Can you think of a time that you had to say good bye? Not a ‘see you tomorrow’, but a ‘goodbye for a long time, possibly forever’ kind of goodbye. We don’t understand what those are in our era. I don’t want to underestimate the parting of ways, but with phones, internet, texting, facetime, skype, etc, our goodbyes don’t last too long. We say goodbye one minute and are texting our friend the next; liking a post on facebook, favouring or replying to a tweet. Our goodbyes don’t have the same finality as they once did.
If you’ve ever worked with a group of people, leading and encouraging them for an extended period of time, you may know what it feels like to eventually say goodbye. I’ve had the opportunity to say farewell a few times in my life, and it wasn’t easy to settle on which words to share. It’s both tough and beautiful. Tough because you don’t want to leave a group you care about – Beautiful because your relationship to that point has given you an opportunity to share deep and challenging things on your farewell.
In Acts 20 Paul is sharing some farewell thoughts to a community that is dear to his heart. His longest pastoral stint was in Ephesus. It’s to these early Jesus followers that he shares his heart. He asked the Elders of the community to come meet him where he is. It would take three days to get a message from where he was to Ephesus, then add a few days for the Elders to get back. How important was this farewell meeting to make people go through this much trouble? Well, Paul was on his way to Jerusalem. He knew that they would never see each other again. He would be leaving the church in Ephesus totally in their hands…and God’s of course.
This particular speech was the only recorded one in Acts directed solely to Christians. Other speeches/sermons were for pagans, potential converts, hostile religious leaders, but this one is for a church Paul cared for and loves deeply. In it, Paul includes a few things about him and some advice for them.
In this speech…
….we find out…Paul’s devotion to the gospel, the Spirit and the church…
Paul reminds them about how he lived and what he taught. They go hand in hand. He shared all he could about Jesus, with humility, in public and in homes. Paul lets them know that following him would lead them to following Jesus (cf. 1 Cor 11:1, Phil 4:9). He then uses this word that lets us into how committed he was to the mission of Christ. “I am compelled to go from city to city…even though I may will trouble there.” The word compelled, is also written as captivated (in other translations) and can be translated as imprisoned. Paul felt like he could do nothing else but serve Jesus in this way.
Have you ever felt this? Either for a season or a moment? That you could do nothing else than what God was calling you to do? Did you listen? Did you follow your captivated heart? I hope so. It’s not easy…to give a moment, a day, a week, a season, or your life, but when your compelled, you just don’t feel like you can do anything else. Paul wanted to remind them this as he prepares to leave.
He then turns from his life with them to their new reality without him.
…we’re given…next steps in moving the church forward…
Paul is concerned, like any fatherly leader would be, about his family. He wants them to succeed in his absence. And of course he would, because he is a good leader. Good leaders want those who follow them to succeed after they leave. It’s the selfish leaders who don’t care how things turn out when they’re not leading any longer.
Paul tells them to:
– Keep Watch (for obstacles heading their way)
– Be Shepherds (lead and nurture as Paul once did)
– Be Alert (for evil and disruption to their forming Jesus community)
The most important bit of advice may be in verse 32, “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance…”. It’s like he’s saying, ‘The story you’ve received, the gospel you’ve been taught, the word of grace you’ve welcomed…it will build you up and give you a future.’
Paul felt that these things would enable them to move the church forward and continue the work of Jesus in their present and future days.
This leads us to the inevitable: Paul is leaving. They accompany him to the ship. They cry, they hug, they grieve, because they will not see each other again. We can’t appreciate what this means for them. We don’t have the same finality in our departures these days. This was a final goodbye. Yes, they had a hope of heaven, but who would teach and continue to nurture these young christians in their faith? There was a deep community that grew in this church. They loved and appreciated each other. This farewell meant something to both Paul and the Ephesian Christians. Paul got to remind them about all they had learned about Jesus. They received valuable instruction to continue what God started in them. What do we learn? Hear are a few questions that might help us figure that out.
we allow God’s spirit to so captivate us that we find ourselves consumed in
doing God’s good work in the world?
we appreciate God’s story in such a way that we ‘stay awake’ and keep others
‘alert’ to it?
much of a community experience are we willing to have? Hopefully enough of one
that will bring grief our way if we find ourselves saying goodbye one day –
That’s when you know it’s good!
you had one last chance to talk to someone you cared about, what would you say?
