Acts 5:12-16 (NIV) 12 The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15 As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.
While you can trust that anything you men share on Wednesday nights in the men’s group is kept in confidence, Pastor Thom did tell me what a dynamic message Pastor David shared with you all from this passage in Acts. I had already been considering what direction I was going to head in for our sermon this morning and Pastor David’s thought became a great springboard for where the Holy Spirit was taking me. So, I called Pastor David and asked if I could steal his thought and use it as the basis for my message today. He said, “Sister, steal it and sell it! Go for it!” J
While I typically try to preach a message that relates somehow to sports or being a part of a team on Super Bowl Sunday, after the events of this week in our community, namely the tragic loss of a junior at Hurricane High School in a train accident, the trauma suffered by the conductor and students who witnessed it, the backstory of the bullying the student had suffered and the unbelievably painful, divisive and antagonistic comments posted by many on Facebook about the whole thing, I felt God prompting me to respond.
When I exchanged texts with one of our students about what had happened, I sent the message, “God can use you to be a helper and a healer in this situation.” Hold that thought for a minute and let’s go back to our text where we see that Peter’s life cast a shadow of influence that brought people healing.
Another such New Testament figure was the Apostle Paul. As I read the New Testament, I almost get this “larger than life” sense about Paul’s influence. I’d like to illustrate what it might mean to cast a shadow of influence by using Paul’s life. Everywhere Paul went, people were made better. Paul had an aura about him, a way about him, a spiritual ability to bring healing to people that caused people to seek him out when they were in need. They had confidence in him. They didn’t have to touch him. They just had to get close enough to be in his shadow. While there is no biblical evidence that Paul’s shadow healed anyone, his life attracted crowds of people, people in crisis, and God brought healing to them through him.
Paul was the kind of guy who could fill a room. If people knew Paul was going to be at a party, that party was the place to be. He had a shadow of influence, a way of interacting, a Holy Spirit-empowered way of engaging with people that brought hope and help to them.
We all know people who are the opposite of Paul. People who may not know how to fill a room, but they sure know how to clear one! When they walk in, a dark cloud hangs over their head. You don’t want to ask how they are because you already know and when they get through telling you how they are you’re not better for having been in their presence, but you have lost some joy, are filled with frustration and need a Tylenol and a nap to recover! Instead of bringing healing, hope, and help, they have heaped a huge helping of despair and gloom onto some situation. Anybody know the kind of person I’m talking about? (Please don’t elbow your spouse. J) It’s like everyone is having a pleasant time until they arrive and start offering their opinion or advice. When those people walk into a room in a mood the whole mood changes and not in a good way. You can feel it. Not so with Paul. He was a welcomed presence because He was a helpful person. I have come to tell you that I believe God is calling us to cast a shadow of hope and help and healing rather than a dark cloud of criticism or despair. Is anyone with me? Let me just put it in the terms I heard when I was growing up. “You can be part of the problem or part of the solution.”
In order to cast a shadow of influence that will help in any situation, I want you to consider being able to offer at least three things in any tough situation: Healing Words, Healing Acts, and Healing Prayer.
Proverbs 12:18 “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings HEALING.”
Reckless words. Someone once said, “It’s nice to talk with people who can make a point without impaling anyone on it.” Reckless words impale people! Words said in anger. Words said hastily. Words spoken from a place of criticism or judgment. Words that haven’t been thought through. Words spoken without the consideration of someone’s feelings. Reckless words. Scripture says they pierce like a sword. That’s deep. That’s destructive. How many people do you know who have physically been pierced with a sword that have recovered? For those who do recover, how long does it take? What kind of scar do they live with?
Some of you here have been the victims of reckless words. Maybe growing up reckless words ruled your home. Maybe some of you deal with bullying. No one knows how deep the words of a bully can go. Many of us were witnesses to the reckless words posted on Facebook without any compassion for the devastating pain and loss the Ball family suffered upon hearing about their son’s untimely death.
