November 4, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Acts 17:26-27 (NIV)
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.
Right under the Athens idol is the One whom Paul’s hearers are searching for. The only reason they were in Athens—making altars and temples to unreal gods—was because the living God they did not know put them there. Where they forgot, we should not. God chooses every neighbor on the block, every person walking down the street, every coworker, boss and adjacent communities we stray from. Gifts like that should compel us to be a gift.
David Foster Wallace gave a commencement speech at Kenyon College and shared a story about fish:
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What in the world is water?”
Throughout history it seems as though humanity tends to exclude the one who actually created the moment. How often is it that we fail to see important things right under our nose? The people of Athens did what the Israelites, the prophets, and the disciples all did: forget that God is still present.
Paul is thoughtful and not dismissive of these neighbors in Athens. He noticed a way into meaningful discussion by starting with what was important to them. Since they had a temple to an unknown God, what better way to speak to them than to tell them about who he is since they did not know (Acts 17:23). His engagement reminds us that time, observation, and a lens of grace will always provide space to remind people that we are not swimming through aimless lives on a sea of nothing. There is something transcendent in the wetness of water.
Right under the Athens idol is the One whom Paul’s hearers are searching for. The only reason they were in Athens—making altars and temples to unreal gods—was because the living God they did not know put them there. Where they forgot, we should not. God chooses every neighbor on the block, every person walking down the street, every coworker, boss, and adjacent communities we stray from. Gifts like that should compel us to be a gift. All of these people can come to know that God is present.
How did Paul react to seeing people devoted to idols? (Acts 17:23-25)
Compare your reaction to Paul’s reaction. How are your actions similar to Paul’s? How are they different?
Think about the places you go (or do not go). What ways do you see a metaphorical inscription “to an unknown God” there? What is not known (or forgotten) about God in those places? Consider Acts 17:26. If God chose these people to be there, what should your thinking and actions be toward those people?
Lord, it is no coincidence that we are born in this time and place. We are grateful for your choosing because it reminds us that you are in control. As we make our way from place to place, make us a people who look at the society and culture remembering you have marked out the nations and their times. As we move through the streams of time made by you, help us to know how to redeem the time we have, as a way to love you and for the life of the world. Amen.
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’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Engaging the Culture With Respect (Acts 17:16-34).
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DeLano J. Sheffield is the Business Resource Specialist for Goodwill of MoKan where he connects to people on the fringes, training them to reach their full potential through learning and the power of work; he also is on the frontlines of the advances of the fourth industrial revolution and coaches leaders on diversity, inclusion, and accessibility. He began his career as an architectural engineer then went on to attend seminary. In every part of his life he finds ways to infuse theology into vocation, and strengthen practical connections of faith and daily activity. DeLano lives in Kansas City, Missouri.