The same thing occurred in Iconium, where Paul and Barnabas went into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who testified to the word of his grace by granting signs and wonders to be done through them. But the residents of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. And when an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to maltreat them and to stone them, the apostles learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country; and there they continued proclaiming the good news.
When our latest effort to get people interested in our local church has had no more success than the previous one, we read these stories in Acts wistfully. All it needed was for a couple of lay preachers to turn up and, far from putting up a wall of indifference, the locals responded by queuing up to start Walking the Way of Jesus. If only.
But in Iconium it was not quite your average family service. Paul and Barnabas made the focus of their work not the local church but the home of a rival religion. They also “stayed a long time” so the brevity of the Bible’s report should not mislead us into thinking that converting initial enthusiasm into long haul discipleship was that easy. And their reward was to have to flee for their lives, an experience not shared by many URC preachers recently.
A culture that expects all good things to be instant and painless sets the wrong benchmark for discipleship. Immersed in that culture, we have to work hard to believe God’s timings are not always in line with our preferences. There is a longer story than any of us know. Our job is to contribute what we can where we can.
God who ranges over eternity
Guide me in my discipleship: show me when I need to face the many discipleship demands of Church life and when I need to face the different discipleship demands outside Church life.
As today unfolds, help me see the opportunities to speak of the wonders of your grace.
As my life unfolds, reassure me that whether hopes are fulfilled or flattened, my service in my place can be part of your purposes for every place.
John Ellis is Immediate Past Moderator of the General Assembly and Church Secretary within the Tudeley and Five Oak Green LEP in Kent