We observe in Acts 10 and 11, God, rather than the apostles, took the initiative in most situations. The apostle’s involvement invariably requires their availability in prayer. God had heard Cornelius’s prayer and He also, with some considerable difficulty, sought to guide Peter as he prayed. Both Cornelius and Peter experienced the presence of God in a vision (Acts 10:2-3 and 9). Peter was rather slow to understand what was going on, trying hard to keep up with the God who had already gone before him. He eventually realised that he should visit Cornelius, but was astonished to find that God had already been working well beyond the bounds of the Church. To Peter’s amazement, he got halfway through his talk when the Spirit took over. The account reads as if the Spirit is rather impatient, perhaps even bored by Peter’s sermon, and doesn’t wait for him to finish (Acts 10:44)!
Even on the day of Pentecost, Peter was simply keeping up with God’s action and he did not initiate anything himself. He just happened to be present and took the opportunity to explain the events unfolding before his eyes, starting with a disclaimer to drunkenness (Acts 2:15).
God often makes his presence known to people, despite our slowness to ‘cotton on’ to whatever He is doing. We play our part, but very much as junior partners who are trying to keep up.
Our partnering with God is good for our mental health. It saves us from feeling we have the overwhelming responsibility of carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders. It releases us to walk with the Lord, in the confidence that He has both gone before us and that we carry His presence with us. Our part is to be attentive and to look for signs of the Holy Spirit’s activity as we fulfil our call to have an impact on people and communities. Doing this by seeking to discern the presence and activity of the Spirit is a different approach to what most of us have been taught which seemed to put the onus on us.
On occasions, walking with God means we have to ‘walk on the water’. Like the disciples, as we set out from the security of the shore, we do not realise all that the journey will entail. The story of Peter walking on water revealed how rash he was, but it also shows us the level of his faith in Jesus compared to his companions who stayed in the boat ‘Peters’ are people who are more desperate to join Jesus than those of us who always weigh up the risk. We need to avoid recklessness, but when it’s in response to having heard the prompting of the Holy Spirit, faithfully stepping into a vulnerable situation will get us closer to Him.
Much of this post is extracted from Richard Brown’s book Cultivating God’s Presence