PART 1: THE PROCESS
God has not been shy about the fact that he wanted me to write about Paul. All last weekend and throughout the week whether it was during the sermon from my pastor at church, my daily devotional, a “random” post I saw, bible study, you name it—the apostle Paul just kept coming up. So on Thursday afternoon, I finally yielded and sat down for some quality time with the Holy Spirit.
I was led to the book of Acts where persecution of the church is a major theme. Almost every chapter is saturated with details of the harsh realities of facing slander, being falsely accused, misunderstood, physically abused and even killed because of their beliefs. We see a key example of this starting in chapter 6, with the arrest of Stephen. I would definitely recommend you take some time to read through these passages yourself, but here are the cliff notes:
- Stephen is arrested, gives a speech to the religious leaders who oppose him and is stoned to death in the city streets while this guy Saul holds their jackets. (Acts 6-7)
- Saul hated Christians and persecuted the church. He murdered Christian men, women, and children. (Acts 8)
- While Saul was traveling on the road to Damascus, Jesus confronts Saul about his persecution of believers, is stricken with blindness and does not eat or drink for 3 days (Acts 9)
- Later God tells his disciple Ananias to find Saul so he can restore his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9)-- this is where the conversion takes place: Saul the Christian killer is reborn as Paul the Apostle.
Despite Saul’s past indiscretions, God saw something greater. He wanted to use Saul to spread the gospel of Jesus all around the world and Saul…well, he had absolutely no idea what was coming. In chapter 9, after Saul had lost his sight, God speaks to Ananias, telling him to go and find Saul of Tarsus so that he can deliver a message and baptize him in the Holy Spirit. I just love verses 18-19 which says, “At once something like fish scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he was able to see again. He stood up and was baptized; and after he had eaten, his strength came back." (Acts 9: 18-19 NKJV)
The former English teacher in me leaps with joy at this passage because it is loaded with rich metaphorical language that once unpacked reveals the deeper, hidden meanings of the text.
Let’s dig into the 3 key actions & understand why they are highlighted in this scripture: Falling, Standing, and Eating.
“At once something like fish scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he was able to see again." (Acts 9:18 NKJV)
Fish scales are small, rigid plates that grow out of the skin of a fish. The scales act as a form of protection, providing camouflage and other hydrodynamic advantages. Why would God use the imagery of fish scales? Obviously, humans and fish have completely different anatomical and physiological makeups so naturally, we don’t grow scales, right..or do we?
A huge part of my healing journey has been getting serious about fitness and nutrition. I hit the gym at least 6 times a week in addition to doing strength training, HIIT workouts and boxing. I used to be the girl who stuck to cardio, but with new knowledge acquired, I became much more comfortable using weights. Now, I try to incorporate them in every workout. The result–toned arms..yay! But there’s also a not so great side effect; this being the calluses that form on your hands from gripping the bars and dumbbells.
There is a sort of symmetry between those fish scales and calluses. Both grow out of the skin and both function as means of protection for the organism which it is attached to. A key difference, however, is that unlike the scales that are a part of the fish from its inception, calluses form slowly over time.
As workouts became more consistent, my calluses started to creep up because my body sent a signal that the skin on the upright side of my hands needed some extra padding to bear the load and stress it experienced from weight training. So they began to form to protect the skin from further damage or injury. Yet over time, the callouses themselves even start to change. They can become hard and rough, some might even say ugly. But, it serves a purpose. They form so that I can develop tougher skin (literally).
The point I am trying to make is that calluses do not just appear out of thin air. Something has to invite it in and give it room for growth. Chasing the world and trying to live up to its standards will always result in pain and disappointment. Every time the pain and discontentment happens, it initiates the growth of another callus. Thus, the very thing that was intended to act as a form of protection and subsequently assist in healing, can have the reverse effect. We can disrupt the process and cause the callus to become harder and harder; thus making our hearts grow colder and colder. Bitterness, anger, resentment, negativity–all the things that choke and stifle our growth spiritually, mentally, and emotionally–usurp control.
With Saul, we don’t get the backstory, but it makes me wonder what might have happened to cause his heart to be hardened? What traumas or hardships did he go through? Who hurt him so significantly that he became desensitized to such wickedness and unnecessary violence towards innocent people? What muscle or emotion was he over-working? His heart had become so closed off and bitter that it brought him joy to see an innocent man (Stephen) killed senselessly at the hands of those who viewed his teachings as false doctrine.
But after a while, Jesus appears to him and suddenly Saul is stricken with blindness. I believe this blindness illustrates how when we become content with darkness and turn our hearts away from the things of God, we lose sight–of ourselves as well as our impact on others.
It doesn’t end there though. The blindness has layered meaning here. On the negative side, as stated, it represents the extraction of sight, both physically and spiritually. But, the very same blindness also works for his (and our) good. God takes away his sight, to remove all external distractions from the physical eyes and forces him to go within to receive insight through his spiritual eyes. Essentially he was in the wilderness; an oftentimes difficult period of fasting, waiting and introspection.
In Acts 9:11, notice it says: The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.
Before Ananias ever showed up, the conversion process had already begun. Saul’s blindness was the catalyst for his salvation. This was his fall; his rock bottom moment. He retreated within because that was the only way that God could get his full, undivided attention. And once that happened, Saul was obviously convinced of who God is, because he went into prayer and fasting for 3 days. He was on the path to discovering his true identity, which could only be found by spending time in the secret place. Retreating inward functioned as an activation of his faith and spiritual gifts.
