“And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” Acts 16:13-14
“The Lord opened her heart”. It’s a beautiful phrase that Luke uses in describing Lydia’s conversion to Christ, is it not? And what he describes, with that phrase, is how all conversions to Christ happen. Everyone who has ever rightly “respond[ed] to the things spoken” in the gospel – everyone, in other words, who has ever savingly believed on Christ – has responded in that way because “the Lord opened [his or] her heart to” do so! What Paul wrote to the Philippians is true of all Christians: “to you it has been granted^ for Christ’s sake … to believe in Him” (Philippians 1:29). And this reality – that it is God who “open[s] … heart[s] to respond to the” gospel; that it is God who grants belief in Christ – should have the following effects on us:
1. Prayer. We cannot, by all our sound, clear, and winsome sharing of the good news, actually cause anyone to believe it. We should, of course, be as sound, clear, and winsome as we can with the gospel! But we cannot open hearts! Only God can do that. And while, yes, He is gracious to use our quoting, explaining, and applying of His word to do so … it is not us, but He (by the power of His word and His Spirit), who does the opening; it is not us, but He, who grants belief to our hearers. And so we ought not only to speak to people about Jesus, but also to speak to God about these people! We ought to do what we are called to do … and pray (before, during, and after) that God will do what only He can do!
2. Humility. Since it is God who opens hearts to the gospel; since it is God who grants belief in Christ, let us be sure that we do not take credit for ourselves that actually belongs to Him. Yes, He graciously uses us in His accomplishing of His work (and He commends us for our faithfulness!) … but it is, at the end of the day, His work, is it not? When we have shared the gospel and seen someone converted to Christ through our witness, the reality is always that “the Lord^ opened [his or] her heart to respond to the things spoken by” us. So let us praise Him, and never ourselves, when people come to Christ through our witness.
3. Rest. Since it is God who opens hearts; since it is God who grants belief in Christ, we can rest in the knowledge that the salvation of our family, and our friends, and our neighbors, and the nations is not ultimately up to us … but is in the capable hands of God! Now, make no mistake – we must be engaged in sharing Christ with them! The fact that it is God who opens hearts does not exempt us from our responsibility to proclaim the good news! For “how will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). And so the idea is not that, since it is God who opens hearts, we can therefore rest from sharing of the gospel. The idea is rather that, since it is God who opens hearts, we can be at rest regarding the outcome of our sharing the gospel; we can share the good news of Jesus restfully – taking upon ourselves only the weight of faithfulness, and able to leave the weight of outcomes with the only One who can open hearts!
4. Hope. Why did Lydia believe on Christ that day so long ago? Was it because she had the great apostle Paul sharing the gospel with her? No! “The Lord^ opened her heart”, remember? So she believed, not because she had Paul sharing the gospel with her … but because she simply had someone sharing the gospel with her, and because God was at work through the gospel to open her heart to the gospel! And so it could have been Luke or Timothy sharing Christ that day; or it could have been someone as pedestrian as you or me … and, so long as that person proclaimed the word (through which God opens hearts), and so long as God saw fit to perform that work of opening on Lydia’s her heart, she would have been converted to Christ just the same as she was through the evangelism of Paul! For it was “the Lord”, not Paul, who “opened her heart”! And that gives hope to us all these centuries later, doesn’t it? We don’t have to be great or gifted in order for to God save people through our sharing of the gospel ... precisely because it is God who does the saving; because it is the Lord who opens hearts!
^Italicized emphasis in scripture quotations has been added.