Our surroundings shape the pages that write the beginnings of our lives.
I wonder at the details of Paul’s surroundings early on in his life. (Or Saul, rather, at that point in time.) The book of Acts tells us that he was a severe man, with a fiery intentionality for whatever he set out to do. In the case of the early church, Saul set out to persecute and rid the world of all those who claimed to be followers of Jesus Christ.
Later on, after his conversion, he tells us that he was as straight as they came in terms of his Hebrew heritage and way of living. Not only did he dot every “i” and cross every “t”, he did it better than all the rest. So the pride, and social status that fueled his actions was likely of astronomical proportions (Acts 22:1-5).
In his circle, he was doing all the right things.
And then Jesus Christ, the One Saul had devoted all of his time, energy, and resources to slander, intersects his life in a blinding way, and everything in Saul’s life turns upside down.
[You can read the story of the road to Damascus in Acts 9:1-18. What I want to point out are the days following this miraculous conversion.]
Verse 19 of chapter 9 tells us that,
“He spent a lot of time with the disciples in Damascus over the next several days.”
As I read that I wondered, what about all the guys he was traveling with, all on their way to persecute believers in Damascus? Paul had made a HUGE decision to follow Jesus. And he didn’t do it privately so that no one in his regular life knew about it. He was baptized and proceeded to then spend all of his time with those he had intended to kill.
What did his friends think? His family? His boss? The other Jewish believers who saw him as a wise and powerful man “on their side”?
He had ditched his comrades and the life he lived before that moment he met Jesus, and the word spread quickly.
“At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.” (Acts 9:20-22 | NIV).
Paul had “everything to lose” and yet he knew that he had, in fact, gained everything the moment he gave his life to Christ. People were dumbfounded that this man was now living for the One with whom he had devoted his life to wiping out. As I read this, I am floored by the reality that we as believers live our lives so ashamed of this incredible gift we have been given. We try to hide from a watching world the eternal life and salvation we have been given through Christ Jesus, our Lord.
There is so much we can learn from Paul—God knew the tenacity with which this man would get after anything he was passionate about, so He made sure Paul would be passionate about His Son.
Couldn’t that be true of you and I, too?
He knows the exact way He wants to use you and your commitment to Christ to influence your surroundings. He knows the head-strong people you work with, or share a family name and genetics with. He knows the story of your past and all the ways people like to define you by it. He knows where you’ve been and He knows where you’re going. And He wants His Name to be what defines your life from here on out.
So don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid of who you were or who they are. Perfect love drives out fear, and His love in you and for you and through you is perfect. He knows how to wash-white your past, He knows how to supply your every present need, and He knows how to lovingly navigate your future, so that His Name would be made great through your passionate love of His Son.
So can you and I be like Paul, and run head-long towards the One from which we have been given true and lasting LIFE? Can we cease caring about how life will go on for those around us, and start leaning in and doing life with those who are devoted to Jesus, trusting that He will use our stories to speak to the hearts of those who have influenced us before we met Christ?
It wasn’t easy for Paul, at first. But he pressed on, and was given an advocate—someone to encourage him, guide him, and support him on his journey towards complete devotion to Christ. RPromise me you’ll read the rest of the story—it can be found here. If you are new to your faith, like Paul was here, find yourself a Barnabas. If you can’t, then pray with boat-loads of faith that God would bring you one. His heart is not for you to do this life of faith alone, so broaden your vantage point and start looking to places you’ve never looked before. I promise you, you’ll find your Barnabas.
What could happen to this lost and lonely world if we all turned and followed like Paul did? Lord, would you do this again in each one of our lives; that Your church would grow and the lost would be found in Jesus.