Have you ever held a job that you absolutely dreaded going to? Has there ever been a certain task that you had to complete as part of that job that made you want to resign?
What about outside of the workplace, in your Christian life? Has God ever asked you to do something that you dreaded? Or, is there one thing lurking that if God asked you to do, you would be inclined to say no and run far away?
In today's story of faith, I want to introduce you to a fellow believer who was given what appeared to be the worst job description ever. Despite being afraid, this brother in the Lord went willingly towards what made him fearful instead of running away.
The Battle - Fear Against Faith
Our hearts are constantly torn between fear and faith. It's the bipolar nature of every Christian who still has sin inside of them, no matter how long we have walked with the Lord or how many feats we have seen our God accomplish.
Maybe you can relate to some of these:
- We're afraid that we won't be able to pay our bills, so we don't give joyfully and liberally to God's kingdom.
- We're afraid of what our neighbors, coworkers, or family members will think, so we don't share our faith as vocally as we should.
- We're afraid that we will be rejected, so we don't lovingly confront a brother or sister in Christ when we need to.
- We're afraid of looking stupid, so at Bible study or small group, we don't ask the questions that have been plaguing our faith.
- We're afraid of failure, so we don't attempt to make the most of the gifts that God has given us.
- We're afraid to leave the comforts of our predictable lives, so we don't step out into that ministry opportunity.
- We're afraid of what people will think if they really get to know us, so we find it more comfortable to hide rather than be open and vulnerable.
I know it's true for me, and I'm sure it's true for you as well: faith collides with fear in our hearts more than we tend to think it does. Our confessional theology doesn't always match our functional theology. Much of what we do is propelled by fear, and not motivated by a sure and restful faith in the presence, power, and promises of the Lord.
This is why I find today's story of faith, located in Acts 9, to be so engaging, convicting, and encouraging.
The Conversion – From Saul To Paul
You're probably very familiar with the narrative. Saul was "breathing threats and murder" (Acts 9:1) against anyone who named themselves as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. He hated the message of the gospel and was driven to do anything he could to wipe it out. He had been commissioned by the chief priests to capture anyone who called upon Jesus' name and drag them bound to Jerusalem for trial, imprisonment, and most likely death. This man meant business - he took seriously his appointment to quell this troublesome little sect of Messianic Jews before they acquired too much influence.
What Saul didn't understand was that the resurrected Savior King was at the same time exercising his sovereign power and grace to build and multiply his disciples so that his church would bring the grace of his gospel to every corner of the globe. Not only was Saul attempting to stop the unstoppable children of faith, he was challenging the power and authority of the Lord Almighty. With all his anger and resolve, Saul didn't know he was on a fool's mission, one that would end with him dramatically experiencing what the power of the Lord he hated so much could do
On the road to Damascus, the supposedly powerful Saul crumbled under the infinite power of the Lord he fought so hard to destroy. "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" Struck to the ground and rendered blind, Saul was directed to go to Damascus, where he would await further instructions.
As you read this story, you see the power of rescuing grace unfold before your eyes.
The Assignment - Ananias And His Job Description
Enter the main character of the story - Ananias. (Or, at least, a significant character who we often forget about!) The Lord tells Ananias to go to Damascus to the house where Saul is, then lay hands on him so that he can regain his sight. Immediately, Ananias sees red flags everywhere. He thinks, "Hold on a minute. I know this guy. Everyone is talking about him and the evil he has done to believers in Jerusalem. And haven't the chief priests given him special authority in this jurisdiction? Lord, do you know what you're asking me to do? Why me? Why him?"
I'm so glad that the Bible records the collision between fear and faith in the heart of Ananias for us to watch.
Let's be real: Ananias had every right to be afraid. Saul was a man with evil intent, and he had been given authority to exercise that evil. If this job description didn't put a lump in your throat and shivers in your heart, you would be seriously delusional.
But here's the bigger issue in this story of faith: would Ananias allow that justifiable fear to rule his heart and shape his response, or would his fear of God determine his next steps? I am deeply persuaded that it's only fear that ever defeats fear. Only a greater fear of God can decimate the lesser fear of man, or the fear of situations, locations, and circumstances.
What does this fear of God look like? Because of my reverential awe of, and faith in, the Lord's power and glory, I walk toward the thing that I would normally run away from, placing myself in his powerful and loving hands by obeying his call. Fear of God doesn't mean that I cease being afraid of the thing God is calling me to, but it does mean that my vertical fear (of God) is what ultimately determines my words and actions, not my horizontal fear (of people, places, or things).
This is exactly what Ananias did. Maybe he worried all the way, but he still went. Perhaps he hesitated and thought about turning back a few times, but he still completed the journey. Maybe he nervously prayed for help and safety with every step, but he still stepped forward. Perhaps he reconciled himself to the fact that he might die, but he didn't allow even the fear of death to stop him. Every step between where he was and where blind Saul waited was a step of faith, moving towards God in fear instead of away from Saul in fear.
The Paradox – Grace In Action
Imagine what it must have been like for Ananias to enter the house where Saul was waiting for him. As he crossed over the threshold, would he be seized, bound, and executed? But in a surprising twist, the Saul whom Ananias encountered was not a man to be feared, but a man to be pitied and loved.
What appeared to be the worst job description ever was actually the best gospel opportunity ever. Ananias was called to go to Damascus and, with his hands and words, make the invisible grace of Jesus visible. Ananias laid his hands on Saul and addressed him as brother. The touch of Ananias' hands was the incarnation of the accepting hands of the Savior. The word "brother" defined the glorious message of God's adoption for Saul. With one little act, the life of this murderous man was changed forever, and the legacy of the Apostle Paul's ministry has since shaped the faith of every person who has ever believed in Jesus.
It's hard for me to capture with words the paradox of grace in this story. By grace, God robbed Saul of all his evil power to fill him with holy power. By grace, God rendered Saul blind so that for the first time in his life, he would truly see. By grace, this agent of death was being called to find new life in the death of Jesus. By grace, this man who was radically committed to destroying the church would be called to radically build the same church. By grace, this messenger of threats and murder who hated the words of the Lord would become one of the most prolific messengers of the Word of the Lord.
This amazing narrative took place because God chose one timid Christian to be an instrument of his transforming grace in the life of Saul. And that timid Christian, Ananias, determined to allow the fear of God rule his heart. All I can write is WOW!
This story is a picture of what God is able to do through the willing obedience of one fearful believer. The Lord doesn't need you to be strong, because he is. He doesn't need you to be a hero, because he is the Hero of heroes. No, he chooses to send the timid into battle, and through them, he displays the power of his might and the glory of his grace.
God will call unlikely people like you and me and Ananias to do extraordinary things. In these moments, when obedience seems unsafe, he asks one thing of us: let the fear of God reign in our heart.