Guest speaker Yan Handley was at church last night, speaking on how to keep calm in a crisis. Crises come to us all at different times in life: they may be financial, connected with work or health or family or even with church and we need to learn how to keep calm in such situations. Jesus was calm enough in a storm to go to sleep and even when faced with the agony of the Crucifixion remained calm and without need to vindicate Himself. In the Bible, we read of many others whose faith enabled them to cope with tragedy and crises: Job, who worshipped God despite sickness and family bereavement; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who faced the fiery furnace with calm; Paul who faced shipwrecks, beatings and imprisonment with a song in his heart and John who, even when exiled on the island of Patmos, was ‘in the Spirit on the Lord’s day’.

Yan looked at the life of Stephen as narrated in Acts 6 and 7 and gave us four principles by which we can become the victor even in a crisis.

(1) Stephen was full of faith.

We can be full of all kinds of things such as fear, doubt and self-pity, but we need to be known, as Stephen was, as ‘full of faith’. Faith has be there long before the crises come! It needs to be developed in the ordinary. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world (1 Jn 5:4). Each one of us has been given faith by God (Rom 12:3), but that faith can be dormant, divided, diverted or developing. We need to ensure that our faith is not simply sleeping and that we are not torn by spiritual schizophrenia. Instead, we need to grow in faith as Abraham did, not wavering but believing God has power to do all He has promised (see Romans 4).

(2) Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit.

We can have the Holy Spirit in us but not necessarily be filled with the Holy Spirit (see how Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on His disciples but still told them to wait in the upper room for Pentecost.) We know Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit because of the evidence of his life, how he spoke with boldness and witnessed to the gospel. Speaking in tongues is not the only evidence of the Holy Spirit! Acts 7:54 tells us that people recognised that the strength Stephen received came only from the Holy Spirit. God’s strength is available to us too (Eph 3:6).

(3) Stephen was focussed on Christ
Acts 7:55 tells us that Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. He gazed and didn’t just glimpse. Our minds need to be fixed on God (Is 26:3) for us to know His perfect peace in a crisis. When we gave into heaven, we see the glory of God. Jesus is here depicted as standing at God’s right hand (rather than sitting.) Stephen was not overwhelmed by fear. He was not focussing on the size of the problem but on the size of His God. He was not looking for a way out of the trouble (John 16:33 reminds us that we will always face trouble!), but for a way through. Grace and strength are available from God, but we are not always given a miracle way out of every crisis. Instead, we find strength and grace as we may not know what to do but we turn our eyes to God (see 2 Chron 20:12).

Faith focussed on Christ creates a fascination in other people too. Acts 6:15 tells us that those who sat on the Council saw that Stephen had ‘the face of an angel’. Saul’s conversion had seeds in the martyrdom of Stephen, for he saw his reaction and God worked in his heart. Our faith can create fascination in others and God works on their hearts.

(4) Stephen freely forgave
We cannot keep calm in a crisis if we are angry or resentful or agitated. We have to freely forgive or our focus becomes blurred and we quench the Holy Spirit. Forgiveness is not a feeling, but a choice and an act of the will. Stephen prayed for his persecutors, even as Jesus had done on the Cross. We forgive because we recognise how much we have been forgiven. Eph 4:32 reminds us that our forgiveness is inextricably bound to Christ’s forgiveness of us. He forgave us unilaterally, sacrificially and unreservedly and that becomes the model for our forgiveness. Unforgiveness is a divisive pollutant that spreads and contaminates. Mark 11:22-24 reminds us that if we have anything against anyone we need to let it go and forgive if we are to know God’s peace and forgiveness in our own lives.