I find it sobering that one of the best biblical examples of successful ministry looks so different from my efforts. I’m probably not unusual in my preparation for speaking or leading a Bible study. Some messages take me several hours of Bible reading, research, and prayer before I am even ready to compile my rough notes. Sequencing the points, crafting the words, illustrations, and a few jokes to wake people up, take longer. Thirty to forty-five minutes of intense action followed by a response time and I am done. If I am lucky there will be a handful of people at the door thanking me for touching their life in some way.
Peter had a much more fruitful experience:
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. (Acts 10:44)
I’m a little jealous. Sure Peter prayed for a while before lunch (Acts 10:9-10). But there is no mention of sermon preparation and his message takes about two minutes to read (Acts 10:34-43). Peter didn’t even finish what he was saying, but he ended up baptizing an extended family. What were the keys to his successful ministry?
- We must remember that Peter was a Jew. He knew the Old Testament, and Jesus had explained how it pointed to Him (Luke 24:44-48). Peter maintained the discipline of regular prayer throughout the day (Acts 3:1; 10:9).
- Beyond those essential foundations, God had used Peter to do miracles. Some days earlier he had raised a woman, Tabitha, from the dead (Acts 9:36-43).
- Then Peter had what he might have dismissed as a pizza dream except that it was followed by two more significant things. First, Peter sensed the Spirit saying that three men were looking for him. Second, those three men had just knocked on the front door. At some point, God confirms what He is doing by fulfilling it in everyday life. Peter saw God at work. So he arranged to accompany the men to Caesarea (Acts 10:18-23). The dream about eating unclean animals shattered Peter’s concerns about mixing with Gentiles; he was prepared to meet with Cornelius (Acts 10:28-29, 34-35).
- Cornelius had also been prepared by God. He was a man of peace; someone who is receptive to the good news and ready to pass it on. Although Cornelius was a Roman centurion, he lived in reverence to God (Acts 10:1-2, 22, 31, 35). Not only was Cornelius’ heart open to God, an angel had given detailed instructions about Peter and how to find him. Cornelius’ home was full of people hungry to hear what God had to say.
- Peter baptized the entire household and remained with them for a few days. Presumably he continued explaining to them about Jesus and what it meant to follow Him. Ministry did not end at a church door.
The take home lesson for all of us is that spiritual preparation looks very different from our own. We need the deep work that long term immersion in Scripture and conversation with God accomplishes. But we also need to live with a constant expectation and awareness of God’s activity. Times with the Lord are not dull routines; in His presence we surrender and tune in to Him. We become alert. When He prompts us, we are able to recognize it and respond. Successful ministry depends on us playing our tiny part in what God has already arranged. A few words of truth and a move of the Holy Spirit is all it takes to see fruit.
Please share Bible Maturity with anyone who would benefit from other Bible devotions like this one.