July 20, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 12:11-12 (NRSV)
“When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.”
Jesus promised to his first disciples that when they were put on trial for following him, the Holy Spirit would teach them what to say. Though we may never be tried in a court for our faith, the promise of Jesus applies to situations when we’re talking about the Lord to others. The Spirit empowers us to be faithful, truthful, and sensitive witnesses, even giving us the right words to say. The more we trust God and take risks for him, the more we will experience God’s amazing grace and power in our lives.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
In Luke 12 Jesus was preparing his first disciples for the persecution they would experience after his death and resurrection. He foretold a time when government and religious leaders would “bring [them] before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities” (12:11). This may not have been much of a surprise to the followers of Jesus, given how Jesus himself was treated by those who opposed him. But it surely wasn’t good news, either. Who wants to be put on trial? I know I don’t.
Yet, Jesus offered some encouragement. When you’re forced to speak to those in power who are opposing you, “do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:11-12). God’s own Spirit would help them say just the right things at just the right time, so the disciples didn’t need to worry or even to prepare their defense in advance.
Now, this was certainly welcome news. But I confess that if I had been one of Jesus’s disciples, I would have had mixed feelings. Yes, it’s great that the Spirit will help me when I am put on trial. Yet, frankly, I would have preferred another plan, perhaps one of two possibilities. First, if the Spirit was going to help me defend myself, I would have wished for this to happen in advance of the trial itself. I would have been happy to have the Spirit help me prepare for what was coming. That would have felt better than relying on the Spirit in the moment of extreme need. In general, I like feeling prepared for difficult challenges. Perhaps you can relate.
Second, what I really would have preferred was a promise that the Spirit would somehow protect me from persecution. I would have wanted to avoid going to trial in the first place. I don’t like conflict. I don’t like being in trouble. And I really don’t like being treated unfairly or threatened with punishment. Why couldn’t the Spirit bail me out in advance, so to speak?
But Jesus didn’t offer either of my preferred options. He knew that persecution was coming. And he promised divine help, but only in the moment in which it was most needed. This meant that the disciples had to trust God enough so that they were willing to put their wellbeing, even their lives, on the line.
I have never experienced anything like the persecution that was coming for the first disciples of Jesus. I have known mockery, teasing, and prejudice related to my faith. I have sometimes been accused of things like narrowmindedness, foolishness, or bigotry. But I have never been arrested for my faith or put on trial because I follow Jesus.
Yet, I have been in places where my faith was being put to the test in unsettling ways. One of the first times was during my sophomore year of college. My friend, Leland, was a relatively new Christian. When he would talk about his faith to his roommates, they would quickly hit the limits of Leland’s understanding. So he figured it would be a good idea to invite me to meet with his roommates to talk about Christianity. I was willing to do this, even though I was nervous about what was coming. I didn’t even know how to prepare.
One Saturday I went to Leland’s suite to meet with him and his roommates. To my horror, the room was filled with about 25 people, all of them ready to make life miserable for me. They had their tough questions, not to mention lots of jokes about Christians and other religious people. I remember praying silently, begging God to help me.
As the conversation started rolling, I was being asked questions I had never encountered before, challenges to Christian faith that were substantial. But a most amazing thing happened in that discussion. Each time a question came my way, I found myself ready with answers that were far beyond my theological capabilities. When I needed to quote a passage from Scripture, the exact verse and reference would come to me even though I had never memorized the verse and its location in Scripture. Soon, Leland’s crowd was impressed. Their questions became more earnest and less mocking. I imagine they thought I was pretty darn smart.
The thing is, though, I knew what was going on. I knew that I was getting tons of help from the Holy Spirit. As this went on, I felt both elated and humbled. I knew just how much I was relying on God’s power, and I knew how faithful God was being in that moment.
Since that fateful evening many years ago, I have had similar experiences of the Spirit’s miraculous assistance. I have been amazed again and again by God’s goodness and grace, but not just in my life. I have heard similar stories from many Christians who, stepping out to talk about their faith, have been empowered by the Spirit to speak beyond their own wisdom. What Jesus promised to his first disciples is available to all of his disciples today, including you and me. The tricky part is that in order to experience the Spirit’s power in this way, we need to take a risk by putting ourselves in a situation where we need God’s help or we’ll fall flat on our face. That never feels comfortable, but it does open us up to a fresh experience of the power of the Spirit.
Have you ever had an experience of the Holy Spirit teaching you what to say in a given situation? If so, what happened? How was that for you?
Do you ever hold back when it comes to talking about your faith because you’re afraid you won’t say the right things?
Are you in situations right now where you need the Holy Spirit to guide your thoughts and your words?
If you answered that last question affirmatively, ask the Lord to help you. Then, as you step out in faith, be open to the power of the Spirit working in and through you.
Lord Jesus, thank you for the promise you gave to your first disciples. Thank you for the presence and power of your Spirit in our lives, for all the ways the Spirit helps us. Thank you, in particular, for the times when you have given me just the right things to say.
I confess, Lord, that sometimes I fail to speak up because I’m afraid I won’t say the right things. I forget to trust in the guidance of the Spirit. Forgive me. And give me fresh confidence in the Spirit.
Today, Lord, I want to pray for your disciples who are this very day experiencing persecution of various kinds. Sustain them by the power of your Spirit. May they have the words to say when put on trial. Protect them. Encourage them. Draw near to them. May your justice roll down like waters in their lives. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: “Blessed Are Those Who Are Persecuted for Righteousness’ Sake” (Matt 5:10)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.