Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 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.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.
–Acts 9:10-15 (ESV)
This is part of the section of Acts 9 Christians typically call “the Conversion of Saul” (Acts 9:1-19). It is what Pastor Randy’s message was about during last Sunday’s sermon, and it is what Charlie taught to the Sunday school class I attended after the worship service.
There’s just tons and tons and tons I could comment on, especially regarding the material and discussion in Charlie’s class, but I’m going to address almost none of it in this week’s “church report.” If I did, I’d probably start more of a messy debate than I really want to deal with. But rather than talk about the things I don’t always agree with the church about, I want to talk about something that actually “clicked” for me.
In fact, when I heard some of the folks in class mention this, I practically wanted to jump for joy. I’d never heard Christians talk like this before. It was as if they were reading my mind.
Let me explain.
Have you ever heard any Christian say something like, “And then the Lord told me to do such-and-thus?” How about this one: “I felt that it was a calling from the Lord for me to do such-and-thus?”
I’ve heard those phrases from time to time and I’ve always wondered about how those Christians could know that what they were experiencing was from God vs. a “message” they were telling themselves based on what they wanted to hear from God. When I’ve made such a statement before, I’ve usually been criticized for not understanding how the Holy Spirit moves in people’s lives. But get this…the members of my class who were vocal about it agreed with my assessment. One gentleman even said it gives him goosebumps in a “creepy” way when people talk like that.
I even felt comfortable enough to weigh in with my own opinion.
Now just to be clear, no one was saying that God doesn’t work in our lives, direct us in our actions, and require that we serve Him.
It’s just not based on a “calling” such as we see in Paul’s encounter with Jesus in Acts 9. An interesting opinion that’s been coming out of the church I attend for the past several weeks is that Acts is a “transitional” book and doesn’t describe what we can typically expect in a Christian life. We can’t expect to have a “Paul on the road to Damascus” encounter with Christ. We aren’t going to (probably) see a blinding white light or hear a Bat Kol from Heaven. And we aren’t going to receive an amazingly clear-cut calling to perform a specific set of actions from Jesus the way Paul received it.
Or for that matter, we won’t have an experience like this one, either.
Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 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.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “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.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.
–Acts 9:10-19 (ESV)
Don’t get me wrong. It would be great for Christ to talk to us and we could talk back, just like the conversation Ananias had with the Master, but such is not to be (to the best of my knowledge). It would be great if we could receive such specific information and even better if, like Ananias in verses 13 and 14, we could respond back, even questioning our instructions. Of course, that sort of communication presupposes that, again like Ananias, we would then respond in obedience, even if it was against our better (human) judgment, and do what we were told to do, That sort of communication presupposes that we would even act in obedience to restore the sight of someone who, up until a few days ago, had been a bitter enemy bent on imprisoning us and even killing us. It would mean we would have to obey the Lord and learn to address our enemy sincerely and with compassion as “brother.”
That doesn’t happen too often.
It must have been a difficult thing for Ananias to do, but he did it because he was a Jew and a disciple of the Master who was obedient to God.
But that doesn’t particularly mean what Paul and Ananias experienced transfers in any way to what we experience. Paul heard a voice from Heaven. When a modern-day Christian says, “the Lord spoke to me,” what do they “hear” if anything at all? We are not Paul. We are not Ananias. There’s no real evidence in New Testament scripture of Christians receiving a “calling” as many believers use the expression. I think the best we can hope for is this.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
–1 Corinthians 12:1-11 (ESV)
The entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 12 describes how we are all different and all possess varying skill sets within the body of believers, but our gifts originate from a single Spirit and we serve One God.
I’m sure you have noticed what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at. I’m sure you have been in situations where what you’re good at can (and hopefully has) been applied to serving other people and serving God. Beyond specific skills, anyone can donate a can of food to their local foodbank. Anyone can visit a sick friend in the hospital. Anyone can listen to a friend who is going through a tough time tell you their troubles for an hour or so just because you don’t want them to feel alone.
But it doesn’t mean that God has “called” you to do this or that or such or thus.
So the question came up, how do you know you are where you are and doing what God wants you to do?
That’s a tough one. It really is. We tossed that one around in class for a bit. Some folks think that if they’re in a situation and there’s no adversity, then that’s where God wants them to be. Problem is, sometimes God puts you in a spot where you’re going to experience adversity, such as what Christian missionaries face in certain African countries. Just because there are problems doesn’t mean you’re in the wrong place to serve God.
My own litmus test (and this is just me) is that when I find myself doing something I never would have chosen for myself in a million years and it is something that is helping other people and serving God, then that’s where God wants me to be.
No, it’s not like God always puts me in uncomfortable and even miserable situations. In fact, on Saturday, I had a meeting with Pastor Randy to discuss some work I wanted to do for the congregation (yes, I met with him on Shabbos…if that bothers you, then you’re going to have to get past it). We ended up talking about a great many topics near and dear to my heart. I discovered that we have many attitudes and opinions in common and I even managed to bring up subjects with him that I thought might be premature, given how little time we’ve had to get to know one another.
I’ve had my doubts in the recent past that this church was where God wanted me to be. No, I haven’t heard even a single audible word from God for or against my being at this church, but the way things seem to be presenting themselves, I can see that there’s a fit between this church and me (no one was more surprised than I was).
Am I being “called?” Nah, probably not. But God does work in our lives in ways we can’t always explain or even understand. Beyond what I’m saying in today’s “church report,” I can’t really articulate the experience. I just know that like my bi-monthly coffee companion said not to long ago, I have encountered God in church.