Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. (Acts 9.36-37)
The story of Dorcas offers a vital lesson for anyone striving to follow her example. She’s a disciple devoted to good works and charitable acts—which means she’s passionately committed to honoring Christ through active service to others. One senses she’s her faith community’s “go-to” person, the one who habitually sets aside personal concerns and desires when she's needed. Eagerness to help may be second nature to her. We all know uncommonly compassionate souls who draw great satisfaction from serving others. Their capacity to please seems bottomless and our certainty it springs from a healthy well comes from them seeking nothing in return for their goodness.
Dorcas very well could be that type of person. But even so, Acts attributes her behavior to discipline and devotion, clearly suggesting it’s driven by obedience to Christ rather than personal fulfillment as a do-gooder. Second nature or not, her generosity and kindness are now first nature to her, signifying the radical change of perspective that every believer undergoes when committing to Christ’s will and ways. The NFL legend Gale Sayers beautifully summarized the disciple’s calling as, “God first, others second, and I am third.” That’s what we see in Dorcas, whose preeminent desire to please her Maker is evidenced in tireless efforts on others’ behalf. In telling her story, Luke slips in a superb example, as grieving widows who gather with Peter around her corpse bring out “tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them.” (Acts 9.39)
Pragmatic and Unimaginable
When illness takes Dorcas from her community, she leaves a hole that sets off panic among its leaders. They call Peter from nearby Lydda for support and guidance. Assessing the situation, he discerns her invaluable service makes her irreplaceable. His response is both pragmatic and unimaginable. He sends everyone from the room and talks to God. Having just witnessed God’s power to rejuvenate the paralyzed limbs of a bedridden man in Lydda, Peter believes total rejuvenation is possible for Dorcas. According to verses 40-42, “He turned to the body and said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.”
If we’re to gain full benefit from this story, we need to quit our post as onlookers and reenter it through Dorcas’s newly opened eyes. Our first seconds of rejuvenation confuse us. Not only is our consciousness restored, we’ve regained strength lost to disease and fatigue. We’ve received a miraculous gift! Then no sooner do we realize what we’ve been given than the same people whose demands and expectations wore us down return. Yes, they love us and their excitement with our revival is genuine. But wound into their happiness is also a benignly selfish hope our work will resume. We wait for the inevitable: “How soon will you feel like helping out?” What do we do with that? Should we resent it? Or can we find strength to be gratified that our service is so essential? Human instinct veers toward the former. Faith-driven discipleship steers toward the latter.
We authenticate our discipleship through selfless devotion to good works and acts of love. James nails this principle when he writes, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2.14-17) Wishing the best for those without is anathema to people of faith. Working to provide what’s best for them is how we best witness belief in Christ’s teaching and model. This applies to more than physical and financial needs. We respond in the same way when we detect emotional and spiritual deficiencies in others’ lives.
We master these challenges by tapping reserves of faith, love, and abundance. Since we’re surrounded with profoundly deprived souls, we often scrape the bottom of the barrel, offering our last ounces of energy, strength, and love along with material assets at our disposal. As people of faith, we don’t let fear of personal need hinder our discipleship and devotion, however. Following Christ transforms us from voluntarily kind and giving people into invaluable, irreplaceable individuals who habitually answer others’ needs with selfless generosity and compassion. We’re comfortable creating needs in our own lives in service to others because we trust God to rejuvenate us and replenish our store.
Isaiah 40.31 assures us, “Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.” The Hebrew word translated as “hope” conveys abiding trust that rejuvenation will come—waiting, not wishing, when, not if. Dorcas gave until, for all practical purposes, she could possibly give no more. But God said, “Not so!” At the Holy Spirit’s urging, Peter commanded her to get up. And she obeyed.
When invaluable service we render appears impractical or impossible, God says, “Not so!” Though we feel depleted past all recovery, the word of the Lord comes to us, saying, “Get up!” Our eyes reopen to unmet needs, unfinished work, and unrealized opportunities. We experience resurging strength and focus that renew our faith and devotion. Yes, we reenter the same battles and confront the same challenges as before. But rejuvenation instills in us fresh confidence. We’re stronger and surer, more certain than ever that, as Philippians 4.18 pledges, “God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”
O God of boundless compassion and abundance, we confess our weariness and weakness—the total depletion we often feel in the face of needs and tasks You set before us. Yet even our weariest, weakest moments cannot steal our abiding trust in Your power to rejuvenate our spirits and replenish our store. In our hours of fatigue, we wait for Your word. Send it, and with renewed vision and vigor we will heed your command. We will get up to resume lives devoted to good works and acts of love. Amen.
Though devotion to good works and acts of love often depletes us, our abiding trust in God’s power to rejuvenate and replenish cannot be shaken.