When people are hurting, when there is strife and division, you can cast a shadow of influence that will bring healing and help! “But the tongue of the wise brings healing.” People’s situations can become better or worse as a result of things that are said. As a member of the Putnam County Rotary I recite a four-way test of the things we think, say or do every week with my fellow Rotarians. During that recitation, we ask ourselves four questions:
1. Is it the truth? 2. Is it fair to all concerned? 3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships? 4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
Before you speak, think, “Is what I am going to say completely true?” or am I embellishing it in any way because I am upset or defensive? Ask yourself, “Am I representing everyone fairly that is part of the conversation?” People who put insensitive comments about the tragedy this week on Facebook weren’t being at all fair to a grieving family, a grieving high school or a grieving community. Our words have the power to build bridges between people and strengthen relationships or create walls, division and hostility. Attacking comments will never make a situation better. My prayers have been with the administrators of the schools and the teachers and counselors who have had to try to deal with the hostility that was created this past week.
Reckless Words. One of the Fruits of the Spirit is self-control. Just because we think something doesn’t mean we have to express it. Our words must be tempered by the Spirit of God so that they can be used in way that will bring healing.
“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings HEALING.” What are words that heal?
Healing words begin with a desire to speak God’s way. Psalm 141:3 says, “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord, keep watch over the door of my lips.” Remember the prayer of Jabez in I Chronicles 4:10? The New King James version says that part of his prayer to God included a request that he would never be a source of pain to others. Have you ever asked God to set a guard over your mouth because you desire that your words would never cause anyone pain?
Healing words flow from a desire to be a witness for Jesus Christ. James 1:26 says, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” Casting a shadow of influence that brings healing, help, and hope with our words begins with a true desire to show the world that Christians have a different way of expressing themselves.
Healing words are well thought out. Proverbs 16:23 “Intelligent people think before they speak; what they say is then more persuasive.” (Today’s English Version)
Healing words are pleasant and positive. “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24)
When there is a tragedy, when there is a crisis, you have an opportunity to say something positive. Things like:
I am praying for you.
I am here for you.
What can I do to help?
I am so sorry.
I can’t imagine what you are going through.
You’re going to make it.
God will see you through.
Can I call you in a couple days to check on you?
Let’s pull together. We’ll figure it out.
We need each other.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful or building others up according to their needs that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)
Paul knew the power of words to build people up. Check out II Timothy 2 where he gave Timothy a pep talk about staying faithful to God and how God hadn’t given him a spirit of fear. His words gave courage to Timothy to be a bold witness for Christ.
Cast a shadow of influence through healing words.
Second, cast a shadow of influence through healing acts. I heard there was a candlelight vigil on Thursday to honor Jacob Ball’s memory. That was a healing act. That demonstration, no doubt brought comfort to Jacob’s family.
The respect people had for Paul stemmed from what they knew to be true about him. Like Jesus, he went about doing good. In fact, he said he was eager to make people’s lives better. In Galatians 2:10 he said he was eager to remember the poor with financial assistance. On his missionary journeys (especially the third journey), Paul gathered funds to help the poor Jewish believers in Jerusalem (see Acts 24:17; Romans 15:25-28; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8–9). He had always been eager to do something practical to bring relief to people.
James 2:15 says, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
James says healing words are good, but they are just a start. Healing comes to people when we are practical. Listen. There is nothing more healing than a chicken casserole or a box of chocolate! Healing comes when we help someone move, babysit someone’s kids, give someone some financial support, mow someone’s lawn, run errands for someone, help a person set up their Facebook page, or take someone out to eat.
I was preparing part of this message in Pittsburg, PA this week while Judith Lester was having surgery. Tony, Thom, and I were talking about the message and Tony shared something that fit so perfectly. In Acts 3, Peter and John were going up to the temple to pray and a crippled man was begging for money. Peter spoke healing words. Look at verse 6: Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” He was basically saying, “You can do it by Jesus’ power.” Those are healing words, right? But he didn’t stop there. Look at verse seven, “Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.” Peter didn’t stop with healing words. He added a healing act. He added a helping hand. He reached out his hand to help the crippled man get up and walk. Healing words accompanied by a healing act cast a shadow of influence that brought what was needed.
Remember how healing came through the helping hands of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10? A man was traveling between Jerusalem and Jericho when he was robbed and mugged. Two religious leaders, traveling independently of one another, passed by the man, leaving him for dead. But the Scripture says that when the Samaritan came upon the man he had compassion on him and went to the man. How did he know he wasn’t already dead? He didn’t. For all he knew, the man WAS dead. He didn’t know if he could help in the situation, but he didn’t let that stop him.
