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Don’t Write Off Anyone
Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Ananias hurries through the narrow Damascus streets.1 His dense and bristling beard does not hide his serious face. Friends call as he passes, but he doesn’t pause. He murmurs as he goes, “Saul? Saul? No way. Can’t be true.”
He wonders if he misheard the instructions. Wonders if he should turn around and inform his wife. Wonders if he should stop and tell someone where he is headed in case he never returns. But he doesn’t. Friends would call him a fool. His wife would tell him not to go.
But he has to. He scampers through the courtyard of chickens, towering camels, and little donkeys. He steps past the shop of the tailor and doesn’t respond to the greeting of the tanner. He keeps moving until he reaches the street called Straight. The inn has low arches and large rooms with mattresses. Nice by Damascus standards, the place of choice by any person of significance or power, and Saul is certainly both.
Ananias and the other Christians have been preparing for him. Some of the disciples have left the city. Others have gone into hiding. Saul’s reputation as a Christian killer preceded him. But the idea of Saul the Christ follower?
That was the message of the vision. Ananias replays it one more time.
Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight. (Acts 9:11–12)
Ananias nearly choked on his matzo. This isn’t possible! He reminded God of Saul’s hard heart. “I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem” (v. 13). Saul a Christian? Sure, as soon as a turtle learns to two-step.
But God wasn’t teasing. “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel” (v. 15).
Ananias rehashes the words as he walks. The name Saul doesn’t couple well with chosen vessel. Saul the thick head—yes. Saul the critic—okay. But Saul the chosen vessel? Ananias shakes his head at the thought. By now he is halfway down Straight Street and seriously considering turning around and going home. He would have, except the two guards spot him.
“What brings you here?” they shout from the second story. They stand at attention. Their faces are wintry with unrest.
Ananias knows who they are—soldiers from the temple. Traveling companions of Saul.
“I’ve been sent to help the rabbi.”
They lower their spears. “We hope you can. Something has happened to him. He doesn’t eat or drink. Scarcely speaks.”
Ananias can’t turn back now. He ascends the stone stairs. The guards step aside, and Ananias steps into the doorway. He gasps at what he sees. A gaunt man sitting cross-legged on the floor, half shadowed by a shaft of sunlight. Hollow-cheeked and dry-lipped, he rocks back and forth, groaning a prayer.
“How long has he been like this?”
Saul’s head sits large on his shoulders. He has a beaked nose and a bushy ridge for eyebrows. The food on the plate and the water in the cup sit untouched on the floor. His eyes stare out of their sockets in the direction of an open window. A crusty film covers them. Saul doesn’t even wave the flies away from his face. Ananias hesitates. If this is a setup, he is history. If not, the moment is.
This encounter deserves something special: a drumroll, a stained-glass reenactment in a church window, some pages in a book called You, on a Pew? Before we read about Augustine and the child’s voice or C. S. Lewis and the Inklings, we need to read about Saul, stubborn Saul, and the disciple who took a chance on him.
No one could fault Ananias’s reluctance. Saul saw Christians as couriers of a plague. He stood near the high priest at Stephen’s trial. He watched over the coats of stone throwers at the execution. He nodded in approval at Stephen’s final breath. And when the Sanhedrin needed a hit man to terrorize the church, Saul stepped forward. He became the Angel of Death. He descended on the Christians in a fury “uttering threats with every breath” (Acts 9:1 nlt). He “persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it” (Gal. 1:13).
Ananias knew what Saul had done to the church in Jerusalem. What he was about to learn, however, is what Jesus had done to Saul on the road to Damascus.
The trip was Saul’s idea. The city had seen large numbers of conversions. When word of the revival reached Saul, he made his request: “Send me.” So the fiery young Hebrew left Jerusalem on his first missionary journey, hell-bent on stopping the church. The journey to Damascus was a long one, 150 miles. Saul likely rode horseback, careful to bypass the Gentile villages. This was a holy journey.
It was also a hot journey. The lowland between Mount Hermon and Damascus could melt silver. The sun struck like spears; the heat made waves out of the horizon. Somewhere on this thirsty trail, Jesus knocked Saul to the ground and asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4).
Saul jammed his fists into his eye sockets as if they were filled with sand. He rolled onto his knees and lowered his head down to the earth. “‘Who are You, Lord?’ Then the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’” (v. 5). When Saul lifted his head to look, the living centers of his eyes had vanished. He was blind. He had the vacant stare of a Roman statue.
His guards rushed to help. They led him to the Damascus inn and walked him up the stairwell.
By the time Ananias arrives, blind Saul has begun to see Jesus in a different light.
Ananias enters and sits on the stone floor. He takes the hand of the had-been terrorist and feels it tremble. He observes Saul’s quivering lips. Taking note of the sword and spear resting in the corner, Ananias realizes Christ has already done the work. All that remains is for Ananias to show Saul the next step. “Brother Saul . . . ” (How sweet those words must have sounded. Saul surely wept upon hearing them.)
Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. (v. 17)
Tears rush like a tide against the crusts on Saul’s eyes. The scaly covering loosens and falls away. He blinks and sees the face of his new friend.
Within the hour he’s stepping out of the waters of baptism. Within a few days he’s preaching in a synagogue. The first of a thousand sermons. Saul soon becomes Paul, and Paul preaches from the hills of Athens, pens letters from the bowels of prisons, and ultimately sires a genealogy of theologians, including Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin.
God used Paul to touch the world. But he first used Ananias to touch Paul. Has God given you a similar assignment? Has God given you a Saul?
A mother recently talked to me about her son. He’s serving time in a maximum-security unit for robbery. Everyone else, even his father, has given up on the young man. But his mom has a different outlook. She really thinks her son’s best years are ahead of him. “He’s a good boy,” she said firmly. “When he gets out of there, he’s going to make something out of his life.”
Another Saul, another Ananias.
I ran into a friend in a bookstore. He recently celebrated his fiftieth wedding anniversary. He teared up as he described the saint he married and the jerk his wife married. “I didn’t believe in God. I didn’t treat people with respect. Six weeks into the marriage, I came home one day to find her crying in the bathtub about the mistake she had made. But she never gave up on me.”
Another Saul, another Ananias.
And you? Everyone else has written off your Saul. “He’s too far gone.” “She’s too hard . . . too addicted . . . too old . . . too cold.” No one gives your Saul a prayer. But you are beginning to realize that maybe God is at work behind the scenes. Maybe it’s too soon to throw in the towel . . . You begin to believe.
Don’t resist these thoughts.
Joseph didn’t. His brothers sold him into Egyptian slavery. Yet he welcomed them into his palace.
David didn’t. King Saul had a vendetta against David, but David had a soft spot for Saul. He called him “the Lord’s anointed” (1 Sam. 24:10).
Hosea didn’t. His wife, Gomer, was queen of the red-light district, but Hosea kept his front door open. And she came home.
Of course, no one believed in people more than Jesus did. He saw something in Peter worth developing, in the adulterous woman worth forgiving, and in John worth harnessing. He saw something in the thief on the cross, and what he saw was worth saving. And in the life of a wild-eyed, bloodthirsty extremist, he saw an apostle of grace. He believed in Saul. And he believed in Saul through Ananias.
“Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Don’t give up on your Saul. When others write him off, give him another chance. Stay strong. Call him brother. Call her sister. Tell your Saul about Jesus, and pray. And remember this: God never sends you where he hasn’t already been. By the time you reach your Saul, who knows what you’ll find.
My favorite Ananias-type story involves a couple of college roommates. The Ananias of the pair was a tolerant soul. He tolerated his friend’s late-night drunkenness, midnight throw-ups, and all day sleep-ins. He didn’t complain when his friend disappeared for the weekend or smoked cigarettes in the car. He could have requested a roommate who went to church more or cursed less or cared about something other than impressing girls.
But he hung with his personal Saul, seeming to think that something good could happen if the guy could pull his life together. So he kept cleaning up the mess, inviting his roommate to church, and covering his back.
I don’t remember a bright light or a loud voice. I’ve never traveled a desert road to Damascus. But I distinctly remember Jesus knocking me off my perch and flipping on the light. It took four semesters, but Steve’s example and Jesus’ message finally got through.
So if this book lifts your spirit, you might thank God for my Ananias, Steve Green. Even more, you might listen to that voice in your heart and look on your map for a street called Straight.
I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
(1 Timothy 1:16 niv)
O Lord, nobody lies beyond the grasp of your grace. Who in my life do I see as hopeless? What man or woman who currently seems far from you do you want to bring into your family, in part through me? What Saul is out there to whom I could become an Ananias? Father, I pray that you would show your greatness and your power by using me in some way to introduce an “unlikely candidate” to your son. Help me triumph over my fears and obliterate my misconceptions as you work through me to bring someone else, through faith, into the circle of your love. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.
Questions for Discussion
1. Name a very public or famous person whom nobody would expect to convert to Christianity. Why does it seem so unlikely that the person would become a Christian?
2. Share a story either about yourself or someone whom you know personally that made an unexpected radical conversion to God.
3. “Has God given you a Saul?” Is there someone in your life whom most people have given up on and dismissed? How could you be an Ananias for that person?
4. What does Scripture say about reaching out to those in need? How can you be more sensitive to the Father’s promptings in this area?
5. How would you describe your conversion? Was it sudden or gradual? What are you doing to help others experience conversion?
Ideas for Action
■ If you struggled to think of a potential Saul in your life, try to meet someone who could become that person. What kind of routine environment would help you become friends with people who are far from God—or even opposed to God? Remember, God may be leading you to that place just as he led Ananias to Straight Street.
■ Schedule time with a person who has converted to Christ and may need a mature Christian to disciple him or her. Start the process by simply asking that individual to retell his or her story, and then ask how you could help in the next leg of the journey.
“Reprinted by permission. Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make A Difference by Max Lucado, 2010, copyright date, Thomas Nelson Inc. Nashville, Tennessee. All rights reserved.”