A few years ago I used to go walking with a friend who was a seeker….he didn’t quite know what he was seeking though! He knew he felt a pull towards some sort of spirituality, he was a Tai Chi instructor and had investigated Eastern religions in the past but somehow nothing had really touched his soul deeply enough to make any sort of firm commitment.
This was not long after I had been ordained and my friend was fascinated by this, constantly asking questions about what it meant to my life and eager to know if I had had some sort of Damascus road experience where God had appeared to me and spelt out very clearly exactly what His plan for my life was. I think my friend felt rather disappointed that my journey to ordination had not been anywhere near as dramatic as that and he spoke of how he longed for such a clear sign from God so that he too could have a steadfast faith. I used to tell him that if he did have such a moment I hoped I would be there to witness it!
The account of Paul’s conversion has to be one of the most well known in scripture. Here was a man, a zealous Jew, who went from being famed for persecuting Jesus’s followers to being one of the main foundations of the building of the church.
Now it wasn’t as though Paul had no faith at all – he would have claimed to be a holy and righteous man, protective of his beliefs and determined that they shouldn’t be eroded by this new sect of so called Christians.
But it is a bit of a puzzle as to why God should choose His greatest critic of the time to be His greatest advocate.
It reminds me a little of people who have given up an addiction of some sort – from being avid participants in a destructive behaviour such as smoking, alcohol or drug misuse, gambling and other issues, those in recovery are often the greatest advocates for their new lifestyle and indeed the greatest encouragers of those who are trying so hard to reach similar goals.
Paul had been addicted to persecuting the emerging Church yet after his dramatic conversion he becomes totally committed to spreading the Gospel and helping others to be released from the tyranny of sin into the gift of eternal life.
I wonder if any of you have undergone such a radical moment when you have known without a doubt of the magnitude of what Jesus did for us on the Cross and at that point have given your life to His service? Or has it been a more gradual process where you have felt God gently nudging you along a path at the end of which you have felt moved to that make that commitment?
There is no hierarchy of transformation, each experience is as valuable to God and His mission as the other.
One of the aspects of Paul’s ministry that I really love is that he remained a tentmaker as well as taking the Gospel out across the known world. I think this is a wonderful encouragement to us all that God calls us in our entirety to serve Him and that it is through our ordinary lives that we are able to touch the lives of others. When I was initially ordained I was a “worker” priest, that is I combined parish ministry with a secular role and I believe that God used me as much in that context as He did in the traditional setting that one expects to find a priest. Even now my most Spirit filled encounters are often the ones I have in all sorts of places other than church buildings and for that I am so thankful.
This week we have looked at all sorts of Biblical transformations and these are inspirational but for me the real inspiration is in the transformed lives of people I meet in the course of everyday life. These are the examples we need to celebrate. I would love to know how God has transformed your life and how this has enabled you to point others to His love so if you have a tale to tell don’t be shy, share it with me and indeed with others, for that is the way that we can be part of God’s mission to build HIs kingdom here on earth.