Previously, we looked at Paul’s blinding ambition. When we left off, Paul had letters in hand from the high priest authorizing the arrest of followers of the Way. He began his way to Damascus. While on the road, he was stopped in his tracks, and his life was changed forever. Here is how he described the experience:
I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, when at midday along the road . . . I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.” I asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The Lord answered, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 26:12-15)
Some have suggested the light from heaven was a bolt of lightning that struck near Paul and his colleagues. Whatever happened, it was terrifying, and Paul was blinded by it. In the midst of the light, Paul heard Jesus speaking to him. I love what Jesus said: “Saul, Saul...it hurts you to kick against the goads.”
What on earth is a goad? A goad is a stick with a pointed end, used to prod oxen and cattle to move in the direction their owner wants them to go. Jesus was saying, in effect, that he had been prodding or “goading” Paul in the right direction for some time, that Paul had not paid attention, and that his failure to pay attention was hurting Paul and others. (“It hurts you to kick against the goads.”)
What an interesting idea: God is prodding us on a regular basis, seeking to lead us, guide us, and move us to do his will and to live as his people. God’s prod is gentle yet persistent. And yet, unlike the old farmer who goads his oxen so hard they can’t help but obey, God allows us to resist his goading.
The Importance of Ananias
Paul, temporarily blinded, was led by his fellow travelers to Damascus. This lion of a man, who had breathed murderous threats against the church of Jesus, now was led, terrified, to a home on Straight Street. If you visit Damascus today, you can go to the old city and see Straight Street, marked at one end by a triumphal Roman arch.
Paul sat there for three days, unable to see, his physical blindness a way of helping him see his previous spiritual blindness. He was unwilling to eat or drink. God was working on him in the silence as he came face to face with a disturbing fact: his desire to serve God had been distorted by his own ambition, which had led him to persecute God’s people.
Meanwhile, God was prodding someone else, a man named Ananias, who was a follower of Christ and someone whom Paul likely had come to arrest. Christ spoke to Ananias in a vision. We aren’t told the precise nature of this prod—perhaps it was a dream, an idea, a strong urging from within, a still small voice.
The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul.”...But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints.” (Acts 9:11, 13)
Christ told Ananias to find the house where Paul was staying, then to pray for Paul so that he might see again. Understandably, Ananias was afraid and objected, but the voice of Christ persisted, so finally Ananias went.
Imagine the courage it must have taken for Ananias to confront Paul the inquisitor.
Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized. (Acts 9:17-18)
Today in Damascus, Paul’s baptism is remembered in a small church said to be built on the site of Ananias’s home. The house sits fifteen feet below ground level, where the street would have been located 1,900 years ago.
Notice that Paul’s conversion was a result both of his experience of Christ and of Ananias sharing with him. This is how it often works. Most of us don’t have a Damascus Road blinding-light conversion, but we do experience Christ in some way: we feel him speaking to us, we sense his love, we feel moved to say yes. But we also have our Ananiases who come alongside to offer us Christ.
We never again hear about Ananias in the Bible. He courageously stepped up, went to Paul, and shared Christ with him, and as a result the world was changed.
As for Paul, he learned that conversion happens to us when we stop pursuing our own blind ambition, when we recognize God’s prodding in our lives, and when we finally surrender to God’s will. That’s where the real adventure begins. It certainly began there for Paul.
Today’s post is an excerpt from The Call: The Life and Message of the Apostle Paul.