We had a great visit from Jeff Smith of Salt and Light Ministries at Forest Brook this past Sunday. Jeff is a master story-teller who has been helping churches find creative ways of communicating for 30 years now. He spoke about the power of story, and how each of us needs to learn to tell our story as a testimony to God’s power, goodness and faithfulness.
He used the story the conversion of Saul (Acts 9) as an example. This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible, but not for the reason you may think. Every time I read (or hear) this story it’s not the dramatic encounter with Jesus which Saul has that I’m drawn to. It’s the incredible interaction of the Holy Spirit and an everyday believer named Ananias.
After Jesus confronts Saul (and leaves him blind) – the scene switches to a home in Damascus where Ananias hears from the Lord in a vision. The Spirit tells him that he is to go to a house on Straight Street where he will find the man, Saul of Tarsus, whom he is to pray for in order for Saul to be healed of his blindness. I love the interaction that follows.
Here’s a tip about Bible reading – you can’t rush over the stories or you’ll miss the deep richness in them. You have to try and dwell within them for a while. Imagine yourself a fly on the wall, or as a silent character in the story yourself, observing and hearing everything that is going on.
So Ananias gets this vision and is told to go and heal Saul. You can’t fault him for his response to the Spirit. “Um, Lord – are you sure? I’ve heard that this fellow Saul has done great harm to your people in Jerusalem and that now he’s come here to Damascus with the authority to do the same here.” The Spirit doesn’t flinch, but says, “Go!” And here is the most remarkable thing – Ananias goes!
I mean think about it! That’s crazy! To the best of his knowledge Ananias thinks that this Saul is an enemy of God’s people, and all he has is the prompting of the Spirit in a vision to say otherwise. He’s risking his life if he’s wrong. But Ananias knows the voice of the Holy Spirit, and he knows how to be led by the Spirit, so he goes to Straight Street in obedience. The rest is history. We don’t hear about Ananias again in the Scriptures -- from here the story becomes Paul’s. But what a part played by this everyday believer in Damascus.
And that’s the way God works. He uses everyday believers like you and me. The Holy Spirit is prevenient – that means he is at work ahead of us. If we are listening, and willing to obey, the Spirit will show us what he’s doing and invite us into the gospel work of salvation and reconciliation going on all around us. That’s why it’s so important that we’ve learned to listen to, and be led by, the Holy Spirit as Christians. But beware! If we’re listening, we may be asked to go and do some impossible things for the sake of the Kingdom. But who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? Just think of the God-sized stories we’ll be able to tell!