Learning from Each Other

“So what is this story in Acts 9 about? What is the main point of the story?” I asked a group of eager tribal participants in our seminar.

“Offerings.” One volunteered. What? I thought. Something was lost in translation there? Did she really just say this story of Tabitha’s being raised from the dead is about offerings?

Then another spoke up. “Yes, it is about offerings.” He confirmed. Not wanting to correct them without digging a little deeper I asked, “How is it about offerings?”

“Because,” the second volunteer answered, “Tabitha gave offerings to the poor. She was helping the poor.”  OK, right story. And maybe they have a point here.

I was brought up short with my quick assessment that the overall point of this story is the miracle of resurrection. In their minds, of primary importance, was Tabitha’s testimony as one who cared for the widows and the poor.

And that was not the only place where their answers surprised and challenged me. When I asked, “What did Peter do when he arrived?” Several confidently answered, “He prayed!” Of course that is exactly right, but this action often resides in the shadows in our western thinking as we immediately jump to, “He raised Tabitha from the dead.” The action, the miracle, the stunning turn of events is what catches and holds our attention.

Studying this passage with a plethora of language groups in a setting far different from my own culture, has challenged me to slow down and pay attention to points I might otherwise overlook, points that were likely very important to the original audience.

Tabitha’s witness as a follower of Jesus who cared for the poor is a beautiful picture of the kind of witness I want to be. And Peter’s example of bathing the situation in prayer, is certainly one that challenges me.  I often jump into what I can DO to fix a situation or at least alleviate the problem. In so doing, I can quickly overlook the most powerful and helpful thing I can offer!  But these precious brothers’ and sisters’ perspective redirects me, reminding me of what I so easily miss.

God wasn’t done surprising me with His divine intentions. The next morning I was to again be challenged and encouraged by a seminar participant.   “I used to think this was a children’s story. It was just a nice story.” One tribal pastor shared, through a translator. “But after studying it yesterday with you, I can see what it really means, and how it matters in my life.” He went on. “I can see four important points in this story and I was able to share them during a devotional time with others.” What a beautiful, humble testimony of his growth and development through our time of study together.

My heart soared as I realized that the challenges of studying Scripture and knowing God personally face us all, and by studying together we gain new perspective and deeper understanding. My faith had been challenged, as I heard their perspective on the important issues in the story of Tabitha’s being raised from the dead. And this dear pastor’s faith had also been challenged as he learned important application principles and how this story had real import for his own life and walk with God.

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