So falling can in some ways be the best thing that happens in the life of a person because when you are at your lowest, most weakest point is when God has you exactly where He wants you to be–complete and total submission and dependence on Him.
"He stood up and was baptized." (Acts 9:18)
This one is pretty simple: After the fall, comes the redemption. Saul had a radical encounter with Jesus which subsequently led to a radical transformation. In just three days, his heart was forever changed and his mind renewed.
The power of three days.
Ring a bell?
When Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross for our transgressions, it seemed like all hope was lost and Satan thought that he had won. But on the third day, He rose with POWER! Defeating death, Hell, and the grave.
Jesus “fell” by laying down his life, so that we might be able to stand. And so, when Saul is transformed and given a new identity as Paul it is symbolic of the transformation that God is waiting to pour out onto each and every one of His children.
When we approach the King of Grace with a truly repentant heart, salvation is instantaneous. Saul repented of his sins, cried out to the Lord in prayer and received visions. The only thing left to do now was to solidify his agreement with God and His kingdom.
What once was broken had been made whole. What once was lowly and dark was now filled with joy and light. Paul’s baptism was the spiritual manifestation of his stand with God. He was standing in agreement with truth, righteousness, justice, goodness, and holiness. To stand means to maintain an upright position. It can also be defined as having an attitude toward a particular issue or a position taken in an argument. By grace, the new and improved Paul became upright in the eyes of God. He could now walk in righteousness. His mind could now be reprogrammed so that it matched the Lord’s attitude on issues and arguments. He was no longer walking blindly through life. Instead, he could step into new doors of understanding, knowledge, and wisdom.
A final point to note here is that those three days spent in prayer & fasting ushered Paul from the private to the public.
We are all called to serve God, but it's not enough to just commune with Him in private. Though it is vital that your quality time with the Holy Spirit become a common, everyday practice as a believer, there comes a time when God wants to move you from basic training to the front lines. He calls you to take a stand and enlist to be a true soldier in the army of the Lord.
"…and after he had eaten, his strength came back." (Acts 9:19 NKJV)
Your diet consists of everything that you consume. It is not limited to the food that enters your mouth, but also includes the music, television, tv shows, movies, podcasts, youtube videos, books, etc. that your eyes, ears, and mind munches on daily. Your diet is a vital part of overall health. As believers, we should always be conscious of what we allow our spirit to be fed by. For Saul, what satisfied his hunger and quenched his thirst were the evil things of the world.
But he messed around and had a radical encounter with Jesus–once that happens, you can’t really go back and do things the way you used to. When the Holy Spirit touches you, your appetite is altered.
Acts 9: 18-19 is a short, yet potent piece of scripture depicting the process of transformation. To review: First, it starts with the fall. The fall is two-fold. On one hand, it signifies our fall from grace. But, on the other hand, the fall also encapsulates the falling off of the scales (calluses); those things–hurt, pain, trauma, disappointment, etc–that have blinded us from walking in our true identity in Christ and blocked us off from actually receiving the fullness of His love, grace, mercy, and favor. Second, through repentance we are redeemed and thus able to stand anew in obedience and alignment with God’s will. We are given a new name, our hearts become tender to the things of God, and our original purpose and intent– to serve the Lord our God with all our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus is regenerated.
The last step is allowing our new identity in Christ to download the internal sanctification software. The same way a computer program is downloaded to your hard drive, the internal sanctification software sweeps in and begins to reprogram areas of our thought processes, actions, behaviors, mannerisms, interests, preferences, values and ideologies so that they can begin to line up with what God and His word says.
In other words, our spirit has to begin to consume new food. Following his baptism of the Holy Spirit, Paul didn’t just get up and go into all areas preaching the gospel. The scripture tells us that “after he had eaten, his strength came back.” One could interpret this on the surface and point to the fact that he had not eaten for three days, so of course he should replenish his strength...right?
But, I would urge you to plunge into the deep waters below the surface. Physically, yes, he was weak from fasting. But, even more so, once transformation had taken place, he needed to be fed with nutritious, delicious and delectable spiritual food.
Don’t believe the lie that once you have had an encounter with God that you are suddenly invincible and incapable of backsliding. Remember, we must always keep this verse at the forefront of our minds: Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).
As believers, we must be prepared and equipped with strong spirits, putting on the full armor of God so that we can carry out the work of the Kingdom at an optimal level. A huge part of the preparation process is ensuring that we are mindful about what we allow into our ear gates & eye gates; what we allow our mouth to speak over ourselves and others; what we allow our minds to meditate on. After all, you are what you eat right? So be sure to fill yourself up with the kinds of foods that will strengthen, uplift and edify your spirit.
To wrap up, remember today, that God doesn’t place limits on who He can use. If you're hood that's good! You a little rough around the edges? Perfect. Not the most eloquent, articulate speaker–no problem! Have a past that maybe you’re not proud of–even better! Nothing can disqualify your identity as a child of God.
I love that we serve a God who seems to do His best work using what would seem like the worst of people. Keyword being seem. The world judges by the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. So no matter how far you’ve fallen off the wagon, or how much wrong you think you’ve done, God’s love covers a multitude of sins.
All. of. our. sins.
Our debt was paid when Jesus gave his life so that we may have life. So my sister, my girl, my brother, my friend- forgive yourself. Take the time to heal your heart so that the pain and sorrow can fall away like a gardener pruning a rose bush. Then you will be able to stand firm, deeply rooted in the love of God and grow from just needing milk to being able to consume and digest hefty spiritual meals of His word, His power, and His promises.