I love to read the narratives in Scripture. Stories are such a great way to make a point, but more than that, they are made especially rich by the sideline characters and details that are easily missed if one is not paying attention. I had such an epiphany recently as I was reading Acts 9.
Acts 9:1-31 is the account of Saul’s conversion. It’s an episode of such huge proportion that it virtually eclipses everything else that happens in the chapter- but not quite. Not if you are paying attention. While Saul’s encounter with the Risen Christ on his trip to Damascus is clearly the main event, there were two peripheral details that popped out in the story, fueling my reflection and prayer.
First, notice the guy named Ananias. He’s actually one of my Biblical heroes. He’s an everyday follower of Jesus who gets ‘chosen’ by the Holy Spirit to go and visit Christian-killing Saul at the house of Judas on Straight Street. You have to love Ananias for his reaction to this assignment! He meekly asks the Holy Spirt if He’s lost His mind (the Bible puts it more politely than that- I’m reading between the lines here.) The Spirit insists, so Ananias goes. Saul is healed, converted, becomes the Roman world’s biggest evangelist, and goes on to write a bunch of the Bible for the rest of us. Score a big one for Ananias!
The second detail is what happens (or more accurately, who happens) after Saul is converted. Saul is a zealot for Jesus, so he quickly becomes public enemy #1 among his Jewish friends. And his newest friends, the Christians, are too scared of him to trust him. So Saul finds himself in no man’s land, until a fellow named Barnabas steps in. What we know of Barnabas is that he was called “the son of comfort”. This guy had compassion in spades. And guess what, compassion is one of the gifts of the Spirit (Romans 12:8). So it’s not a stretch to think that Barnabas, a man filled with the Holy Spirit, was moved toward Saul by the Spirit, because of the gift of showing mercy.
And that’s the lesson here about how the Holy Spirit works in all of God’s people. We don’t all prophesy, get words of knowledge or have the ability to speak healing into someone’s life. But some of us do! Others of us are better at helping out wherever we are needed, or organizing things and people, or showing compassion to those who are feeling left out or left behind. But make no mistake - all of these are the supernatural empowerments of the One Holy Spirit, who is working in and through us to accomplish the purposes of God.
We’ve been learning more about what it means to be filled with, and led by, the Holy Spirit as God’s people. What this story teaches us is that this doesn’t look the same for everybody. Ananias heard the Holy Spirit speak to him, and he responded. There’s nothing in the text to suggest that Barnabas heard anything – but because of his gifting, it’s pretty clear that it was holy compassion within him that prompted him to cross the road and find Saul.
So when you hear me say, “let’s be filled with, and led by the Holy Spirit” on Sunday mornings, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that it will look the same for all of us. I’m saying that each of us needs to seek the Spirit, learn how He leads us personally, and respond. Let’s be very grateful for those in our community who have the Spirit work through them in ways that are strikingly miraculous and wondrous– but let’s be just as grateful for those in our fellowship who the Spirit works through in less obvious ways. It’s all miraculous!
If it’s from the Holy Spirit - we want it. However the Spirit moves you, please be obedient. What the Spirit touches, He changes. So learn how to discern His leading in your own life, and follow through as you’re led. The church, and the world, will be better for it.