First, I read about Stephen in the book of Acts -- chapters 6 and 7. He was the first martyr for the Christian cause, being stoned to death for preaching about the Risen Christ.
Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, 10but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, "We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God." (Acts 6: 8-11)Stephen was arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin. False witnesses were produced, and at the trial Stephen laid out a beautifully crafted and rational argument for Christ, along the way reminding the Jewish leaders of Israel's nasty record of murdering prophet after prophet (Acts 7: 2-53). The Jewish leaders were furious and "gnashed their teeth at Stephen", even covering their ears and yelling to block out Stephen's words. The crowd rushed at Stephen, laid hold of him, dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:59-60)The religious leaders thought they were doing the right thing. They believed they were preventing heresy from infiltrating God's people.
In the second study, my small group read the Book of Job. Job suffered the loss of everything: his family, his home, his "business" (i.e. wealth). His friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar sat in mourning with Job and tried to comfort him, although they wound up accusing Job of some sins or misdeeds that brought on Job's calamity. The narrative proceeds through a lengthy debate between Job and his 'friends", as Job maintains his innocence. In the end, despite the vicious words of his friends, we read that Job prayed for his friends.
After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before. (Job 42:10)(Oh, that I were such a more mature Child of God that I actually prayed for those who've ticked me off!) Job's friends thought they were doing the right thing, believing that if they should get Job to confess his sins. Instead, they only added to Job's suffering.
Another person who thought he was helping was good old Peter. I am presently reading the Gospel of Matthew, and found an interesting correlation to the previous two studies. In roller coaster fashion, Peter goes from acknowledging that Jesus is the Christ (Mt. 16:16) to trying to prevent Jesus from going to Jerusalem to be arrested.
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." (Matt. 16:21-23)Peter thought he was helping -- trying to keep his beloved Master from being murdered. He thought he was doing the right thing. However, he did not realize that his desire to protect Jesus was actually conflicting with God's greater plan of salvation.
I wonder how often I think I'm doing the right thing when instead, like Job's friends, I'm causing another person more grief. Am I sometimes, like the religious leaders, unwittingly imposing my views on others of how God's kingdom should be? Do I sometimes run into conflict with God's plan, blindly and stubbornly trying to force things to be as I see fit?
LORD, let me see with Your eyes, feel with Your heart, discern with Your mind.