Holy Failure – and what happens next . . .

robin-1115934_640I have this idea that if I’m filled with the Holy Spirit, whatever task I’m about will not only succeed, it will succeed beyond all expectations.

This is true and yet, it’s not.

Sometimes, my expectations are built on false foundations.

My idea of success and God’s are at odds on every day of the week ending with a y. I’ve followed Him over fifty years and I still usually don’t get it.

Clearly, it’s desirable to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I want to be ruled by God and God alone. I want the Spirit of Christ to inform my thinking, choices, and behavior. Stories abound in the church of healings, revivals, and miracles that resulted when people were full of the Holy Spirit so, yeah, I want in on that.

Then, as I’m thinking about being filled with the Holy Spirit, I reread the story of Stephen (Acts 7:54-8:2), and I suddenly have a fresh perspective.

Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit. It says so right in chapter 7 verse 55 – “but Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit.” This filling inspired Stephen to speak to the people, to appeal to them to turn to Christ.

Was it a success?

God would say yes, it was a success. Reminds me of a line from The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Because, the crowd turned on Stephen.

The ESV says they were “enraged.” They “ground their teeth at him.” That’s some fierce fury. That’s downright animalistic anger. As the crowd became an angry mob, Stephen was so full of the Holy Spirit he gazed into heaven. In fact, he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. His eyes were open to Christ. He was full of the Holy Spirit. His focus was on heaven.

What resulted from this filling? What happened next?

The crowd united in crying out against him. They held their hands up to their ears in order not to hear him any longer. They rushed him. They cast him out of the city. They hurled stones at him until he died.

As he died, Stephen continued to see Jesus. He cried out for Jesus to forgive the crowd for their actions. This was his final request this side of glory.

Perhaps, you’re thinking, as Stephen breathed his last, the murderous crowd saw the error of their ways. They repented. They fell to their knees and they saw Jesus, too.

No. Nope. That would seem like a success wouldn’t it?

The passage continues: “And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”

If this were the only testimony given about the outcome of being filled with the Holy Spirit, I doubt the request for an infilling would lead my morning prayers. The immediate results of such an experience don’t always spell success the way we define it on this side of glory.

In fact, the truth is, we use the word, but I don’t think WE know what it means.

Because we know that from this initial persecution, the infant church was scattered – not to its destruction – but to its dissemination throughout the earth – a ripple effect that continues to this day. God will raise success from the six-foot deep grave of failure when His people yield themselves to the filling of the Holy Spirit.

The verse following the story of Stephen’s death and the resulting distress is this one, “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” Acts 8:4

Such an unassuming, pedestrian verse, we forget we are the fish that were hauled up into the net of salvation from those fishermen who scattered from Jerusalem in the wave of persecution and arrests.

Did the fact of Stephen being filled with the Holy Spirit result in success? Yes. But it also resulted in martyrdom, suffering, torture, imprisonment, and distress for many who love Jesus. The operation was a success but the patient died until God raised Him to new life.

God sees success because He knows the end of the story. He welcomed Stephen home with open arms, a blessed, Holy failure.

Jesus doesn’t pull any punches with believers. He warns us outright what to expect – “‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel,  who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.’” Mark 10:29-30 (ESV)

Did you catch those two little words – with persecutions?

Persecution will come, loved ones. For some, it will result in martyrdom. But, from the holy failure of those deaths, imprisonments, tortures, distresses, and grief, God will reap a successful harvest of souls who will share glory with us forever.

I still pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Along with this, I also now pray for the strength to receive whatever comes of this filling and that my eyes would always see Jesus.

May God prepare us all for His version of success.

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