1Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
Reflection: Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord…
It is hard to imagine that the person who has had more influence on Christianity than any one else (other than Jesus!) was once the greatest enemy of the Church. Saul was actively seeking to persecute Christians, not by merely giving them a slap on the wrist, but even subjecting them to torture and murder. He was an agent of the ruling religious class, who felt threatened by the disciples and the work of the kingdom of God. The common Jewish people were receiving the Gospel with joy and acceptance. The only thing that could potentially halt the movement of the Gospel was to threaten violence and oppression against these vulnerable and defenseless commoners. How tragic that the ones who were entrusted with their spiritual care were willing to do them harm in order to cling to power.
But I think that God’s choice of Saul – a man steeped in evil – to be transformed into a faithful missionary of the Church was intentional. How better to show the world the power of the Gospel? If the most despicable person can be redeemed, who cannot be redeemed? If there is hope for Saul, then there is hope for us all.
There is a scene in the movie The Mission in which Robert deNiro’s character experiences a Saul-like moment of redemption. A convicted murderer in his own country, deNiro’s character is sent with some missionaries to the brutal jungles of South America. He is forced to drag a large pack behind him, tied to him by a rope, all along the journey up the steep mountains and through the thick jungle. Finally, the group reaches the indigenous people group they have been ministering to and one of the indigenous men goes up to him with a knife. Many who are watching are concerned that he is going to kill the foreign man with an evil past. Instead, he cuts the rope and takes the man’s burden and throws it into the water. The man is free, he has been redeemed, and he now becomes a worker for the kingdom of God.
Think about your own experience of forgiveness and redemption. You might not have had the past of Saul, but we have all been in need of redemption. In fact, we are all in need of continual sanctification, which completes the work of reforming the redeemed. How has Christ redeemed you? Where has God brought you from and where is God taking you? God’s mercy is never exhausted and the hope of the kingdom of God is always transformative in nature.
Journaling Focus: He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Have you ever heard the voice of God? There are many ways we can hear God and there are many situations in which God might speak to us – in guidance, warning, conviction, comfort, etc. Reflect on a time in which you heard from God. How did you know it was God speaking? Why did God speak to you at that time? What did God tell you? Consider how you might be more attentive to God’s voice – what would this look like?
This practice allows you to listen to the Scripture for the week (sometimes in larger context) and to open yourself up to God’s voice in that Scripture.
- Click on the audio link above and listen to the Scripture. As you listen this first time, ask God to point out to you a word or phrase from the Scripture.
- Click on the audio link above again and listen to the Scripture a second time. As you listen this second time, ask God to reveal to you the holy intentions for this word or phrase that is being spoken into your life.
- Click on the audio link above again and listen to the Scripture a third time. As you listen this third time, ask God how you might respond to this word or phrase being spoken into your life today.
These questions are designed to help make sense of the message of Scripture. They are not designed to overwhelm, but to enlighten. Do not feel as if you need to answer all – or even most – of these questions every week. Perhaps pick one or two that will help you explore the Scripture and its message more deeply.
Reading Scripture to Know:
- What is happening/being said? (Observation)
- Why is this happening/being said? (Interpretation)
- What does the rest of Scripture say about it? (Evaluation)
- What does it mean? (Understanding)
- What does it mean for us? (Application)
Reading Scripture to Grow:
- What words or phrases stand out to you? Why?
- Where do you hear the voice of God in this Scripture?
- How do you see the character of God reflected in this Scripture?
- How does this Scripture reveal God?
- How does this Scripture expose humanity and its need for God?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in your life?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in our world?
- What might God want to communicate to you (us) this week through this Scripture?
Scripture Reads Me:
- This passage makes me feel…
- This passage makes me think about…
- This passage reminds me of…
- This passage teaches me that God is…
- This passage teaches me that I am…
- This passage challenges me to…
Listen to the song, Change My Heart, Oh God. This is an older praise song with a simple, but powerful, message. Think of how God has shaped and formed you as you listen. What is God communicating to you through this song? What might you communicate to God through this song?
Prayer Focus: Saul…went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
There has been so much religious violence in the world lately, specifically acts of terrorism against communities of faith. These tragedies have been shared by Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and many more. No one should ever be the victim of violence due to their religious beliefs (nor for any reason for that matter). Pray for those communities who have been attacked. Ask God to change the hearts of the violent. Trust that God’s merciful grace will meet us all in these times of bigotry and hate and bring us to a place of non-violent peace.
Meditation Focus: Get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.
Sometimes we are called into faithful action without knowing just what the details will look like. Perhaps that is what makes it an act of faith. Imagine yourself getting up and entering the “city” of faithfulness. Notice what is outside the city – perhaps these are the things that seem good, but are not God’s will. Notice what is inside the city – these are the places God is calling you to in faith and trust. Is there anything about the things inside (or outside) the city that surprise you? Are there things that God is calling you to leave behind out of obedience? Are there things God is calling you to pick up out of obedience? Sit in the middle of the “city” of faithfulness to God and await a word from the Lord, who will tell you “what you are to do.” You may need to revisit this “city” often to receive God’s guidance.
Take some time to reflect upon your day or your week. Follow the process below and open yourself up to the presence and work of God in your life this week. Every week the structure is the same, but some specifics are changed to reflect the Scripture of the week.
- Find a place and posture that will prepare you for prayer.
- Begin by breathing in deeply through your nose and breathing deeply out of your mouth.
- Invite God to lead you through the previous day or week. For instance, if it is Tuesday night, reflect back on Tuesday morning, afternoon, and evening. If it is Saturday or Sunday, reflect back on Monday through Friday.
- Ask God to guide you through these questions:
- How has God invited you into a process of transformation?
- Where have you seen mercy and grace at work?
- How are you being called toward holiness?
- Thank God for this journey of reflection on your day or week. Ask God to continue to reveal Godself to you tomorrow.
Give someone the benefit of the doubt this week. Perhaps you have a person who has hurt you deeply. Show them some grace, remembering that you are in need of grace as well. We will not always see those we forgive change their ways. However, your offer of grace might be the fresh start someone needs in order to change.
Breath Prayer: LORD God, transform us.