A few weeks ago, I heard a sermon on Saul’s conversion to Paul in Acts 9:1-18; 22:4-16. While I was amazed by God’s power to transform a person like Saul and that no one is too far from God’s reach, I was struck by another person and his contribution in this story. What he did is something that I often overlook. But he played a rather significant role in God’s plan and indirectly impacted so many people.
You can probably guess who I am referring to as there are only two main people in this passage, Saul/Paul and Ananias. For sure, every Christian is inspired by Paul’s life and I am no exception. We are named and name our children after Paul but, sorry Paul, it’s not you this time. Now you know who I am talking about. Bravo! It’s Ananias. We don’t have much detail about Ananias’ life besides that he was a disciple in Damascus, a devout man according to the Law and well spoken of by all the Jews there (Acts 22:12). But one thing we know is that he was the first person to pray for Paul to receive Jesus.
I often think that it was quite a privilege and honor for Ananias, because this is The Apostle Paul he prayed for. But, as I looked at the passage closely, I realized I was totally wrong. Actually, Ananias was horrified when he heard Jesus calling him to go and meet Saul. I could feel Ananias’ fear and horror in his answer to Jesus, “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.” Imagine that you’re called to meet the most dangerous man of your country, and he hates everything about you—who you are and what you are doing. How would you respond? I can almost hear Ananias saying to the Lord, “You must be wrong, Lord, because this man is going to kill me.” Yet, Ananias obeyed! I don’t think Ananias thought about changing the world when he did what God asked him to do, he simply obeyed— he was willing to take a risk and trusted that the Lord knows what He is doing. Throughout the Bible we see God working mightily through the complete obedience and trust of His people.
Another thing that I am touched by is the way Ananias addressed Saul, whom he was so afraid of. When they met for the first time, Ananias called him “Brother Saul”. There was a change; I would say a big change in Ananias’ heart and attitude. I believed that his love for Jesus drove the fear out of him so he could express love toward Saul. He was willing to lose his good reputation to associate with his enemy, not just as a friend but as a brother. At the same time, he spoke truth into Paul’s life to fulfill God’s will for him: “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:14-16). Truth and love must go together, lacking either of them will diminish the power and work of God.
This reminds me of a story of a pastor who felt God called him to visit the most dangerous gangster in his community. This gangster was famous for his violence and would beat anyone he liked. Even the police were afraid of him. Like Ananias, the pastor replied, “No way God. This guy is going to beat me up.” But he obeyed anyway. He reluctantly walked to the house and the gangster answered the door. After a short conversation, the pastor noticed the face of the gangster getting paler and paler, so he told the guy to go to bed because he was too drunk to talk. The next Sunday, the gangster with his whole family came to church and wanted to receive Jesus. The pastor was very surprised and asked him why he wanted to do that. The gangster said, “Do you remember the day you visited me? I was not drunk at all, but as you were walking into my house, I saw your face light up like an angel, and I was so frightened that I almost fainted. I know God sent you to me. I want to change my life and only Jesus can do that. Could you pray for me?” God changed him completely! He went around town and shared about the goodness and power of God to transform him. His conversion became the talk of the town, everyone was relieved. They said, “If the Christian God can change this man, he is a powerful God.” As a result, many people believed in Jesus, including the gangster’s drinking buddies.
In both stories, neither Ananias nor the pastor can claim anything for themselves because it is God who transformed people. But the great thing is, God wants to include us in this process of transformation. Like Ananias, never in a million years did the pastor think that he would convert the gangster that day. He simply obeyed. Possibly like me, he would have prepared himself to run as fast as he could in case the gangster wanted to beat him up. But what God did with that pastor’s obedience and love for Him is beyond imagination. The question for us is, “What is one small thing we can do to start obeying God today to show His love to our neighbor?” Who knows what kind of impact God would bring, because we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).