Hearts Burning & Worldview Turning
I was no different than the two disciples on the road to Emmaus as I walked across the Bethel campus through the cool spring rain to the dining center toting my new Bible. My future was filled with uncertainty. The story I had been living in — one of my own making — was leaving me empty and longing for renewed hope and greater purpose for my life. The Christ I knew merely provided me with a ticket to Heaven, but I had yet to encounter him in a way that left my heart burning inside — especially through the reading of the Scriptures. That is, until tonight.
What happened in that dining center is very simple in one sense, and yet impossible to really put into words. I had never really heard of the Book of Acts. I had no idea what it was about. I honestly thought it was a collection of ancient one-act plays or something. (Again, I wasn’t much of a reader up until this time, and obviously a Bible beginner.)
I was familiar with Hebrews 4:12 that said “The Word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword…It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” This verse always intrigued, or perhaps humored, me because in my personal experience, the Word of God had always been, to paraphrase, “dry and boring, duller than a broken pencil, and sleep-inducing by the fourth sentence.”
The point is this: I wanted to believe Hebrews 4:12 was true. I wanted the Bible to come alive and cut me to the heart. I desired so much for the Living God to do heart surgery on me and leave me forever transformed by His Word. I was hopeful and prayerful that this new Bible would begin a new kind of experience with the God’s Word.
I don’t remember why I opened up to the Book of Acts. I only know that I had never really gone past the story of Jesus in the Gospels. I was still standing at the cross and celebrating at the empty tomb. I wanted to know what comes next. So, I bowed my head and prayed a simple prayer: “Lord, make your Word alive and powerful for me tonight. Amen.”
What happened next is best described as a collision of stories that sparked a fire in my heart that has never gone out. As I began to read the Book of Acts, my pathetic little story of a college kid in search of a degree that would lead to a nice paying job suddenly collided with a much older Story of ordinary Jesus followers sharing the greater adventure of partnering with the Living God in advancing His Kingdom on earth.
The Book of Acts reads like a fast-paced action novel with twists and turns, miraculous feats, risk and reward, conflict at every turn and the thrill of being part of a small fellowship of sojourners on a great quest of enormous significance.
The part that immediately grabbed me and pulled me into the action was the fact that I was sitting in precisely the same situation as the early followers of Jesus in chapter one.
Here’s the deal: Jesus spent four years teaching them his ways, preparing them for the task ahead, and then after his crucifixion and resurrection he ascended to the Father leaving them most likely scared, confused, and unsure of what comes next.
That was my faith in a nutshell: I knew Jesus, was familiar with his teachings, eternally grateful for his sacrifice and joyfully celebrant over his resurrection. But he was no longer physically present with me. So as I opened my new Bible in the dining center that night I was asking the same question those early followers must have asked in that upper room: “Uh…now what? What on earth am I here for?” A great question! The Book of Acts would provide that answer in narrative form as I saddled up for the adventure.
For the next three hours I sat there in an empty dining center devouring the sequel to the Gospel of Luke. Something changed inside of me that night. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, my heart burned within my chest as the Scriptures became alive and powerful in my reading. I think I now knew what John Wesley experienced that night at Aldersgate when, as he describes it in his journal,
“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while the leader was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.”
I was hooked. Just like in Prince Caspian, I found myself pulled, or yanked by the tail, into the excitement and a part of the action. I was no longer a detached observer merely reading about the apostles. I was one of them, the thirteenth disciple traveling along with Paul, Barnabas, Timothy and the rest for the wild, Spirit-led journey. This was no longer obscure ancient history, but rather a script for my life today and a unique role to play. Like Sam and Frodo, the two hobbits in The Lord of the Rings, I was also asking: “Frodo, I wonder what sort of tale we’ve fallen into?”
This Holy Book had cast some strange spell over me and I was under it’s influence, captive to it’s power, and, oh what a sweet and liberating captivity this was! Like C.S. Lewis reading George MacDonald’s Phantastes: Faerie Romance, I, too, in this moment
“saw the bright shadow coming out of the book into the real world and resting there, transforming all common things and yet itself unchanged. Or, more accurately, I saw the common things drawn into the bright shadow…In the depth of my disgraces, in the then invincible ignorance of my intellect, all this was given me without asking, even without consent. That night my imagination was, in a certain sense, baptised; the rest of me, not unnaturally, took longer.”
I immediately decided I wanted to trade in my story in chase of the American Dream for the Story of God in chase of lost souls who needed to hear the gospel. I wanted my life to count for something more. I wanted to give my life to this higher purpose. I wanted to be like Paul the apostle. I wanted to not only read about the Acts of the Apostles; I wanted to live it out and experience that kind of faith today. But how? When? Where? These questions would have to wait, for my journey had only just begun. Though the pages that follow intend to reveal how they were gradually answered.