Sometimes it's difficult for us to identify with Bible characters. I have confessed before my preference to study the teachings of Paul, and wouldn't it have been nice to actually witness the events of Peter preaching on Pentecost? While we all have our favorites, we are separated from Bible characters by a couple thousand years at best, some even more than that. They were people of different cultures, different backgrounds, different races....in fact, how can we relate to them when we have almost nothing in common?
It's Jesus that makes us related to them. The Christian family includes those we read about in the New Testament, as well as relating us to those who sit in the pew behind us at church. If, according to God's plan, we are one in Christ, then we actually do have a lot in common with the people we read about in the Bible.
In Paul's travels, he bumped into people that he did not know, and simply by speaking the truth about Jesus, Paul was able to bring his hearers to become members of the spiritual family. Here is one such instance from Acts 17:
Paul and his band of travelers went down by the river, hoping to find a quiet place to spend some time in prayer. There were some women there so they struck up a conversation. One of the ladies present was Lydia, who made her living by selling purple cloth. She worshiped God, but the Bible says the Lord "opened her heart" and she responded to the Jesus message of Paul. Lydia and her household were baptized and then she invited this traveling band of Christian servants to come stay at her house.
Lydia's story is one which illustrates the Great Commission. Her story is an echo of God's plan for missions, a plan that has worked well over two thousand years. It's a story which makes some of us ashamed of our lack of efforts in reaching others.
Paul saw the importance of his message. It was a message simple enough to share with some people he met at a river, but it's also a message complex enough to defeat Satan and the grave and bring us to an eternity of living in God's presence. When you connect all that with the love that Paul had for those who were lost, you find all the necessary ingredients for successful ministry.
Is there a riverbank you need to visit?