Ready and Willing - 11am
Topic: Christian Faith & Discipleship Scripture: Acts 8:26–8:40
Last Monday night, Caitlin and I attended small group here at the church. We were going through our discussion, and my time at college came up. Caitlin and I went to Eastern University, outside of Philadelphia. I majored in Biblical Studies and Youth Ministry while I was there. And I loved my time at Eastern. The community, the professors, the whole deal. But eventually, it came time for me to leave college and begin ministry somewhere.
Those last couple weeks at Eastern were interesting for me. Personally, I had a lot on my mind. Caitlin and I were engaged. I was looking for a ministry position. I needed to find a place to live. Lots of big things moving around. But I knew one thing for sure: I was ready and willing to take that next step into student ministry and my new life. However, I noticed some of my peers were not in the same boat. I was friends with lots of folks, but it was the students in youth ministry and biblical studies that I was closest to. Through late-night conversations - I learned a good number of them weren’t in the same place that I was.
Some were ready but not willing. These were the folks that were rock solid in their knowledge and their skills. I worked my tail off in school so I could be the best possible Youth Director God wanted me to be - but there were friends of mine at Eastern, who I thought would make better youth workers than I would. They had great ideas, charisma, and a faith they could vocalize. After having taken classes for years with some of these folks, I knew for sure, they would be rock star youth workers. But some of them had no intention of entering ministry. At least, not right then. They had all the skills and training, they were ready, but they weren’t willing. Not yet anyway.
And then there were a few people who were willing, but I found it hard to say they were ready. The same classes I mentioned before, where I could see the innate giftedness and skill of some youth minister majors shine - was also the place where I had to scratch my head, and wonder - why others in that class had chosen the major at all. Don’t get me wrong, they were excited. They had energy. But when I tried to imagine some of them leading a group of teenagers for any amount of time, my mind went right to a Lord of the Flies type of situation. They were willing and wanting to jump into professional ministry, but I wondered if they were ready.
Now, disclaimer here, I’m not the judge of whether any of those people were ready or willing to go into ministry. That’s not my place. I only share what I observed. Really this type of scenario can play in any number of career choices, or even life stages.
It’s likely that many of us have found ourselves in each of these variations of ready and willing, throughout our life - at different times. Starting that new job, trying a new sport, buying a house for the first time, becoming a new parent…there are plenty of moments in our life that put us in some combination of ready and willing. And one element of our life, that we might not consider in this equation - is our faith. So we’re going to look at a chance encounter between two very different people that shows us the tremendous value of being both “Ready and Willing”. We’re in Acts 8:26-40.
Ok, so we come into this encounter, but it’s good to know what’s been going on, leading up to this moment. At this point in the book of Acts, several things have already happened. Jesus has already resurrected and returned back to heaven, leaving Peter and the disciples a command - to share all they’ve learned and experienced. To spread the Good News. The Holy Spirit has already come down (what we call Pentecost) and we observe a beautiful moment of unfiltered, diversity-laden, wide-spread empowering, from God to the people. The disciples and early Christ followers have started forming regular gatherings and communities. And then, a widespread persecution breaks out and scatters the barely established, still-very-much-in-its-infancy, Christian church. In the fallout of those events, we get to witness this neat moment between two very different people.
Philip was a popular guy, despite the current state of affairs. Wherever he went, his presence somehow saturated that area, with a curiosity and excitement for the life and love of Jesus. We’re told that an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, and told him to go south on a road. Real quick, it’s worth noting that God’s messenger didn’t tell Philip to go to a city. No, Philip was told to just get on this certain path and start walking. I think a lot of us struggle with listening to the voice of God and seeking to be faithful. We think God has to give us a destination. Not true. We say this in other areas of life, don’t we? It’s about the journey, not the destination. Same thing here. God is not required to give us the final chapter of our story. But He is gracious enough to give us the opening chapter. Sometimes, the most powerful act of faith (we can practice) is doing something we feel God wants us to do, even if we don’t know how it’ll end up.
Back to Philip. So Philip gets this message, and he goes. No hesitation. And on his way down that road, Philip meets an important Ethiopian official, who was in charge of overseeing the entire treasury of the queen of Ethiopia. We’re told that this official was returning from a trip to Jerusalem, where he was worshipping - and that now, he was sitting in his chariot, reading a chunk out of the book of Isaiah. Philip sees this man, and the Holy Spirit makes it clear to Philip: That’s where I want you. Get closer to that guy.
We read that Philip ran up to the chariot. Now, maybe the chariot was stopped and Philip was just jogged up to it. I remember reading this text as a teen, and thinking that Philip had been blessed with super speed. Whether Philip was the Flash, or simply walking up to a parked car, he asked the official a question: Do you understand what you’re reading? The official isn’t shy to say, how could he, unless someone explains it to him. Then the official does something remarkable. He invites Philip, a complete stranger, into his chariot to sit and talk with him about this part of Scripture.
And that’s exactly what Philip does. He is led to this official and is given this rare and wonderful chance to talk about Jesus with a person who is worlds different than he is. He is invited into a conversation and given a seat by this new friend, and because of his knowledge of Scripture, and of Jesus, Philip is able to show how this exact text points to Jesus. But it doesn’t stop there. Out of this seemingly random conversation comes profound transformation within the Ethiopian official. The official was so inspired and so touched by what Philip told him about Jesus, he asks to be baptized right then and there. And then the two go on their way: The official rejoicing in his newfound intimacy with Christ and Philip on his way to preaching into every town he entered.
