by Michael Kelley
The story of Paul’s conversion is a familiar one. So familiar, in fact, that often we refer to someone’s dramatic change of life, after meeting Jesus, even these hundreds of years later, as a “Damascus Road Experience.”
Saul, as he was once called, was an ardent opponent of the Christian movement. He was driven by the passionate pursuit of ridding the world of what he thought of as an offense to the Holy God of Israel – the new religious movement of Christians. He traveled, with orders in hand, to imprison and dispatch any of those reckless believers who considered Jesus Christ to be God. But then Saul was literally knocked off his high horse.
In a vision, Jesus Himself appeared to Saul, and suddenly Saul knew the terrible and glorious truth: In his attempts to defend God from blasphemy, he had become a blasphemer himself. But that’s just the beginning of the story.
The vision of Jesus had left Saul blinded – an appropriate metaphor for his life since he had been blinded up to that point to the truth of the gospel. After encountering Jesus on the Damascus Road, Saul was led into the city by his companions who had heard the words of Jesus and yet seen nothing. And there he stayed.
For three days, he was blind. For three days, he neither ate nor drank. For three days, he was left to consider what kind of life he had led, and what kind of life he would lead from that point forward. He spent 72 long hours of deep reflection; we can only imagine what must have gone through his mind:
“What have I done?”
“How could I have been so wrong?”
“What do I do now?”
Saul found himself in a place of confusion. A place of darkness. A place of wondering about the nature of the world and his own place in it. As we read the account recorded for us in Acts 9, we picture Saul huddled in a corner of darkness, hungry and thirsty not only for the physical to sustain his body but also for something spiritual to sustain his soul. We might well be wondering where the light would come from.
Luke, the author of Acts, provides the answer for us: “There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias” (Acts 9:10). That’s all we get. We don’t have any indication that Ananias had any special education or training. We don’t know if he was young or old, what he did for a living, or what his family was like. We have no idea whether he was a man of great or little standing in his community. We only know that he was a follower of Jesus. Just a regular, old disciple that was ready when the Lord called his name:
And the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Here I am, Lord!” he said. “Get up and go to the street called Straight,” the Lord said to him, “to the house of Judas, and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, since he is praying there. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and placing his hands on him so he can regain his sight.”
“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard from many people about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And he has authority here from the chief priests to arrest all who call on Your name.”
But the Lord said to him, “Go! For this man is My chosen instrument to take My name to Gentiles, kings, and the Israelites. I will show him how much he must suffer for My name!” (Acts 9:10-16).
Ananias was understandably a little nervous about the call. He knew this man’s reputation. The city was already buzzing about his imminent arrival and what would happen to the church there. He was apprehensive at best; fearful at worst. But when it came to it, he chose to believe in the power and presence of God, and so he went. And his response, upon meeting Saul, is telling: “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road you were traveling, has sent me so that you can regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:17).
Brother. How sweet those words must have been to the ears of the blind man. How he must have perked up when he heard them. This was not the voice of self-importance. This was not the sound of arrogance. This, Saul knew, was a friend. This was someone who was indeed sent by Jesus, one who could speak just a little bit of clarity into the ball of confusion that was Saul’s life.
And then he was gone.
We have no record of whether Ananias and Saul became pen pals after that moment. We don’t know if Ananias went on to do big things in the church and the world. For all we know, this man disappeared from Saul’s life as he became Paul the same way he disappears from the pages of Scripture.
Such is the case with our interactions with others. We are apprehensive. We are fearful. We don’t know for sure if we have the right words that can generate impact. We say something, some measure of kindness or encouragement or empathy, and then we disappear from someone’s life forever like a vapor in the wind, and there is less than a few lines written about us in books that record history for generations following.
We are not all called to be Paul. We aren’t all going to be the one out front, the one leading the crowd, the one who is recognized for their impact. But all of us are called to be Ananias. As we live and move as relational beings in the midst of these creatures of God, we are meant to push back the darkness and bring light one interaction at a time. We are meant to be looking – and looking with expectation – for where the sovereign hand of God is positioning us. We might not ever gain the notoriety of Paul, but we must move toward the spirit of Ananias. In doing so, we must approach every single interaction, no matter how common and ordinary it might seem, with the same words that characterized this great supporting character in the biopic of the apostle:
“Here I am, Lord.”