“As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.” -Acts 7:59-60 NLT
This passage just grabbed me today. Stephen gave this incredible recounting of Jewish history, summarizing that they had continually rejected God and, in fact, killed the very hero of the story. So, like children, they cover their ears to avoid hearing the truth and stone him to death.
Why this hit me
For one, I’m like the Jews. My selfish desires are constantly crying out to defend my “right” and feed my needs. When I hear convicting truth, I turn my eyes away and cover my ears, too. No one likes to be told their wrong or that they can’t do what they want — I know that I don’t. So, the hardest part of this passage is that I’m standing among the crowd, throwing stones at a messenger of truth.
It’s easy to think I’m excused from this crowd — but then comes tax-season, a police officer asking “Do you know how fast you were going?” or the driver’s facility wanting to know your height and weight (And ladies, com’n, be honest. We all know that they weren’t asking for your “ideal weight” :)) — and you’re confronted with that moment of truth. It’s in that moment of internal conflict that we decide to either defend the lie or surrender. And unfortunately, the more often I defend the lie, the easier it becomes.
Who I want to be
My blaming finger is big. It’s like one of those giant foam fingers at a sporting event. Only, instead of “We’re #1” it reads “You’re #2”. I mean, as long as at the end of the game, I’m right and you’re wrong, I think I’ve won. And this is only intensified when I feel I am wrongfully accused. I start thinking bad things about my accusers.
So, looking at Stephen’s response, I’m blown away. I’m utterly dumfounded and mesmerized by this type of grace.
I want so badly to be able to sit under the raining blows of accusation and be able to say, “I don’t hold it against you and nor should anyone else.” I mean, this is just unfathomable.
Of course Christ demonstrated this time and time again. He called out to the accusing mob that the blameless accuser should throw the first stone, then when they all dropped their stones, hung their heads and walked away, he lifted the guilty woman to her feet and forgave her. As His captors beat, spat, crucified and pierced Him, this man, Jesus, said, “Forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
And in honesty, I am so far from this. (Just ask my wife about how I drive when the car in the left lane refuses to pass the car on the right. It’s as if they’ve delivered a personal attack on me and my inherent right to pass them.)
Learning to be wrong
So much of my life, when it comes down to it, is about surrender. Most things that God speaks to me are pointing me to give up something that I want or forgive someone that I’d rather not. And I’m not sure if there are any quick fixes for this.
My only hope is that in quiet moments like this, I can ask God to prepare my heart, and in heated moments where my selfishness starts burning up inside of me, I can see Stephen in my mind — kneeling and wishing blessings for his persecutors.
“God, I really, really, really like to be right. And it is not fun to give up my first place position in my mind. But Lord, you ultimately get the glory when I can surrender and seek to love those who are against me — and I want you to get the glory. So teach me to be second. Teach me to love and surrender. (And please go easy on me, ’cause I’m really bad at this.)”