How would you end things? Would you pray for their future? Would you give them
a word of grace that builds?
I’ve come to expect a few things from my wife over the years. Her smile, her awesome cooking (BTW, that’s an honest appreciation for her gift, not a chauvinist comment in any way), her wisdom, her love, and among other things, her phone calls while she is driving. Funny that we use our drive time to make calls, but if there’s one thing technology has assisted with is the multi-use of our time. I can now stay in contact with the people I care about while driving. 15-20 years ago I would just…drive. (If you do this, please be using a bluetooth device or head phones:) (and please note that we’re not dismissing the other ways technology robs us of personal contact)
It never fails, on the mornings that I’m working from home, my wife might be on the road for less than 5 minutes and the phone rings. She just wants to chat; catch up on stuff we missed over breakfast. It’s a good thing right? I love it, and she obviously does to, otherwise she wouldn’t dial the number.
Relationships are based on conversation and communication. They grow when we’re talking, they don’t grow when we’re not talking. I’m not discounting the profoundness of being present without words, however, we can all agree that healthy friendships are based on conversation that travels both ways.
If this is true, why do we think that our relationship with God is any different? Without thought we will go days without talking to God, without reading the scripture, without quieting ourselves to listen to what he has to say. The funny thing is that we somehow convince ourselves that our understanding of God, our walk with Christ, can move forward even when we neglect one of the most important lifelines for it – prayer. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an easy thing to be consistent with. I speak from experience: I’m consistently inconsistent and inconsistently consistent (how’s that for a tongue twister). That being said, if I want to grow deeper in my faith and move closer to the person Jesus is calling me to be, prayer has to be part of the equation.
– something the scriptures teach us to do (found 100’s of times in the Bible)
– expected of people who follow Jesus
– expecting God to answer the phone when you call (Psalm 4:3, 138:3)
– something we do alone (Matt 6) & together (Acts)
– something we do on good & bad days
– something we learn (‘Jesus, teach us to pray”Pray like this…’)
– just a bunch of words
– something we rush
– like pestering an authority figure to get something we want (Luke 18)
– to show off how spiritual you are to others (Matt 6)
– us telling God what to do, combined with hints on how others should live
– helps you become the person God created you to be
– like all communication tools, fosters relationship (with God)
– reminds us that we’re not doing life alone
– gives God joy
Why do we pray???
– because Jesus did (Luke 11:1, 5:26, 22:32)
– because Jesus expects us to (Matthew 6:5,6,7,9, Luke 11:9)
– because prayer invites God into our world and ushers us into his
– because if we don’t pray we only halt our desire to deepen our relationship with God
There is so much more to say. But simply put – Pray!
Talk to God. Listen to God. See what happens as you do it more and more. Don’t just fit it into your busy schedule, try and base your schedule around it. I’m with you in this journey. I want to pray more in my 40’s than I did in my 30’s. Why? Because if I want to move deeper in my relationship with God and the mission Jesus compels me to live, I have to pray.
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small(er) group questions
If you were asked to describe prayer, why you do it and what you get from it, how would you respond?
In Matthew 6, Jesus gives us some instructions about prayer. How long we pray, how loud we pray, and what we pray for.
– Why do you think Jesus says not to pray for the purpose of others hearing you?
– What about the Lord’s prayer excites and inspires you? What part is tough to accept or pray?
How has God answered your prayer? Have there been times where you feel he’s been silent in responding?
If pray is conversation, what kind of things should get into the dialogue?
Ruth Barton says that, ‘prayer has features in common with all relationships that matter…exciting/dull, loud/quiet, joy/irritation’. What do you think she means by that?
We pray because (1) Jesus prayed (Luke 5:16, 11:1, 22:32), (2) He expects us to pray (Matthew 6:5,6,7,9), (3) Jesus taught us how (Matthew 6:6-11)
What would you like us to pray for tonight?
Let’s read the Lord’s prayer as we close. A little slower, with a few seconds of reflection between phrases.