‘“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about Paul and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
Then Ananias went….’
Each of us has that one person…. You know the one I’m talking about: The one you’re convinced is neither loved by God, nor worthy of God’s grace. That person. And you probably have good reason to believe that about that person: He’s lied to you, a lot. She’s put you down, a lot. He doesn’t seem to care about anyone but himself. She really only cares about getting a job as big as her ambition.
People who act that way give us plenty of reasons to believe – on some level – that God is not interested in them at all. Sometimes we have enough information about them – especially their childhood – to soften our judgement: “Well, of course he’s like that, considering what it must have been like to grow up in circumstances like that…” That kind of knowledge can soften our judgment, but it doesn’t really remove it: The person is still insufferable, and – sometimes – actively harms co-workers, friends, and even family.
But if we really believe that, then notice also what happens to us: We cut ourselves off from hearing God’s voice – we say, on some level, that God could never change that person; and that God, certainly, would never use me, or you, to begin that change. Spiritually, that’s a dangerous place to be. If everyone chose to stay in that place, we wouldn’t have the story about Ananias and Paul, above.
Ananias did not want to go to Paul, least of all to tell Paul that God intended to use him. Paul was that person for Ananias. Surely, Paul – of all people – was unforgiveable. But Ananias was open to listening to God – his spiritual ears were open – and when he heard, clearly, from God, he went to Paul, and did what God commanded.
But here’s the thing: It’s not as though Ananias went to Paul without a word from God, a word that said: “Now is the acceptable time – my timing….” That’s something for us to avoid, too: that is, to go simply because we believe that that insufferable person is always ripe for God’s grace; or, we believe that God always wants that person to change, it’s just a matter of whether we tell them about God’s grace. That’s not what this story from Acts tells us, either.
The timing needs to be right – the person needs to be prepared by God to receive the word of change that you or I offer. The only way we can know if that has happened, is to learn to listen to God in prayer, and see the life of the person He wants to change, through His eyes. That is no easy thing. But that is how God works, and when he works change like he did in Paul, through Ananias, there are no better front row seats to God’s amazing grace.
Prayer: Lord, there is that one person – okay, maybe there are two or three. I just can’t believe that you love them; that you might forgive them. But maybe, Lord, you have them on your heart, too, and you plan to change them. Maybe you plan to include me in that change. If so, give me grace to do that, and – most of all – help me to know when You want me to go. Amen.