wants us to know Him. The more we learn of His heart, the stronger our own impulse becomes to introduce others to the reality we now live in a personal and treasured relationship with Almighty GOD.
How is the LORD working to widen your circle today?
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