Good morning from Managua, Nicaragua!
Over the past couple of weeks, I have had a few experiences that have reminded me of something I have found to be very true in my life – almost any circumstance is an opportunity for a new beginning. This lesson can certainly be learned in both good and bad circumstances, but I have found that bad circumstances, whether self-created or created by an outside force, tend to be the greatest catalyst for these opportunities. Over the course of my life, I can think of a number of foolish decisions that ended up being defining moments in my life. The reality is, however, our reaction to these circumstances are many times what determines what type of new beginning will take place.
In the Bible there is a story about a guy named Saul who encountered one of these moments and his decision created a new beginning that is still affecting the world today. In Acts, an account in the Bible of the early Christian church, we can read about this defining circumstance in Saul’s, now called Paul, life. Before Paul became Paul, he was known as Saul and was one of the leading persecutors of the early Christian Church. In fact, the religious leaders who were directing the persecution thought so much of him that they gave him letters reinforcing his authority to bring justice to anyone who was following “The Way”. In Acts 9, we read, “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letter to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1-2, NIV 1984) Needless to say, Saul was one of the last people you would expect to become a leader of the Christian faith. Little did Paul know, this journey to Damascus was about to become a new beginning.
Continuing in Acts it says, “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:3-4) We find out a few verses later that this light was so powerful that is actually blinded Saul. We also find out that the person speaking to Saul was Jesus, the very name Saul was trying to erase from history. Talk about a bad circumstance. Saul, who thought he was doing a good thing, suddenly finds himself in front Jesus who had, by the way, just blinded him. Not only is his physical body attacked, the very principles by which he has lived his life are suddenly on trial by the God he claimed to be serving. Much as has been the case in my life, there were consequences to Saul’s actions. Often I think as humans, and especially Christ Followers, we forget that there are very real consequences to our actions that are independent of the grace offered by God. The truth is, whether we believe in Jesus or not, there is at the very least a momentary cost to our negative actions. What if instead of seeing these costs as condemnation, we see them as a chance for redemption?
It is my belief that our reaction to these consequences very much defines what type of new beginning the will bring. In continuing to read the account of this “bad” circumstance in the life of Saul, we can find his reaction to the consequences he was paying for his actions. “Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.” (Acts 9:18-19, NIV 1984) Before this incredible moment could happen, Saul had to follow the instructions of Jesus, humble himself, and ask for help from a man named Ananias, one of the very people he was on his way to arrest. As they say, “the rest is history” – Saul becomes Paul, begins to follow Jesus, and becomes one of the influential people in the history of the Christian church. Have you ever thought about the fact that Paul could have said no to Jesus and not followed his instructions? It is hard to say what would have happened to him, but it certainly would have been a different story than the one read today. Instead of seeing the consequences as an opportunity to live differently, Paul could have made himself the victim and wallowed in his pain and sorrow. It was Paul’s reaction that defined the moments that followed the consequences of his actions. The same is true for us.
When the bad circumstance come in our lives, whether self-initiated or not, we have the chance to decide how we are going to react. It is my belief that, as we see in the life of Paul, God can use these circumstances to redeem and ultimately restore our lives. I believe God is in the redemption business and is looking for every opportunity to take what is broken in us and make it whole. Whether you believe this or not, your reaction to the circumstances and subsequent consequences in your life will define what follows. It is up to you whether it creates a new beginning and a life changed or a path to despair and hopelessness. I have decided the former will be true of my life. What will be true of yours?
– James Belt