So we finished off the last reflection by having a look at Ananias’ story. This time , I’d like to look tat roughly the same area of text but from the perspective of Paul.
Acts 9:10-18 0 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.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized.
- Despair or prayer?
After his hair-raising encounter with Jesus, Paul has still got a choice to make. In fact I would argue that after the Damascus road, Paul’s conversion has absolutely begun but it is yet to be completed. Like the scales are still yet to completely fall from his eyes, so they are still yet to completely fall from the ‘eyes of his soul.’
Some people assert that conversion is a pin-pointed moment in time. Others assert that it is a process. So which is it? The answer is yes! Both.
The last instruction that Paul heard from the mouth of Jesus was “you will be told what to do.” In other words, “I’m not going to give you any more instructions until you obey this command.” If he had never responded to the words of Jesus to him and gone to the city, we would be calling him the Apostle Paul today.
But Paul does have the promise of further instructions. How is he going to make sure he doesn’t miss them? Let’s remember that Paul’s entire spiritual, mental and emotional state are at this point extremely vulnerable. All he knows at this point is that he’s been found guilty of persecuting the people of God, the very God he thought that he was worshiping by rounding them up to be killed or murdered. Paul is a hair’s breadth away from falling into a paralyzing despair.
But he has a promise, one promise from Jesus that he’ll be shown what to do. So what (via Christ’s message to Ananias) do we find out that Paul has been doing? Praying.
Prayer is the only appropriate response to the promise: “I will tell you what you must do.”
Sometimes when people say things like; ‘I’m waiting for God to tell me what to do,’ I feel like saying ‘then why have you got your eyes open!’
To be honest, I catch myself out on this one over and over again. It’s so easy to think that God is being somehow deliberately vague with us whilst at the very same time, we can’t seem to find 5 minutes in the day to pray.
I have never gotten up from a time of prayer feeling worse.
Ok then, so what does Paul see in his prayer? What in particular is the next thing that God wants to tell Paul? What is the ‘next step’ in his conversion?
Acts 9:11-12 The Lord said to him (Ananias), “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” (Emphasis mine.)
How can we summarize the key elements of what Paul is seeing in his prayer? I believe there are three:
- Community (Paul is relying on community in Ananias praying for him. Ie; Paul can’t heal himself.)
- Ministry (The conduit of God’s power and the transformation of lives is not via threats, violence or political positioning but through the ‘foolishness’ of Christian ministry.)
- Companionship (The laying on of hands, physical contact denotes godly ministry taking place within the context of genuine friendship, companionship.)
These are the very things that Paul used to live to destroy. But now, Jesus’ instruction to Paul through this vision is essentially this; That he is not really ready to commence a ministry of his own until he can receive a blessing from the very person he used to detest.
Nothing’s changed. We are not ready for ministry until we can receive a blessing in Jesus’ name from our former enemy.
We only can come to this place in the soul through the pursuit or prayer because it is in the prayerful space where both the new vision for our life is birthed and we are matured and prepared to safely receive that vision. Therefore, the two great endeavors of a life of faith cannot afford to outpace the other. As we ‘step out’ in faith externally (serving others, evangelizing, pursuing new friendships etc), so we must ‘step out’ internally (meditation, prayer reflection and so on) at the same rate. Otherwise, we’ll either become a shallow activist or an ineffective monk.
2. It’s not about Paul.
Acts 9:15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel;
Basically, the reason why God converts anyone is so that they can be his instrument to convert others. The kingdom of God is after all, like a mustard seed. The ‘reasons’ behind Paul’s conversion are a lot bigger than Paul. Yet again we get an insight into the expansive love of God.
There’s a wonderful promise hidden in this truth. The fact that God converts and calls people to be fruitful also indicates that God will give us everything we need to indeed be fruitful for him. The more we contemplate that truth, the more our fear falls away. God will indeed provide everything we need to bear fruit for him if we are indeed willing to submit to him the ‘gardener’.
As I look at this verse I realize that every time I write off a kingdom task (such as befriending a ‘difficult’ person) as someone else’s job, what I am really saying is “it’s all about me.”
When we dodge responsibility, we’re saying “God, it’s all about me.”
Also, to be in ministry, in fact to be a Christian, is ultimately to carry a message. Every single ‘Christian’ endeavor we do, is useless if at no point, no one ever receives from us THE message. The message about Jesus. Paul’s primary identity after his conversion became one of God’s messenger.
How much would our everyday lifestyle be affected if we were conscious of being ‘ambassadors for Christ’ at every moment?
God saved Paul. The final consummation of his conversion takes place in the context of community. Paul goes on to become the greatest messenger and explainer of the Gospel of Christ in human history….
Because he really was converted. That is, he embraced the change that God brought into his life.
Paul, the example of how effective we can be when we embrace what God has done and is doing in our life.