‘You cannot be serious!’
Essentially that’s what Peter said to God when God asked him to think the unthinkable and do the undoable (Acts 10:14).
This incident, Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, speaks to us. Physically gathering together has been an integral part of biblical worship for at least 4,000 years. That we now feel disorientated and confused is not in the least surprising. That we think we are in uncharted water is understandable. And also, in a sense, wrong. The Bible recounts several periods when the expression of faith fundamentally changed. God’s people have been where we are now. With God’s help, they did not simply survive, they discovered more of God.
A few pointers from the Cornelius incident …
- There is no human plan.
‘The next day Peter started out’ (Acts 10:23).
Peter had no idea what would happen next. He simply did the next thing as God made it clear.
I have struggled with accepting I’m not in control. One day, as I was having an internal conversation about why I was feeling so down, a flash of insight came. I realised I was trying to control a situation that was out of my control. As I consciously accepted this and handed over responsibility to God, I felt my anxiety lessen.
There is value in scenario planning. At the same time we can waste energy second guessing the unknowable. We are in God’s hands. He calls us to follow, not be in control.
- Agility is essential.
‘Do not hesitate to go with them’ (Acts 10:20).
Part of me is risk-averse. I like to think things through before acting. At a time when everything has changed this can be paralysing. Last week someone encouraged me to be willing to just try things and see what happened. Some ideas will find traction, others won’t. It is only by trying I’ll find out.
- Communication is crucial.
‘When Peter went up to Jerusalem the circumcised believers criticised him’ (Acts 11:3).
In a time of change criticism is inevitable, which makes me defensive. That means I have to overcome my instinct and work even harder at communicating. The more I communicate the more likely it is that together we will come to a shared understanding of where we should be going.
- The road ahead will be bumpy.
‘When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God’ (Acts 11:18).
If only it had been so simple. If it were, Galatians would not have been written and the first Church council (Acts 15) would not have been held.
Radical change creates upheaval. This is a period of experimentation and exploration. It may be years until a new equilibrium is found. Consensus may form only to dissolve. Since others have been this way before we can learn. Expecting a bumpy ride can help us cope better. Assuming there will be different responses can prompt us to be gracious. Not anticipating a quick fix we can pace ourselves.