You and I come upon bruised and bloodied people every day. There are people in our schools and workplaces who have been “beaten up” by the circumstances of life or by thugs who try to bully them in an attempt to steal their self- worth and their future. You don’t know how difficult their problems are or if you have anything to offer that can really help them or not, but don’t let that stop you from trying!
The Good Samaritan got real practical. Luke tells us that he bandaged the wounded, half-dead man’s wounds. He didn’t have a first aid kit on his donkey. Where would he have gotten bandages? He tore up his own clothes in order to make bandages for him. Then he poured oil and wine on his wounds, put him on his donkey (he walked so the man could ride) and took him to an inn where he could rest and recover. He got even more practical when he opened his wallet and paid for the man’s stay at the hotel. Someone pointed out on Wednesday night in the men’s class (tell me who you are and I will give you credit!) that the Priest and the Levite who passed up the dying man were afraid of what would happen to them if they got involved. The Good Samaritan was concerned with what would happen to the injured/half dead man if he DIDN”T get involved. Whether he could actually do any good or not, doing nothing wasn’t an option for him.
Healing acts are just practical acts of service which play a role in bringing healing to people’s lives. Even a hug is a practical way you can give someone strength for a few hours or days. One night a few years back when Thom and I were faced with a major crisis, an unimaginable pain incurred by someone outside of our nuclear family, we turned to Pastor David. He didn’t know what to say, but he performed a practical act that brought healing into our lives. At 10:00 p.m. on a summer evening, he brought communion to us and served it to us in our driveway. That act allowed healing to start right then rather than be delayed. Who knows but what that practical act kept us from being stuck in the depths of despair? Children of God, there is healing in your hands. Encouragement is a form of healing, and God can use your hands to bring the ministry of encouragement to those in crisis.
In Matthew 25:31-46 we see practical healing acts are equated with the acts of true Christians. Jesus says when He comes on the Day of Judgment He will separate the sheep (true Christians) from the goats (non-Christians). The sheep will be offered entrance into His kingdom and will obtain an inheritance prepared for them. And look at the very next verse, verse 35 to see what proved their Christian sincerity: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.” Sounds pretty practical doesn’t it? “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”
Withholding practical acts, not offering the food to eat, the water to drink, the place to stay, the clothes to wear, not visiting the sick and those imprisoned and in pain, reduces our effectiveness and our influence.
Students, since it has come out that Jacob Ball was a student who had endured bullying, whether that played a factor in his death or not, what practical things could you do in order to bring healing to others in the same situation? What about organizing an anti-bullying assembly? What about t-shirts that have an anti-bullying message on them that could be worn throughout the school? What about befriending someone you know is currently being bullied? Become a shadow caster by offering practical healing in the ways you respond to tragedy.
Finally, the third way we can cast a shadow of influence is through healing prayers. James 5 tells us “The prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective!” They bring healing results. There is nothing more practical than prayer. The Jacob Ball family, the students of Hurricane High, the train conductor, the counselors who are working with the students, they all will continue to need our prayers. I’ve talked to several people in the last few months that have lost a loved one and they have testified that they KNEW they were only making it because of the prayers of God’s people. Pray for people in crisis. It makes a difference!
In Acts 28, Paul prayed over a man who was sick with dysentery and a fever and then he laid hands on him and healed him. Listen. Every touch in Jesus’ name needs to be accompanied by the power of prayer. Pray when you bake the casserole. Pray when you write the note of encouragement. Pray before you visit someone in the hospital.
Paul’s life was characterized by prayer. I Googled “The Prayers of Paul” and counted at least 42 places in his writing where he was writing out his prayers or talking about what he was praying about. He was prayed up SO THAT he could pray for others and see results.
When you don’t know what to say, when you don’t know what to do, prayer is the investment you can make in order to cast a shadow of influence that will bring healing and hope to people in need. Seeds you sow in prayer can produce a harvest and healing and hope even decades later; even after you are dead and gone. Every time you pray for someone, you are making a way for them to be healed.
There is power in prayer. II Chronicles 7:14 “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Your ability to influence goes beyond just one person’s need. Our whole land can be impacted by your prayers. You can cast a shadow of influence that will bring healing and hope on a massive scale. That’s influence!
Healing words. Healing acts. Healing prayers. They can all be used by God’s people to cast a shadow of influence that will bring help and hope to hurting people everywhere.