Text: Acts 9:10-19
On November 2, 2003, a young man visited Good Shepherd. I spoke to him after the service and he told me that he had experienced a conversion to Christianity at home alone in his living room after reading a children’s story to his daughter. He came to our church because he looked on the Internet and we were one of the closest he could find to his house. He wanted to know what to do now. He had lots of questions… I mean LOTS of questions. And he had spent most of his late teens and 20s being pretty angry at God and hostile towards Christianity. You might think: isn’t that the kind of person a pastor longs to run into? And I’d say absolutely, yes! But it wasn’t just me; many in the church ended up engaging with him and wrestling with his questions. He had a passion and fervor for his new-found faith that shook us up in all the best ways, but also some ways we weren’t used to. He also started sharing his story with some of his friends. Some of them the Lord brought to faith as well; and some are leaders among us even now, sixteen years later. And interestingly enough – perhaps ironically – that young man shared the same name with a strikingly similar figure in our text today.
In Acts 9, leading up to today’s text, we read of another man who was hostile to Christian faith. In fact he was so hostile that he hunted Christians to persecute and kill them. Yet he also encountered Jesus in a life-changing moment and was left with lots of questions and waiting to understand what it was God wanted from him.
Today we continue our “Here I am” series, looking at Ananias, a regular man whom God sent to Saul. I want to look at the mission God gave him, what discernment looked like for him, and what God brought about through his obedience. My hope is that this will not just be another story or set of Bible trivia for you to catalogue, but that you will be listening for what God is asking you to do and that you be available and ready for that work.
This story opens like several others that we have looked at in the past few weeks. The Lord speaks to Ananias in a vision, calling his name. And Ananias answers, “Here I am, Lord.” (v.10) Before we get to the mission God has for Ananias, I want to tell you a little about him. Verse 10 says that he is a ‘disciple.’ But don’t let that mis-lead you. He is not one of the twelve disciples – they are now called the Apostles. Rather, it simply means he is a student or follower of Jesus. If I can translate that into our context, he’s a regular church-going dude. You can’t get off the hook by saying that this is a story for pastors or elders or mature Christians. This is an ordinary believer called to serve by our extraordinary God. In fact, I’ll press that even a little further. Ananias is mentioned again in Acts 22 when Saul (now named Paul) is recounting this same story from his point of view. He describes Ananias as a “man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well-spoken of by all the Jews who lived there.” (v. 12) In other words, he was a follower of Jesus who did not draw any attention to himself. Even in the eyes of Saul the former persecutor of Christians, Ananias could pass for a regular Jewish person. You may have heard the question put before: If you were put on trial for your faith, would there be enough evidence to convict you? It seems that when it came to the new Christian faith of Ananias, there might have not been sufficient evidence.
I say all that to say that if you think God is just interested in pastors, elders, youth leaders, or certain kinds of Christians, He’s not. In fact, if you look at all at who God uses, you’ll find a lot of ordinary people. In fact, almost entirely people with questions, doubts, hang-ups, a rocky past (or present!), and more. What they have in common is that when God spoke to them, nudged them, moved them, they said, “Here I am.”
So here’s what God wanted Ananias to do: “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.” (vv.11-12)
Hey, go down Swan’s Run until you get to Bon Rea. Then knock on door of the 2nd house on the left and ask if there is someone there you can pray for. They are expecting something like this.
I know, right? Except that I’ve seen something like it and so have many of you. God’s going to break through the walls of this 28 yr. old guy through a children’s story and send him to you and I want you to pray with him and love him with the love of Jesus.
I am struck by the reality that God often works the long game and the things He asks us to do are one faithful brick in a glorious house He is building. We may get to glimpse the whole or the shape of the whole; or we may not. But if it is God giving the mission, then it’s the right thing to do. And that’s why we are spending time on this series about hearing God’s voice or leading and responding in faith.
But is every thought, every idea, from God? How do we know? In the verses that follow, I want to look at two things going on. One is Ananias wrestling with some legitimate fear. The other is what I would describe as a discernment process. Let’s look.
First, let’s consider the fear or hesitation. Ananias answered the mission like this: “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” (vv.13-14) Our fears can be complicated. Saul WAS someone to be feared. But I have also noted that Ananias was not known for flaunting his Christian faith. He didn’t want any trouble.
But let me also frame this as discernment. Discernment is a form of listening and being available. It is faith seeking understanding. Since God doesn’t ordinarily speak in an audible voice, it is good to discern whether a nudge or leading is truly from God or not. It’s okay to talk to God some more – that is, pray! – and seek clarification and further direction. I’m not talking about stalling indefinitely, but seeking further direction and guidance. So, Ananias speaks in his dream or vision and says, “Isn’t Saul dangerous?” And the Lord does give further clarification: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (vv.15-16)
Sounds consistent with scripture to me. From all the way back to Abraham, God gave His name to Israel in order to bless the nations of the world. And Jesus had modeled suffering for the sake of God’s mission. It could be that God had something to accomplish with and through Saul.
I name all that because it is a good template for us to use. God intends to use ordinary people like you and me to accomplish His will in the world. God is building a glorious house – a Kingdom in fact – brick by brick. And you and I may be asked to be part of that work. In fact I will go so far as to way that you and I ARE being asked to be part of that work. Does it sometimes involve something outside our comfort zone? Yes, it does. That is probably a good indicator that it’s from God, as most of us like our comfort zone just fine. But it is also good and healthy to discern what God is leading you to do. Is it consistent with what Scripture teaches about God and God’s Kingdom? Does it sound like Jesus? Then it probably is from the Lord.
Participating in Glory
So Ananias did what God asked and went to find Saul. And he laid hands on him and did what God asked of him. And Saul, who had been blinded days earlier when he encountered Jesus, regained his sight. He was also filled with the Holy Spirit and was baptized. Paul also mentions the healing and baptism in Acts 22 in his version of the encounter with Ananias. And Saul, soon re-named Paul, became the chief evangelist and church planter for the non-Jewish world. God’s plan was fulfilled, indeed!
Here’s the thing: We don’t always know what God is up to, but it’s more glorious than we can possibly imagine because it involves changed hearts and lives and the coming of God’s Kingdom. After worship today, we are inviting the congregation to stay and brainstorm about ways we can reach out as a church, but that must be anchored in saying ‘yes’ to what God is doing and asking of us. God is the one who changes hearts and changes lives. When God brought Paul Hamilton to this church as a young man, I could not have imagined all that God would do in his life or bring about in this church community. But God was building a glorious house of which we got to focus on one or two bricks at a time. That Paul went on to lead a number of his friends to Christ and eventually became a pastor and church planter. But our role was to answer a bunch of questions and love a person that had just been grabbed by God.
The tagline for the “Here I am” series is “listening, available, ready to go.” As we do that and say ‘yes’ to where God is leading us we get to do nothing less than participate in glory. And that is something God intends for every one of us, not just seminary-trained pastors or leaders of the church, but each and every one of you who trusts in Jesus Christ.
I want to end by asking you three similar questions. I’d challenge you to not just read them and move on, but ask them morning, noon, and night. Pray them; ponder them; let them permeate your thoughts and days. If you do, I believe God will speak to you. And while that may seem scary; it is actually glorious because you will be participating in what God is doing in the world.
Here are the three questions:
Is there someone God would have me speak to this week?
Is there somewhere God would have me go this week?
Is there something God would have me do this week?
Listen. Be available. Be ready to go.
God is building a glorious house and you and I are invited to be a part. Amen.