by David Thurman
via Gospel Minutes, Vol. 57, No. 36, Sept. 5, 2008.
Churches today are looking for ways to reach out to the communities in which they serve. Some look to the latest book, or the most recent demographics, the best mail lists and so on. I think sometimes we so over-complicate church work and evangelism that we forget how it really works.
We talk about reaching out to our world, we may think of long Bible studies, debates or special events. All of these things are good and can be productive. But a simple test in Acts 9 reminds us how evangelism really works.
We can read of a lady named Tabitha also known as Dorcas. Take time to read of her efforts in her community. Acts 9:36-42. When we read of this event, we tend to focus on the great miracle God did when He responded to Peter's prayer. But, the fact is this turned into a great evangelistic moment because of things that went way beyond any miracle. These principles are available to us today. We don't do the miracles, but we can do the ministry that was done here. The end result for them was that people came to Christ. When we learn how it works, we too can lead others to the Lord.
Based on Good Deeds
The whole event on this occasion is built around a good woman and her good deeds. We are told that the reason they sent for Peter when this good woman died was because of the good deeds that she regularly did among them and the community. When Peter showed up, her friends and those she helped were there mourning her passing and they showed Peter the effects of her abundant good deeds.
How often we forget that it may just be the little acts of kindness we perform for others that call attention, not to us, but to the Lord. "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father Who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:14-16). Jesus said it clearly. Our lives are to be full of good works so that other people will glorify God.
I know we don't do good things in order to get a pat on the back. I know we don't show off in order to prove how good we are. But, God does expect us to do good, and He will see to it that the light we share will have a positive impact. Peter does a great miracle, but the power in the story comes from a simple woman who devoted herself to doing good. The lesson for us is simple. We don't need a miracle. We don't need the greatest preacher in the brotherhood to convince our neighbors. What all Christians need is right there before them. If we all did the good deeds Tabitha did, the church would grow as it did then.
Continuous Good Deeds
Dorcas was continually doing good works. This was not a stop and start kind of thing. She didn't save her good deeds for Sunday or any other particular day of the week. This consistency on her part is probably the cornerstone of her ministry to others. People were devoted to this good lady because she had proven over time that she was devoted to them.
Paul said it this way many years after this event: "And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:9,10). It is not just that we need to be doing good to those around us. What really counts is that we keep on doing good. Luke doesn't tell us details about this woman. Was she married? We are not told. Did she have children or family? Again, we don't know. But, if she was like us, she had a life, a home, relatives, and friends. Yet, none of that kept her from her first love, serving the Lord by serving people. Her consistent service was deeply missed when she died because she was so consistent in her efforts.
When this kind servant passed away, the whole town seems to have mourned her passing. Before she died, they sent for help from Peter. Now, Peter was a busy man. He was traveling and serving others himself. He was busy preaching and teaching, the primary work of an apostle and an evangelist. However, the apostle did not delay and went to offer help when called on. The reason he did this is that one individual matters. God cares about each person, no matter how insignificant that person might seem to others.
This is true for everyone. God cares about the leper (Mark 1), the tax collector (Luke 19) and even a woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8). For God, the individual matters. I think sometimes we forget that each person we meet is important to God. By realizing that a Dorcas is as vital to the kingdom as an apostle will compel us to treat everyone right, in hopes of influencing everyone to come to the Lord. We must not overlook any person. So, today, it may be the homeless, the homosexual, the drug addict, the drug dealer that is in need. But, God loves each of them and wants us to abound in good deeds, even toward people like that and even our enemies. Peter, busy as he may have been, took the time to go to Joppa and help. He probably didn't even know Tabitha personally, but as an apostle, he had seen Jesus tend to individuals throughout Him personal ministry. Peter knew that even one person mattered.
When Peter got there he didn't jump in with some staged miracle show. He didn't week donations and put on a "healing service." He simply sent everyone out of the room and prayed. In this simple act of speaking with the Lord, God answered and Tabitha was raised up. It wasn't the flashy show so-called "healers" put on today. It was a private, simple moment of prayer.
Once again we are reminded of the power of prayer. The good news is that prayer is available even to the least in the kingdom. I had a good sister in Colorado who was a shut-in. But she was a prayer warrior. She couldn't sleep at night, so she would toss and turn. But then, she would just start praying and pass the night talking with the Lord. When she finally passed on to be with the Lord, I could feel the difference in my life. She prayed and it worked for me, and many others.
I hope this is encouraging. No matter your situation, you can pray. No matter your limitations, you can pray. No matter your obligations, you can pray. Unlike her, I may not be consistent in my good deeds. But, I can pray. And Peter demonstrates again that prayer works.
People Believed In The Lord
The final part of this story tells us its true impact. Many people in the city of Joppa became Christians. They knew Dorcas. They knew all about her lifestyle and good works. They knew she was a good woman with a deep faith in God. They heard about Peter, who, along with others, could tell them about Jesus. When the good works were coupled with the good news, people were saved.
How It Works
The bottom line is that anyone can be a sharer of good news, just like Tabitha. Anyone can pray, just like Peter did. Although we may not get the miracle Peter did, we can still live the kind of lives that point people to God. We can still call on the Lord to intervene in the lives of people so more can be helped and saved. When all these ingredients come together, you have church growth. It is not based on some outstanding new program of ministry (although that may be good). It is not based on the latest demographics of your community (although that can help too). It is based on real people living real faith in front of that community. It is about genuine servants seeing the value in every individual and treating every individual with dignity and respect. It is about faith-filled people who call on the Lord in prayer, knowing He is powerful and able to help.
So, are you continually active in doing good in the lives of people around you? Are you serving the needs of those you love, and those you barely know? Tabitha did, and she had a huge impact on the conversion of her community. Are you willing to put aside your busy life and help an individual, maybe someone you don't even know? Are you ready to see that every person you meet, every person on the highway with you, every person with whom you do business, matters to God and should matter to you? And, finally, are you praying that the God of heaven will be active in your life, in your community? When you and I put these simple ingredients together, we will see how it works.