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January 12, 2012
A couple of days ago my Bible reading took me to Acts 9, the story of the conversion of Saul. You know how it goes I’m sure. Paul, a vicious enemy of the early church, is on his way to from Jerusalem to Damascus so he can begin a whole new wave of persecution against the Christians there. But somewhere between the cities a sudden light shines from heaven and Saul has an unexpected encounter with Jesus. Jesus told him to continue on his way to Damascus and to wait to be told what he must do.
Paul obeys and continues to Damascus, blind now, and having to be led all the way. For three days the blindness continues and for those three days he fasts from all food and drink.
As Paul waits, prays and fasts, we are introduced to a disciple named Ananias. The Lord appears to him in a vision and tells him to go to Saul and to heal his eyes by laying hands on him. I’ve always gotten a strange joy out of Ananias’ “Um…God” moment. Having been told to go and visit this man Saul, this man whose name is synonymous with persecution, Ananias seems to say, “Um…I know you’re omniscient and all, but maybe you haven’t heard about this Saul guy. So let me tell you about him…” (I’ve written about this here)
Eventually faith and reason prevail. Ananias finds the place Paul is staying and goes on in to see him. And as I read (actually, listened to) the account this time two words stood out to me: “Brother Saul.” Ananias enters that house, lays his hands on Saul and says, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
These are amazing words, when you pause to consider them. They are words that reflect an utterly radical transformation. In a moment, in an act of sovereign grace, the Lord transformed a man from the church’s greatest adversary to the church’s greatest theologian, teacher and missionary. Just like that. Forever.
Ananias did not have the faith to believe this. When the Lord told him, he doubted; he couldn’t believe it was true. Later on we learn that most of the other early Christians also refused to believe it. Like Ananias, they couldn’t believe that the Lord would make a brother from their greatest enemy.
I was reflecting on this verse as our church approached its week of prayer. Every night for a week we are gathering together to dedicate time to prayer. The first night we confessed sin, the second night we offered thanksgiving and last night we prayed for conversions. And in each case I thought of “Brother Saul.”
The first night I had to confess that I have not had the faith to pray for the conversion of the people that I consider beyond the grace of God. This being true, I haven’t shared the gospel as I should have. The second night motivated gratitude that God has a long history of transforming people who were his enemies and adversaries. And last night I couldn’t help but pray that he would extend grace to some of the people I have stopped praying for—or stopped praying for in faith, at any rate. I prayed for grace for them, and grace for me to continue to love them enough to fight for them to the end.