The story of Paul keeps messing with my mind, heart and soul. Paul was able to step out from being the Christian-hating persecutor Saul and into the role of the Apostle Paul. There are things from my past that are preventing me from stepping into the life that God has for me. Yet for Paul, it did not appear this happened.
Can you relate to this?
Fear, shame, jealousy, anxiousness, lust, impatience, entitlement, self doubt—you name the emotion or sin, I feel it or have felt it strongly in my life. Some of these I feel often; others just once in a while, and some have subsided. But they are all too familiar to me and are in my heart and mind, or have been, hindering my soul from experiencing our good, good Father.
I know Paul struggled with sin as well, yet it appears he was able to live the life God created him to live. “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate” (Romans 7:15).
I see three important behaviors in Paul that allowed him to overcome his struggles and live out his calling to his last breath. These choices propelled him powerfully in the beginning and then sustained him as he continued serving.
Surrender: On the road to Damascus, Saul encountered the living Jesus, yet he still had a choice. Follow Jesus or not. Although blinded, he could have ordered the men to take him back but he didn’t. I believe this is the initial stage of Saul’s surrender of his life to the Lord Jesus. Saul allowed the men to lead him by the hand into Damascus and he stayed with Judas (Acts 9:8, Acts 9:11) until Ananias came to heal him. Through his surrender, he was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17), and later went on to write, “Do not quench the spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Why? Maybe because he knew, first hand, that we were all going to need the Holy Spirit to live the life we were created to live.
Obedience: Acts 9:20 tells us that upon regaining his sight and being baptized, Saul immediately proclaimed Jesus in the synagogue saying, “He is the Son of God.” We can imagine Paul’s eagerness to begin preaching the truth he now understood. But he later writes in Galatians 1:18, “after 3 years, I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him 15 days.” It appears Paul spent three years in Arabia before starting his ministry, despite the fact that he was probably anxious to begin right away. Paul had a choice and I believe he was obedient to the wooing of the Father that led him away for a time. I picture Paul being led by the Holy Spirit, much like Jesus was led into His wilderness experience by the Spirit (Matthew 4:1). I imagine Paul spending this time learning, praying and drawing closer to God, and falling deep in love with Him. This is most likely where Paul learned how utterly horrific his old life was, and the power of Jesus’ grace, thus continuing this radical transformation (old life—new life—Ephesians 4:22-23) that first occurred on the road to Damascus. Have you sensed the father wooing you to Him, to spend more and more time with Him like Paul did? Could He be drawing you to Him now for a specific purpose like He did with Paul?
Dependence: I believe Paul became increasingly dependent upon God our Father while in Arabia. He basked in God’s goodness, love, mercy and grace and never wanted to leave this connection, this dependence. No doubt Paul was never loved liked this before. It became Paul’s lifeline drug, nurturing him through his greatest of trials, tribulations, sufferings, agonies, bleeding and wounds (2 Corinthians 11:24-27). The amazing act of grace by our Lord Jesus and His love penetrated the depths of Paul’s heart, soul and mind and this once hard heart was molded into something that never returned to where it once was. Although he wasn’t able to fully grasp it, Paul took hold of that which he could with all his might and was never the same. The Holy Spirit changed Paul from his old life to his new life, using the power of grace to shape Paul more and more into who the Trinity originally created him to be.
Paul didn’t allow his past to define him or prevent him from stepping into the life God had for him. Do you think shame was a part of Paul’s story?
Billions of lives have changed because of Paul’s life and writing. Paul did not know his destiny on the road to Damascus but Jesus did. Possibly for the first time ever in his life Saul had truth enter into his heart and he was never the same for it.
What if Paul had never gotten over his sin and shame? Think of the countless people who would not have been deeply impacted.
What if you and I do not step into our callings? Think of all of the people that will not be deeply impacted.
How do you think Paul overcame shame to fully live out the life he was created to live?