We tend to associate Cornelius’ conversion in Acts 10 solely with his coming to Christ, but sometimes Scripture gives more diverse examples of the notion of conversion. The life of this Italian cohort in Acts 10 is one such example.Cornelius was influenced by the Spirit of God for a time prior to his conversion to Christ (what I would call his second conversion) which was followed by his third conversion (the dramatic filling of the Spirit that happened at the preaching of Peter). Granted, his second and third conversions happened almost instantaneously, one after the other, but these two were distinct experiences. The question is, what led up to his two profound conversions? Lets focus on his first conversion.
He prayed regularly.
God put into Cornelius’ heart a hunger to draw near to seek him. Perhaps to a degree this invitation is given to all mankind. Sadly, few respond with a willingness to seek the Lord.
He probably connected with God through the only model he had seen – the prayers of the Jews who sought the Lord at various times of the day at his local temple. Though some of them no doubt merely went through the rote motions of prayer, Cornelius was sincere in his approach to seeking out God. God was able to get through to his hungry heart.
Cornelius was a Gentile so he was not allowed onto Temple grounds. Originally Jewish temples were to have an outer court that was to be dedicated to Gentile God fearers who were seeking to know the Lord. By the time of Jesus, nearly all temples had given up on these spaces in favor of turning these into stalls that sold sacrificial animals for pilgrims. It was this area at the Jerusalem temple where Jesus turned over tables and chased out the moneychangers and animals. Cornelius’ connection with God in prayer was a testimony of God’s willingness to draw near to anyone who is hungry to draw near to him.
As Cornelius prayed, God began to speak to him. Eventually God spoke clearly even to the point of sending an angel who spoke to him to call for Peter. He heard clear directions as to where Peter was located, what to ask Peter to do, and who to gather at his house. Cornelius had a deposit of faith for all of this to happen. When Peter arrived shortly thereafter, Cornelius’ nearest family and friends were there and ready to hear. He had told them about his angelic chat. Wouldn’t you come to hear Peter’s message if you heard from a reliable friend about the angel visitation?
As not-yet Believers pray regularly and sincerely for God to reveal himself they are likely to have an encounter with the God of the Bible before long. I have had numerous conversations with Seekers who have been in a responsive mode and inclined to seek after the Lord. My encouragement to them has been to open themselves up to hearing from God as he reveals himself. The problem with many God seekers is they are fearful of confining themselves to a single approach to God, or what they consider a too narrow approach to him. In so fearing they cut themselves off from what he may show them. Thus they are not entirely open hearted.
I have often encouraged them to give God a specific timeframe during which to reveal himself – for example, a 90-day period. Also, to give God a few things to prove himself in what is measureable – usually three matters that can be clearly tracked and evaluated at the end of those three months. I have done this a number of times with God-fearers and seen God come through consistently manifesting/proving his reality to them. My own wife, Janie, came to Christ through such an arrangement. She prayed that God would show her himself as he really is by the end of the summer. She prayed that open ended prayer on Memorial Day weekend (the beginning of Summer). She promptly forgot about her prayer – something common with these situations. In the end, she was surprisingly converted on Labor Day weekend – the end of Summer. It wasn’t until a bit later that she remembered her “deal” with God. Such arrangements are best done with Christian friends who can keep track of the passing of time and can schedule a meeting at the end of the 90 days. Perhaps Cornelius made a deal with God along these lines and God revealed himself to this Italian leader.
He gave generously go the Poor.
God impressed upon Cornelius’ heart a value for caring for the Needy. He was a generous man or at least he became a generous man. In a sense, he was initially converted in his pocketbook. God calls us to generously give to matters that are his values. As we draw near to God, his values become our values.
One of the first matters God impresses upon us is the need to treat people differently.
Near the top of the list of his values is the Poor and how we treat them. As we draw near to the Poor we draw near to God. In turn, as we draw near to God, God gives us the desire to draw near to the Poor. This is the pattern of Scripture and the testimony of church history.
As he drew near to God, the Father began to sensitize Cornelius’ heart to the things that were kingdom values. In other words, the matters that were important to God became important to Cornelius. It is probable that Cornelius had little exposure to God’s word considering that he was not allowed onto Temple grounds. Perhaps he heard occasional verses quoted by passing Jews. It’s difficult to know. In any case, Cornelius’ conversion is a testimony to the sovereign ability of the Holy Spirit to call sincere people into relationship with the Father.
Let’s bring many to the Lord. At the same time, let’s pray that God intervenes directly in the lives of those around us like our friend Cornelius. Once he initiates the first conversion, it will be a short time until the second and third conversions take place.