“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (Acts 8:4)
We are living through a time of great disruption. The coronavirus pandemic has thrown the usual course of daily live into disarray. Our patterns of work and worship have been turned on their heads. Nothing is normal and normal feels like a distant memory in many ways.
Much of this disruption is difficult and painful and it perhaps difficult to see how God might be at work through it all. I have found a great deal of comfort in reflecting on another source of disruption in the book of Acts, and I believe it has a lot to say to our current situation.
The book of Acts opens with Jesus’ ascension followed by the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The small group of disciples grows rapidly into the early church. Miracles happen and people come to faith. I can imagine those early believers being filled with confidence and excitement about what God is going to do.
Then persecution comes. Acts chapter seven tells of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, killed for his witness to Jesus Christ. Stephen’s death begins a period of intense persecution for the early church. Acts chapter eight tells how everyone in the church except the apostles were scattered from Jerusalem to places far and wide. In the place of confidence and excitement comes disruption and it seems like God’s work is thwarted.
But that is not so. Acts 8 verse 4 reports that those who were scattered preached the word wherever they went. The painful persecution meant that Christians were thrown out of Jerusalem. But that situation allowed the gospel message to be spread far and wide. A serious suffering still provided a means for the kingdom to grow.
So it is, I believe, with us. There is great disruption at present, and along with that much pain, difficulty and loss. These struggles are real and need to be addressed. But at the same time, God can be at work, and I believe is at work in the midst of disruption.
In the days ahead we will begin to consider how we can move back to ‘normal’ church and ‘normal’ meetings. There is much to look forward to and celebrate in that. But perhaps God is not calling us back to ‘normal’. Maybe he will use this disruption to create a new normal, to open up new opportunities and new ways of doing things, to bring us not back to ‘normal’ but to a new place where the kingdom can grow. ‘Normal’ is not where we should aspire to end up, but instead where God is leading and guiding us to bring the gospel to new places. I’m sure those early disciples would have longed to return to Jerusalem, yet God had other plans for them to grow the kingdom. Let’s not long to return to Jerusalem but see where God had led us and where the kingdom can grow in these new places.