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Acts 9: 1 – 2

Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them in shackles to Jerusalem.

In yesterday’s Word of the Day, I attempted to persuade you not to judge people, Catholics specifically but people generally, based on their religious affiliation. Today, I am hoping we can take a step further.

Imagine, if you will, that you were a Christian living in the time of Paul, but before his conversion. Survival alone would cause us to be wary of him. He was passionate about pursuing and killing Christians. At that time, Christians were called followers of “The Way” because Jesus proclaimed himself as the way (John 14: 6). Saul was not a person you would wish to encounter. In fact, he participated in the stoning of Stephen. The Bible says, “Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death” (Acts 8: 1). So, who would want to be around this guy? Moreover, how could you help but judge him as dangerous and a hater of Jesus and all who followed him? And yet, God saw something in this man that few of us would have. God saw passion and love for the God of the Jews. Sure, Saul was dead wrong in denying Jesus as the Messiah, but God saw in him something He liked, something He could use. Although Saul went from town to town persecuting Christians when God struck him it was to convert him, not kill him. It seems, then, that being wrong isn’t a sin. Failing to seek truth is a problem, but if one seeks, he shall surely find.

Do you think Saul was a man of prayer? I kind of think so. He was devout in the ways he knew. We know he was a Jew’s Jew and a keeper of the law, so I imagine he gave himself to prayer and was generous in his offerings. Without a doubt, he was a tither. He thought he was serving Yahweh when he rooted out Christian groups and subjected them to harsh, even lethal penalties, for their religious beliefs. I bring this up because it was said of Cornelius that he was a man of generosity and prayer. Both Cornelius and Saul received visitations, so I extrapolate from the passage about Cornelius and what we know about Saul that both men were generous in their giving and that they both were people of prayer.

Second, we can see that Saul was passionate in his service to God, even if he was misguided. Passion and devotion in prayer and offerings seem to be common factors in these two men’s lives. So, my first point is that we too should consider being as devoted as they; that we should give generously and devote ourselves to prayer. Now, this is not the current American Christian culture so we have to make our own concerted efforts in these directions for you will not be able to follow the crowd.

The second point I would like to make is that even though many of us consider Muslims our enemies, an idea which became more pronounced after the 9/11 disaster, we should be praying for them. When I say pray for them, I mean to pray from a heart of compassion. Think again about Saul. I am sure there were people of that day praying against him. I wonder, though, if there were some praying for his eyes to be opened so that he might see the truth. I think so and here is why. When Saul was knocked off his donkey, he arose blind. Well, many of that day would argue he was already blind, otherwise he wouldn’t persecute the followers of Jesus. Anyway, Jesus spoke to a believer named Ananias telling him to go to Saul, lay hands on him and pray. Ananias didn’t want to go because he knew Saul and was afraid of him, but Jesus told him to go revealing that right at that very moment Saul was praying to him. Jesus revealed that he had given Saul a vision of a man named Ananias praying for him. So, I wonder, were people praying for Saul to receive a true revelation of Christ or was it his own passion for God that stirred the trinity?

Truthfully, it doesn’t matter. The conclusion of the story is that Ananias obeyed God, prayed for Saul and with the laying on of his hands, Saul’s vision was restored. Metaphorically, it could be said that Saul began to see for the first time. His life completely turned around, later to be imprisoned himself for his belief in Jesus, the Christ.

Whether we like how someone believes or even fear their zealous service to their faith the best thing we can do is pray for them to have an encounter with Jesus. We can pray that the shingles will fall from their eyes as was so with Saul. God can do more with one person of passion than with a boatload of lukewarm Christians. The passion of Saul might have been misdirected, but one touch from Jesus can turn around even a Saul. Our job is to stir up that kind of zeal in our own hearts so that we become people of devoted prayer. Second, pray for those who persecute us so that they may see the truth and be transformed from Sauls into Pauls.

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