God the Thief
A few years ago my family experienced an unexpected break-in to our house. I say “unexpected,” of course, because no one knows when a thief will strike. You’re living peacefully when—whammo!—you wake up one morning and your patio door is broken, everyone’s wallets and purses are gone, and the family van is missing from the driveway. You find evidence. A crow bar in the backyard. Drops of blood where the thief cut himself. The neighbor’s lawn ornament is toppled where the van was backed out over her lawn. Then the phone calls begin. Someone has found a driver’s licence in the parking lot of a local gas station, along with other discarded remnants of wallets and purses. The police are called. Pictures are taken. Information is gathered about what is missing. The insurance people come. Finally, the repair guy fixes the door. The van is found, fixed, and returned. The credit card purchases are reconciled.
You can’t prepare for a break-in. It has changed the way my family lives. Since the break-in, we go through our ritual of securing the house every night. Exterior lights illuminating the yard are turned on. The fence backing onto the property is locked. All doors and windows are checked. Wallets, purses, and vehicle keys are hidden from sight.
In the early church, when Paul and Silas went from town to town preaching the good news about Jesus to everyone who would listen, they were viewed as thieves attempting to infiltrate the secure homes of Jews and Gentiles and steal their way of life. Other people—especially many of the Jews—did their best to lock Paul and Silas out. But something unexpected happens when God sends his Holy Spirit to help break into the hearts of unbelievers. The Holy Spirit is a locksmith. It lurks in the shadows of our lives, and when we least expect it, we wake up to find it there, changing the way we live forever.
The Bible is full of such stories of God breaking into people’s hearts and stealing them away for his own purposes., We read of such a break-in in Acts 16:13-15 (NLT):
On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. She was baptized along with other members of her household, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged us until we agreed.
Notice verse 14: “The Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying.” Lydia’s heart was unexpectedly opened. When she woke up that Sabbath morning, she wasn’t expecting Paul and Silas to show up by the riverbank where she and her friends had gathered. She was a believer who, in the Jewish fashion, “worshiped God”; but in a matter of hours, she not only accepted Paul’s message of the risen Jesus but also invited Paul and Silas into her house, a risky decision given that Paul and Silas were viewed by many of the locals as criminals wherever they traveled.
It’s important to note that Paul and Silas had traveled to the region where Lydia and her friends were gathering only because the Holy Spirit had nudged Paul. A few days before, Paul had had a vision of a man from Macedonia pleading with him to “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” (Acts 16:9, NLT). Paul, in tune with the Holy Spirit, acted at once, sailing from one port to another until he and Silas reached Macedonia.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve felt the Holy Spirit break into my heart throughout my life. It happens unexpectedly. You’re driving to work, and a song comes on the radio that seems to speak directly to the issues you are wrestling with; or a thought suddenly appears in your mind as you speak to someone; or your small child asks you a question about Jesus from the back of the minivan and you find yourself answering in a way that you didn’t even know was in you, as if God were whispering in your ear. You get a nudge: Go there. Talk to that person. Help her. Ask him how he’s doing. I need you to help tell my story to people who don’t know me.
That’s God breaking into your heart. For some of us he needs a crowbar. For others, a little bit of blood or at least the story of some blood—Jesus’ blood—is enough to transform their hearts and change their lives forever.
Is God trying to break into the fortress you have built to keep him out? Is the Holy Spirit whispering to you to join it, to set sail and live a life of breaking-and-entering?
Ron DeBoer is a writer and high school vice-principal living in the Waterloo region. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.