All of this only happened because Philip was ready and willing to do that which Christ asked him to do – really, what Jesus asks all of his followers to do. So what about you? Would you say that you’re ready and willing? Because before I go on, I have to break something to you. No one who says they are a follower of Jesus gets to say they are exempt from Jesus’ command for us to go and make disciples. He doesn’t say: Go and make disciples of all nations…unless you’re an introvert. Or unless your life is really busy right now. Or unless you think you don’t know what you would say. Or any other “unless.” There is no unless. Instead, there are only variations of ready and willing. I think every person who identifies as a follower of Jesus is one of these four.
Let’s start with the baseline: Not Ready, Not Willing. Essentially, you’re not or you might feel like you’re not ready to share the truth about Jesus with another person. Maybe it’s because you know almost nothing about the Bible. And I mean, nothing. Like, when you hear the words Lamentations or Colossians you assume those are flavors of Ben and Jerry’s. And you’re not willing. For whatever reason, you’ve crossed your arms and dug in your heels, and set your mind to saying no. Ok, this might seem like the worst place to be. I want to spin it differently. You have nowhere to go but up. If you’re here, you can only grow and get better at doing what Jesus believed was so important that he made it the last thing he ever said on earth.
Next one: Ready, Not Willing. Please try and hold in your gasps of shock and surprise but this is a pretty common group in a lot of churches. These are the folks who know the story. They know the good news. They have a relationship with Jesus. They’re connected to the church. It’s not just about Bible knowledge, but these folks do possess a basic working knowledge of Scripture. More importantly, Jesus means something to you. But you’re not willing. Maybe you’ll call it fear. Maybe you’ll say you don’t want to be pushy. Maybe you’re too busy. Regardless, you’ve got the headline but you’re not willing to print it.
Number 3: Not Ready, Willing. This group of people can actually be kind of dangerous. They would LOVE the chance to talk with you about Christianity and tell you all they know. The problem is…they don’t actually know a lot. Sometimes, this is new Christians – folks who recently came to faith. This was me in the 10th grade. I knew just enough about Jesus and the Bible to be dangerous, and I talked a lot. Very out of character for me, right? I didn’t know enough to share the truth. Instead, I was playing a religious game of whisper down the lane. I heard things I thought were inspiring, tried to retain a solid 80% of it, and then would attempt to regurgitate it to anyone in my path. The reason I say folks like this are dangerous - is because they can end up sharing a message that isn’t actually the Gospel. Like a recipe missing salt or yeast, the end result can come out dull or flat. And sometimes, encounters with Not Ready, Willing folks, can sour others to hearing the Gospel for a time.
And then, finally, Ready and Willing. These people are the Philips. They know Christ, and they know His Word. I’m not talking about folks with theology degrees or missionaries. I’m talking about the average person who spends frequent time in the Bible, who has a prayer life that connects them to God. The folks who know the heights and depths of Christ’s love, and genuinely want others to know it for themselves. And they are willing. If God shot them a text to go there or talk to that person, they’re on it.
Every single follower of Jesus is one of the four. So which one do you think you fall under? If you’re Ready and Willing, I’ve only got one thing to say: Keep it up. Keep doing what you’re doing. If you are Not Ready and Not Willing, I’ve got a simple question: What does following Jesus mean to you? I’m not coy about this. Following Jesus does not mean weekly worship attendance. Being in a church doesn’t make you a Christ follower any more than being in a garage makes you a car. So ask yourself what you mean when you say to yourself that you follow Jesus.
And now for the 50/50 groups. Let’s say you feel like you’re Willing - but missing the Ready. Here it is: Do things that help you get ready. Read the Bible. Not like the whole thing in one sitting. My go-to answer whenever someone tells me they want to start reading the Bible more - but don’t know where to start - is this: Start with John. A chapter a day. Read the Bible. When we want to learn material that is foreign to us, we study. I’d encourage you to join a small group. Conversation and community are like the cheat sheets for becoming Ready. And pray. God will speak to you in some way, and some form, and sometimes when we least expect it. But when it comes to our faith, a dialogue is always more valuable than a monologue. Make it a two-way conversation. Those things can help you get ready.
Finally, for my “Ready, Not Willing” folks, you might need a Paul. Paul formed and fostered relationships with dozens of new believers and shaped them into Christian leaders. He advocated for them, prayed for them, educated them, corrected them, but most importantly…he loved them enough to not let their potential go untapped. Sometimes the thing we’re missing isn’t the story of another biblical figure. What we’re missing is someone to help us share our own story. I’m talking a mentor. And don’t fall into a common hang-up some folks get. Mentors aren’t only for the young. Every person should have another individual that pours into them and helps them draw out the call God has placed in their life. A little tip too: Your spouse is meant to serve a lot of roles in your life. Being Paul likely isn’t one of them. Finding your Paul can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. I’m happy to help in the search and try to connect you to a few Paul’s I know we have in our church family. And maybe it’s not just a Paul that you need. Maybe it’s just a push. A push to say, “It’s time. You’ve got this. Get started.”
So regardless of where you fall on the Ready and Willing scale, we’ve all got work to do. Jesus doesn’t come down and offer workshops or podcasts to the world. What Jesus does offer the world - is us. We are the marketing campaign, and the delivery system, for the Good News of Jesus. And that means YOU. So it’s time for us to become Ready and Willing.