by Pastor Gerald Donovan
First United Methodist Church
Saul of Tarsus was maybe 25 years old when he had his Damascus Road confrontation with Jesus, then shortly afterward his conversion and baptism. This young man had the best education that the Greek and Hebrew traditions could offer. He found himself on the fast track to be a real somebody in the Judean culture. Maybe he and his parents dreamed that he might even become the first Tarsian Jew to become a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council located in Jerusalem.
Everything he believed, all his hard work and preparation were changed forever by a flash of light and a voice. What a radical shift, from persecutor of the people who followed “The Way” to its most powerful advocate. I have found it difficult to reason or argue with non-believers about faith. The strongest reasons that I can offer is my own personal testimony about experiencing God’s presence and how Christ has made me a different man. I’m sure you know people who once were addicts, self-centered narcissists, hard driven materialists, or lying and cheating spouses whose lives have been changed positively and dramatically because of their trust in Jesus Christ.
Soon after Saul’s conversion he began preaching to the people of Damascus and using his vast educational gifts; he baffled many of them by proving that Jesus was the Messiah. “After this had gone on for some time, the Jews hatched a plot to kill Saul. However, he found out about their scheme. They were keeping watch at the city gates around the clock so they could assassinate him. But his disciples took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the city wall.” (Acts 9:23-25 CEB)
After Saul escaped he did not return to Jerusalem but went into the “wilderness” as he says in Galatians 1:16-17 “…I didn’t immediately consult with any human being. I didn’t go up to Jerusalem to see the men who were apostles before me either, but I went away into Arabia and I returned again to Damascus.” Moses and Elijah spent time in the wilderness as did John the Baptist. Jesus spent 40 days there in prayer. Galatians says Paul spent three years there and back in Damascus.
Religious scholars speculate that Paul spent that time reflecting about what had happened to him, praying to God and listening for God’s answers to his questions. How was he to make any sense of his experience in the light of everything he knew about the Torah and the prophets?
This silent period in Paul’s life reminds me of a movie I saw just recently titled War Closet. It’s a movie that demonstrates our own need to carve out personal time and space for God and only God. We all lead very busy lives in this 24 hour, 7 day a week world. In all our busyness we often forget about God until perhaps at night as we lay down exhausted and pray, “Lord give me strength for tomorrow!” I believe we all need to start to be selfish about our time with God. You can’t hear God’s small still voice if your cell phone is ringing while your texting your friend and seeing how many likes you have received on your face book post.
This is what works for me. I get up an hour before anybody else does, go into my own private quiet special place, no phones, computers, music, TV. I read Scripture, devotions, pray and have a conversation with God. I then begin my daily chores. Putting God first in my day reminds me that he is with me all day long and he is there to help me when I need him. I challenge you to start by just setting aside the first 30 minutes of your day every day for a month. You will be surprised what your Father in Heaven will have to say to you.