Rise Up and Run

1 In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews[a] among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” 5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6 They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.  (Acts 6:1-7)
The year was 1782 and the American War of Independence was in its final year. The well-trained armies of Great Britain had been humiliated and outmanoeuvred by George Washington and his Continental Army. Yet the war was not quite over, and the British still hoped that an alliance with the Native Americans might give them control of the Ohio River. They needed to capture the lonely Fort Henry, so in September 1782 the British and their native helpers attacked.

The Americans in the fort were horribly outnumbered, but they had powerful artillery to defend their position. A first attack was driven back under a hail of musket- and cannon-shot. Second and third attacks were also repulsed, but as the fourth and most ferocious attack fell upon Fort Henry, the defenders experienced two terrible setbacks. First, Ebenezer Zane, one of the fort’s most senior officers, was hit by an English bullet and died where he stood. Second, Colonel Shepherd shouted to the men under his command that they had no more gunpowder left below – in the next few minutes their cannon and muskets would be forced to fall silent. The fort would surrender to the British.

It was at this point that a young teenaged girl named Betty Zane entered the history-books. Betty arose from the body of her dead father and announced her plan to Colonel Shepherd: “My father’s house is not a hundred yards from this fort; he has a store of gunpowder hidden beneath the floor – let me run and get it, so the fort will not be taken.” With his reluctant consent, Betty Zane slipped over the wall of the fort and ran the gauntlet of enemy fire all the way to her father’s house. She quickly filled a tablecloth with gunpowder, hoisted it over her shoulder and ran back through the gunfire to rescale the wall. Shaking with fear and grateful to still be alive, she ran to the guns with her precious supply of gunpowder. Immediately, Fort Henry’s artillery rang out with fresh cannon-fire and the British began to take flight, never to return. Fort Henry had survived.

It is one thing to believe in the artillery fire of the Holy Spirit, but quite another to stay at all times stocked with gunpowder. The Devil wants to distract us, as he tried to distract the apostles, from the disciplines which can help us partner with the Holy Spirit. If we want to become ordinary people who advance through the artillery of our extraordinary God, then we must resist the Devil with the single-minded focus of Betty Zane. She knew where the gunpowder lay and she let nothing distract her from her life-or-death pursuit.

The apostles appoint seven assistants at the start of Acts 6 because they are determined not to be distracted from prayer. They began the book of Acts in prayer (1:14), they taught their converts to devote themselves to prayer (2:42), and they continue in their steadfast prayer throughout the book of Acts. I’ve never met a Christian who doesn’t want to see the Church grow and multiply like in the pages of the book of Acts, but it is one thing to want it and quite another to run daily for the gunpowder which makes it possible. The uneducated fishermen who shook the world with the Gospel in the pages of Acts were only able to do so because “these men had been with Jesus” (14:15). We will be empowered to do the same as them if we copy their lives of prayer.

Luke emphasises this in Acts 14:15 when he reports that Paul told the crowds that he was a man just like them. He uses the word homoiopathês in Greek, which is only used in one other place in the whole of the New Testament. James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem, wrote a letter to the scattered Jewish believers in which he used the same word to encourage them that “Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain.” Luke, who must have had access to James’ earlier letter, wants to echo his words to us that “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16-18). Prayer is the gunpowder through which we lay hold of the Holy Spirit’s artillery so that he bombards the Devil’s battle-lines and empowers us to stride to victory.

The apostles also appoint seven assistants because they are determined not to be distracted from the Word of God. Faith is a vital factor in unleashing heaven’s cannonade, and “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17) There is a reason why the apostles were undaunted in the face of complaints, backsliding, persecution and scattering. They were attentive to the gunpowder of the Word of God, and they had built themselves up with a faith which was equal to their fight. This was also why their preaching both disturbed and converted an Empire. They were those who rose early to read Scripture and who did as Jesus commanded: “What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs” (Matthew 10:27).

Note also that Luke specifically tells us that they refused to be distracted from ministering the Word of God to others. It is not enough to devote ourselves to prayer and Bible-reading – we must also create room for him to flow through us to others. The book of Acts shows us that God does not use the strongest, the most gifted or even the most passionate members of his army. He uses any ordinary person who runs single-mindedly to his gunpowder like Betty Zane. Someone once said that “the secret of Christianity is Christianity in secret,” and Luke tells us that this is most definitely true. If you run to prayer, if you run to study Scripture and if you run to minister to others, then you will never be caught short when you need the Holy Spirit to open fire.
Can you hear the Enemy beating at the gates of the Church? It is time for you to rise up and run for gunpowder like a girl called Betty Zane.
1)   What do you think it means for us to ‘run’ for the gunpowder of prayer and the Word of God?

2)   How good are you at ‘rising up and running’ for these things personally?

3)   What steps might you take as we move out of lockdown to keep on ‘rising up and running’ for these things?
Father God, I thank you that faith comes by hearing the Word of God, and that you have entrusted your Word to me in the Bible. I thank you also that my prayers can make a massive difference to what happens all around me. Please help me to rise up and run for this heavenly gunpowder each day, just like Betty Zane. Amen.
Today’s Everyday Devotions were brought to you by Phil Moore, who leads our team of whole-church elders.

If you have time, consider carrying on your conversation with God using one of our helpful Prayer Pathways.

Today’s Everyday Devotions have also inspired a devotional video that you can watch on our YouTube channel.