Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. Acts 8:26-35
One of the most used excuses I hear people give for not wanting to share their stories is they don’t believe it will help anybody. And if I am being honest, I will have to admit I have had the same thought more often than I care to admit. The truth is that very few of us have a conversion story that is worthy of canonization, but the Gospel truth is that followers of Jesus all have a compelling story of transformation.
The scripture above is one of my favorite examples of where storytelling can make a difference. In just a few verses we see a great example of how God wants us share our stories. Here are three lessons we can learn from Phillip’s interaction with the Ethiopian and how we can teach them to our congregations.
First, Phillip practiced regular prayer and meditation because he heard and understood the instruction from an angel of the Lord to go south. How many times have we heard the still small voice but we weren’t prepared to understand it or even follow the instruction? Phillip was able to not only hear the voice of the Spirit, but he discerned that he should travel south on road that was “off the beaten path.” We have to encourage our congregations to find that regular prayer time and model for them what it looks like so that their next steps can be truly led by the Holy Spirit and they can be confident in following. Look for opportunities to share in your sermons how you set aside time to pray and discern instructions from the Spirit. Personal testimonial videos from church folk can inspire their peers by seeing how “normal” people can have regular and deep prayer lives. Another effective method is to offer classes on prayer and meditation and create prayer groups and teams throughout the ministries of the church.
Second, Phillip encountered someone studying the scripture and he boldly asked the stranger if he needed help. In today’s culture, engaging a stranger on the side of the road is not usually the safe and prudent move. But the truth is, we are not even comfortable approaching our friends and acquaintances to help them understand the Bible. Our excuse is that we aren’t comfortable in our knowledge of the Bible and we don’t want to share something wrong. I can actually respect that people don’t want to give others a misunderstanding of the Bible, but I have a problem with the folks that don’t pursue their own understanding of the Scriptures. The no-brainer is that we have to offer Bible studies at all levels for our congregations as part of their discipleship paths. Where we have to be inventive and creative is by offering classes via online studies or video conference meetings.
The third lesson we can learn from Phillip is that God calls us to make an investment into other people with our most valuable resources: our time and attention. Phillip had no idea what to expect when ran upon the Ethiopian official sitting in his chariot, but he was willing to give him all the time and attention required to understand the words he was reading. We have to make loving our neighbor a core value of everything we do as a church and as a follower of Jesus. We can’t preach about it enough or put it in print enough to instill this value into the hearts, minds, and lives of our people. We should offer opportunities for people to get involved in not only helping others by serving but to pour themselves into other people.
Bishops all over Methodism are lamenting the lack of adult professions of faith in their local churches. If we can create a culture where our people are following the lead of Phillip, then we can see the same results:
As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him (verses 38-39).