I remember sitting in a freshman orientation class learning about the need for a five, and even a ten year plan.
I was urged, passionately pleaded with, to make sure that I have everything planned out with purpose and direction.
I remember his booming voice.
“We offer you the class offerings for future years so you should never be without a plan. Write down what course you want to take when and make it fit. You should know where your life is going and graduate on time.”
To the best of my ability, I followed his plan. I planned courses, dreamed of my future, planned to succeed, and journaled my way through four years of school.
You know what I discovered? It never happened like I had planned.
Somehow, despite my best intentions, life always got in the way of my plans for myself.
I sort of think Paul felt the same way.
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him,“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision,“Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Acts 9:1-19
Weird Al’s song Everything You Know is Wrong is how I picture Saul’s conversion. Maybe not as a cartoon, and hopefully without the rabid wolverine, but the point rings true.
Weird Al says, “Everything you know is wrong. Black is white, up is down, and short is tall. And everything you thought was just so important doesn’t matter.”
Paul had his life plan. His five year growth chart. His expectations for his life a decade from now.
After quashing this annoying little Jewish faction calling themselves Christians, he’d retire from the persecution business, gain tenure track at a local synagogue, and settle down. A quiet little plot of land he could call his own was so close that he could taste it. He had his life, his teachings, his family, and his mission planned. Each day he was closer to living his dream.
That is, until, God intervened.
With an authorization letter in hand, Paul set out for Damascus to kill and torture Christians. Along the way, Jesus intervened and began to reveal to Paul just how different his life was going to be from his five year plan. Jesus’ words to Ananias were, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Paul was going from persecutor to persecuted, from enemy to friend, from Jewish teacher to Christian missionary.
I have to imagine that Paul spent at least a little time crying and grieving over it all. I’ve had my plans change over the course of my five year plan, but never as radically or spectacularly as Paul did. I had to make slight adjustments and accommodations, Paul had to do a 180.
I was talking with somebody recently about this passage and her comment was brilliant. “You know,” she offered, “it was almost like Paul was a baby again. He had to relearn everything and start all over.”
So from the life of Paul, I think we can see three important steps for living our own life of mission with purpose.
1. Dependence on God. In whatever Paul did, and however he understood what God was up to, he was completely dependent on God. It wasn’t a convenience thing for him, like it can so often be for us, it was his primary mode of thinking. Whatever comes, I’ll rely on God to see me through.
2. Openness to change. This dependence on God even opened Paul to change. This divine intervention wasn’t a part of his life plan, it wasn’t scheduled, but he was open. Too often in the church we assume that the same mission or vision we had a decade ago, or even two years ago, somehow still applies and should be followed blindly. If we are demonstrating full dependence on God, we must also have a commitment to openness. God will call, shape, lead, and direct in new ways that call his people to greater levels of mission and faithfulness.
3. Radical commitment. One of the things I admire about Paul was that he never did things halfway. His love for persecution and passion for stopping the fledgling Christian movement was replaced with an equally (if not more so) zeal for knowing Christ and sharing him with others. Our commitment to mission discipleship must be the same; a desire to be purposeful and intentional with what God has called us to do.
Your thoughts? Chime in below!