So, to refresh…
Acts 9:1-9 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
So here we go with Part 2 of the reflections around Paul’s conversion. we finished the last one by posing the question; can you miss the appearance of Jesus?
- Can you ‘miss it’?
Acts 9:7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.
I think it is worth remembering that these travelling companions of Paul were of course religious zealots. Why else would they hang out with a guy like Paul? Assuming that is the case, it becomes really ironic when you think that here we have a group of people that believe that what they are doing will one day get them to God.
That’s what legalism is really, the pursuit of God on our terms. This is always why the face of legalism always wears the countenance of frustration. As even though the yearning for God may be genuine, the technique applied is simply the expression of human pride and therefore incompatible with God and unable to perceive God.
We shouldn’t be surprised that God doesn’t seem to ‘show up’ when the entire premise of our search is based on what ‘he can/must do for me.’
Here we have a group of people who are making a career out of fitting God into their theological box and then when the risen Christ turns up, they cannot perceive him. It;s only through sheer grace that Paul does.
This leads me to wonder, perhaps the most ‘effective way’ to avoid a relationship with God is not through rampant hedonism but self-centered religiosity. A search for, or faith in God on our terms only.
To put that into reverse; God will make himself plain the more we seek him to listen to him rather than to tell him what to do. All I know is, that last thing Satan wants, is people listening to God for God’s own sake and ready to act upon any Word they receive from him. This is the change that occurs in Paul.
2. The change in Paul.
Paul’s world comes crashing down when he meets Jesus. Crashing down. Everything he ever ever worked for, revealed as a complete waste of time in the light of…Truth. Paul essentially says as much later on in Phil 3:8 ‘I consider all the things I lost rubbish next to knowing Christ.’
What a cataclysmic change.
Change. is it a dirty word?
Why do we find it hard to change? Fear. But what are we fearing? loss of the ‘old life’. Ok, now we get to the million dollar question: WHY?
We fear change because we don’t know/forget the truth. To put it another way, the more the truth sinks in, that all things are rubbish next to knowing Christ, the easier it is to change. Of course we’re going to be more flexible, open to new things when we’re in step with the God whose blessings are new every morning.
I’ll let you in on a secret; when people in churches say “I struggle with change,” what they are really saying is “I’m scared.” If we believe that we have not received a Spirit of timidity but of power (2 Tim 1:7), then this reveals a big problem.
In fact, one way people reveal how they are really going in their personal walk with God, is how open they are (or aren’t) to Godly change. Here’s the question: when we make a decision, is the reality of the Holy Spirit a bigger factor in our mind than what tradition we belong to or how we’ve ‘always done it’?
Paul changed the world, but only because he changed first. I remember about a year ago, I sat sown to have my quiet time with God still angry and annoyed at a person. I didn’t even get a chance to open my bible when the following thought came across my mind as clear as a bell: “Peter, complain all you want, but they won’t change until you change.”
I had some repenting to do. Moreover, from a leadership perspective I realized that it is the greatest mistake to assume that we can ‘engineer’ change in others whilst we ourselves resolve to remain static. Paul was effective because he embraced the change God brought into his life. OR to put it another way, Obedience and submission comes before, effectiveness.
But Paul’s’ not the only one who has to embrace change as a result of his conversion.
3. Ananias’ story.
Acts 9:10-17 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. 11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” 13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” 17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord– Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here– has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
So here’s Ananias. He’s only human, he’s got his doubts and he’s got his fears. Like many biblical characters he seems to have that little; ‘But Lord….’ argument with God. The question is though; at the end of that day, what’s he going to do? Stay or go?
He’s got a choice to make no matter how good his excuses may appear to be. (Saul was an infamous terrorist after all.) Nonetheless, you can’t hold on to God and excuses at the same time whilst still expecting a ‘front row seat’ to God’s work in the world.
Let’s be honest, Ananias doesn’t want to do this, but he does. It really doesn’t matter how much we pray, ‘name and claim’, sing songs, say we believe and so on, if we’re expecting to see God work in our life, in our communities sometimes we’ll just have to do what we don’t feel like doing! Ananias manages to do what he really, really doesn’t want to simply for God, in doing to he makes an enormous advance in his spiritual journey and…..
because of his obedience he gains a front row seat to God changing history.
God is giving Ananias the privilege of an amazing testimony and being remember forever as ‘that guy’ who prayed for and healed the apostle Paul when he could have killed him in his vulnerability. But at the time all it feels like to Ananias is God asking him to lay a hand on his sworn enemy and call him ‘brother’.
Imagine the impact God could have through the church today, if we were willing to put our hand on our enemy’s shoulder and call him ‘brother’.
Next, back to Paul again in Part 3.