Sometimes the Calling Precedes the Belief

By Shannon Lee

My pastor Pete Hixson started a new series this past Sunday called Choose to be Used. The premise of his message is how Jesus uses ordinary people for His extraordinary purposes. The message began in Acts 26:9-20, Paul’s account before King Agrippa. Paul is being accused of criminal conduct for reasons including the claim that Jesus rose from the dead.

Paul tells of his dedication to his faith, saying he lived as a “strict Pharisee”. His faith made him truly committed to what he believed God had promised his ancestors and so he is completely befuddled as to why it would be considered a criminal offense to believe that the dead can be raised. Paul even goes on to say that he didn’t always believe this, however!  In fact, in the Message, Paul says this:

“For a time I thought it was my duty to oppose this Jesus of Nazareth with all my might. Backed with the full authority of the high priests, I threw these believers – I had no idea they were God’s people! – into the Jerusalem jail right and left, and whenever it came to a vote, I voted for their execution. I stormed through their meeting places, bullying them into cursing Jesus, a one-man terror obsessed with obliterating these people.”

 Then one day, while on his way, doing similar activities as described above, Jesus appears to him and says something along the lines of, ‘Hey yeah, I’m the guy you’re hunting down. But anyway, get on your feet…I have a job for you.’ Jesus even goes on to say that Paul has been “handpicked” by Jesus for this work.

This truly is a tremendous story of how God can use anyone – even someone set on destroying the lives of those who believe in this Jesus. For any and all who believe their lives have no meaning; their work, their efforts, their presence make no difference…this story provides great hope!

But what I was so struck by in this passage wasn’t so much WHAT happened but WHEN.

If you read the entire passage you will find Jesus appears to Paul after a bright light shines in the middle of the day. This light so grips Paul’s attention, he falls to the ground! Jesus proceeds to tell Paul, “Get up, I have a job for you.” And, immediately following this profound experience, Paul says he became an “obedient believer on the spot”.

As I listened once again to the above story unfold, I realized 3 things:

First, Jesus’ call ‘to go do’ preceded Paul’s belief.

How often do we expect belief and even RIGHT belief before we invite people to do the work of the Kingdom?  How often do we expect people to behave a certain way before we invite them into Kingdom work?

Second, Jesus qualified Paul while he was a Pharisee.

Pharisees were known for being extremely devout to their religious beliefs, and wanting to be recognized for them as well! They were a distinct group and not everyone qualified.  Here, Jesus makes no requirement of qualifications.  No wonder this experience was so impactful for Paul the Pharisee!

And finally, Jesus made no demand of Paul to believe in Him.

But Jesus did give Paul a very specific job to do: to SERVE and to WITNESS.  Paul was to witness about what he had just experienced AND he was to witness about things Jesus had yet to share with him. Paul’s transformation then begins.

How could anyone not be transformed by a love and mercy that reaches out like this?

Amazing!

The lesson for me here was to remember what it was like when I first felt the tug of Jesus’ call to me. He never made a demand on me to change or even to believe.  He gently and persistently called me to something bigger than myself – the Kingdom.  He wooed me into His work, and I could not resist. This was how I was compelled to God. It seems to me, Paul was compelled in a similar way.

What can we learn from this?

Demanding belief before inviting people in doesn’t really work.  It may just be we focus so heavily on trying to get people to believe in Jesus that we forget Jesus has already qualified them, he has already called them. Maybe treating people as such – even if their actions don’t seem to qualify – maybe this is the very thing which transforms lives and compels people to Jesus.

Maybe then, when we treat others like this, can we simply serve and give witness to this truth too, just like Paul.

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