A Call for Flexibility

Read Acts 9:32-43

Have you ever had a change of plans? Perhaps you were planning a big trip and some things happened which caused you to make a detour or get behind on your schedule. Maybe you had a meeting with someone and one of you had to cancel. It could be that you lost your job or had to relocate very suddenly and you find your head spinning as you try to catch up with the direction your life is heading.

Most of us would probably get really frustrated if something like this happened to us. We live in a culture that is increasingly busy, where time is arguably our most valuable resource. For this reason, many of us plan out our lives and try to take advantage of every possible second. This is not a bad thing at all. We need to value our time and value the time of others as well. However, our culture is increasingly losing a very underrated trait in the Kingdom of God; flexibility. Some people are very spontaneous while others are very structured. Both of these qualities can be very valuable. However, we see in Scripture over and over again that God did some of His greatest work through those who were flexible.

In Acts 9:32-43, we see that Peter, though he was based in Jerusalem, would still travel frequently to a number of different cities. Surely Peter didn’t just set out on his travels without having some sort of plan in place. He intentionally went to Lydda. He intentionally visited the believers there. It appears that Peter’s travels were intended to be used for strengthening the church and encouraging believers. What we quickly discover is that the ultimate purpose of his journey was to glorify God in everything he said and did. This desire allows for Peter to be more flexible than he otherwise would have been. In Acts 9:32-43, we see that Peter was able to glorify God specifically through the acts of healing two separate individuals, Aeneas and Tabitha (Dorcas).

There are a few things to consider regarding what Luke recorded about these healings. First, they were unexpected. Verse 33 tells us that though Peter was specifically coming to the saints in Lydda “he found a man, named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years.” He had traveled to the saints. The saints were ready to receive him. Yet, he stumbled upon this guy whom he could not ignore. The need of the individual could not be overshadowed by the intentions of the community. Peter intended to build up the church, yet, he found himself ministering to someone who was hurting.

While Peter is in Lydda he receives word that a faithful disciple in Joppa has died. We see in verse 36 that Dorcas was a woman who always did good deeds and extended help to those who needed it. She suddenly got sick and passed away. This was a loss that truly affected an entire community. The believers here sent two individuals to Peter to urge him to come with them and help. Peter arrives and what he sees is a grieving community mourning the loss of a woman who had done so much for them.

Secondly, these cases were also pretty extreme. We see in verse 33 that Aeneas “was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years.” Even if this event took place in our modern context, with the extra 2,000 years of medical advancement, there’s still not much that could be done to help this man walk again. He can’t work. He is completely dependent upon those around him to function. Then, in verse 37, we come to Dorcas. The same thing can be said about the her condition. She was dead. A dead person is unable do anything. They’re dead.

The extremity of these two conditions leads us to the third thing we should consider. The power required to change these conditions was supernatural. Peter was unable to make a difference in these situations on his own. Notice what he tells Aeneas in verse 34, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you.” It was only at that moment that he was able to walk. The same thing can be said when Dorcas was raised from the dead. In verse 40, Peter sent everyone out of the room, fell on his knees, and prayed. It was only after he prayed that Dorcas came back to life.

We have a lot in common with those in these accounts. Like Aeneas, there could be a lot of pain in our lives and it could be hindering us from functioning. Like Dorcas, we were all dead in our sin (Eph. 2:1) at some point (or perhaps we still are) with the need for new life. Like Peter, there are people all around us, many of whom we may not be expecting, who need the healing, hope, and life that only Jesus brings. What Peter understood in Acts 9 is something that we need to understand in whatever situation we find ourselves in. If the power of God is not the fuel behind everything we do, all our efforts will be in vain. It is very possible for us to minister to others and do good things in the name of Jesus and for the Spirit of God to be completely absent from these endeavors. This should scare us.

Why is it dangerous for us to seek to help people apart from the power of God? Sure, we want to meet people’s needs and do good works. However, the point of Acts 9 is not that Peter was meeting the needs of these people, it’s that people were putting their faith and trust in Jesus. Peter heals Aeneas and then we read in verse 35, “So all who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.” After Peter raised Dorcas, we read in verse 42, “This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.” The purpose of these healings were to point people to Jesus. Our goal in advancing the mission of God is not physical satisfaction or emotional relief, but rather spiritual regeneration and this only happens when the power of God is at work.

Is there a detour that your life was taking that you were not expecting? Do you find yourself frustrated that your expectations are not being met or that your plans seem to be falling apart? If so, it’s okay. The only certain plan in a fallen world is the plan of God. We should find encouragement in this truth and follow as He leads. God often leads us to places we are not expecting and it is in the unexpected places that He does His best work, work that we cannot even fathom.