26 June 2023

Have you been empowered by the Holy Spirit?

Major Mike Lloyd-Jones

Major Mike Lloyd-Jones searches for the engine that drives Christians.

Key text

Be honest! How nosey are you? Every day, some 35 per cent of the world’s population accesses a Facebook account. Globally, a social media user spends 2 hours and 24 minutes a day checking their feeds. Are these users being nosey or are they just keeping up to date?

Pause and reflect

  • If the account of Saul’s conversion and spiritual ministry was a series of Facebook posts, which would you ‘like’ and which would you scroll past?

Murderous threats – a quick scroll by? I don’t want to hear about that. The appearance of Jesus – a ‘like’ or thumbs-up emoji? Reading that Ananias has gone to help Saul – a comment to encourage or a warning?

The early part of Acts 9 is an account of a dynamic power shift, summarised in verse 17 when Ananias prays for Saul to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

The subsequent verses show the change the Spirit makes in Saul’s life. Those who observe Saul’s change of focus and energy don’t just sit there taking little or no interest. They go from fearing his persecution to welcoming him as an all-in follower of Jesus.

Although members of the early Church in Damascus and Jerusalem know Jesus as the risen Lord and understand about grace, forgiveness and compassion, they still doubt Saul’s authenticity. Even after Saul faces assassination attempts and death threats, the believers openly question the integrity of Saul’s conversion and anointing from God.

Pause and reflect

  • How do we welcome new believers into our fellowship?

In our study passage, we observe another power dynamic in relationships. Saul was the hero of the religious authorities and zealots of the day. He had been the cheerleader for the persecution of these new Christians. He wanted them exterminated.

Photo shows someone typing on a mobile phone.

Acts 9:31

Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.

Read Acts 9

These days, the dynamic transformation in Saul’s life would be enough to send followers of Jesus into a social media firestorm. Saul ‘baffled’ them as he proved that Jesus was the Messiah (v22). They wouldn’t know where they stood with him, or what had happened.

Our acceptance of transformation doesn’t really have the depth of change that this held for them. A programme of personal persecution of Saul followed the programme of persecution of the believers already under way.

Persecution of Christians didn’t stop with Saul – Christians have been persecuted ever since.

Over the past 30 years, the number of countries where Christians face high to extreme levels of persecution has almost doubled, estimated to be 76 countries in 2023. According to a parliamentary research briefing, an estimated 360 million Christians globally face ‘very high’ or ‘extreme’ levels of persecution. Yet it is often within this persecuted Church that we see the brightest example of the same dynamic power shift in the lives of individuals as Saul experienced.

Pause and reflect

  • Where do you see persecution of Christians in the news?
  • Can you see the Holy Spirit’s power at work in these Christians’ lives and fellowships?
  • What impact does this have on your life and perspective?

Even when the challenges seemed insurmountable, something kept driving Saul. The empowerment Saul experienced when the Holy Spirit filled him drove him ever onwards for the Kingdom of God. The same Holy Spirit power can be seen in generations of believers.

Let’s consider some popular purported highlights from John Wesley’s diary: ‘Sunday, am May 5 – Preached at St Anne’s. Was asked to not come back anymore. Sunday, pm May 5 – Preached in St John’s. Deacons said, “Get out and stay out.” Sunday, am May 12. – Preached in St Jude’s. Can’t go back there either. Sunday, am May 19 – Preached in St Somebody Else’s. Deacons called special meeting and said I couldn’t return. Sunday, pm May 19 – Preached on street. Kicked off street.

‘Sunday, am May 26 – Preached in meadow. Chased out of meadow as bull was turned loose during the service. Sunday, am June 2 – Preached out at the edge of town. Kicked off the highway. Sunday, pm June 2 – Afternoon, preached in a pasture. Ten thousand people came out to hear me.’

Just imagine: 10,000 people in a congregation. John Wesley journeyed from rejection, decline and even persecution to heading a spiritual movement that swept through England. Wesley was able to withstand and persevere only because of the same dynamic power and anointing of the Holy Spirit that Saul had experienced.

Today, if the Church is to not only survive persecution but also thrive despite persecution, then God’s people need to experience a similar empowering, anointing and commissioning of the Holy Spirit to which the likes of Wesley and Saul testified.

Unlike those occasions when we might quickly scroll through our Facebook feed and forget what we have read, let us consider the difference the power of the Holy Spirit can make in our lives and in the life of the wider Church.

Pause and reflect

  • Pray for Christians who are facing persecution, that they will know the presence and power of Jesus.
  • Pray for the Church to be open to the voice of God and to be willing to follow his leading.
  • Pray for yourself, that you may know Jesus deeper and receive the filling of the Holy Spirit’s power in your life.

Bible study by

Photo of Mike Lloyd-Jones.

Major Mike Lloyd-Jones

Divisional Commander, Central, Southern and Channel Islands

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