Listening carefully to God’s call
By Mary-Alice White
Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4).
As a child, I recall hearing my mother tell me, “Make sure you come when I call you and don’t let me have to call you twice.” I wish I could say she never had to call my name twice, but if she did, I’d better listen or else!
In the Scriptures we read of many instances in which God and Christ called people.
However, there are seven persons whom God or Christ called by name twice. I believe we can extrapolate lessons that are applicable to us today. Let’s take a look at the story of Saul.
Zealous for the Lord
Saul is first introduced in Acts 8:1, at the time that the stoning of Stephen, one of the deacons in the early church, occurs. “Witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58). “Saul was consenting to his death” (Acts 8:1).
“The martyrdom of Stephen made a deep impression upon all who witnessed it. The memory of the signet of God upon his face; his words, which touched the very souls of those who heard them, remained in the minds of the beholders.”1 Saul was no exception. “The faith, constancy, and glorification of the martyr could not be effaced from his [Saul’s] memory.”2 Witnessing this godly man’s death and listening to his dying testimony gave rise to disconcerting questions.
Prior to the stoning of Stephen, the Sanhedrin was plotting to kill some of the apostles. It was the result of Gamaliel’s discourse to the Sanhedrin that they decided not to kill the apostles (cf. Acts 5:33-40). Saul was likely aware of Gamaliel’s words. Saul undoubtedly held Gamaliel, his teacher and mentor, in high regard. His mind probably reeled with the words of Gamaliel along with the dying words of Stephen. Little did Saul know that Stephen’s martyrdom would serve to water the seed of salvation in his own life as well as in the lives of others.
"God saw incredible potential in Saul if he would respond to His call."
Saul had heard Stephen’s discourse. He had been within earshot of Stephen’s last words: “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (Acts 7:60). The excruciating pain of a dying man and his words of grace and mercy impacted Saul. He “was shaken in his prejudice; but the opinions and arguments of the priests and rulers finally convinced him that Stephen was a blasphemer; that Jesus Christ whom he preached was an impostor, and that those ministering in holy offices must be right.”3 And so, with his questions silenced by the religious leaders, Saul made the decision to assist in destroying the fledgling Christian church.
The decisions we make impact our own life as well as the lives of others. Just as a pebble tossed into calm water creates ripples that extend far beyond the initial point of contact, so the decisions we make can impact the lives of others for good or for evil.
Saul’s decision impacted the lives of all Christians in Jerusalem and the surrounding towns and cities. Saul’s name was probably a household word in all believing Jewish homes. He was committed to persecute the disciples—wherever he found them. Requesting letters of introduction, he prepared to leave for Damascus in order to incarcerate the Christian believers in that city and bring them back for judgment in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 9:1, 2).
Called by the Lord
Saul was very zealous and intentional about his mission to round up all the Christians in Damascus and deliver them to the authorities in Jerusalem. He believed he was doing God a favor. Wrong decisions put us on the wrong road of life. Figuratively, Saul was on the wrong road. However, God used the wrong road to become the right road on which to call and confront Saul.
As Saul approached the end of his 160-mile journey from Jerusalem to Damascus, “a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ ” (Acts 9:3, 4). God had an important message to convey to Saul because of his misguided decisions.
God desired Saul to change his course. God was looking for someone to fight pagan philosophy and the formalism of Judaism. God was looking for a zealous person who would be ready to make God’s mission their ministry. He was looking for someone who would value a relationship with His Son more than zealous religiosity. God saw incredible potential in Saul if he would respond to His call.
Transformed by the Lord
Saul’s encounter with his Savior on the Damascus road was the defining moment of his life. Christ redirected Saul’s thoughts, and he, in turn, recognized who he truly was—a sinner in need of a Savior.
Saul’s call was a call to meet Jesus Christ personally. It was a call to be born again and serve the promised Messiah. It was a call to change the direction of his life course and to make positive decisions. Saul responded favorably to God’s call. He accepted Jesus Christ as the Messiah, as his personal Savior.
What’s Your Damascus Road?
What about us? Are we on the wrong road? Are we on our own Damascus road today?
Is God calling us to change direction? Are our life decisions off course? Are we on a self-centered mission to build our own kingdom? Are we making the positive and healthy decisions God desires of us? How are our decisions impacting others around us? Or do we, like Saul, need to change our course and plug in a different address into our spiritual GPS?
I have been on my own Damascus road; I lived life my way and did what I wanted. Like Saul, I too met Christ. It was not as dramatic as Saul’s encounter; but it was a life-changing experience. My life was changed and was centered on Christ’s will and way. A carnal Christian became a committed Christian.
Paul speaks of three groups of persons in 1 Corinthians 2 and 3. He refers to the natural man, the spiritual man, and then he addresses the Corinthian believers as carnal, or worldly. We still have the same three categories. There are those who live without Christ or God in their lives. There are those who are Spirit-filled and fully committed to Christ. And then there are worldly Christians, those who walk the fence between the world and the committed worship of God. They want to enjoy the benefits and blessings of church membership without the commitment to Christ. Christ is not reigning on the throne of their heart.
As Adventist Christians, we can find ourselves in one of the two latter categories. We may fully believe the church doctrines; we may be zealous in ministering for the church, but may not have experienced conversion or perhaps have lost our first love for Christ.
God called Saul by name twice to get his attention. Saul heard the call of Christ, responded, and became a born-again child of God. How many times does God have to repeat our name when He calls us?
1 Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 101.
2 Ellen G. White, Sketches From the Life of Paul (Battle Creek, Mich.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1883), p. 19.
3 Ibid., p. 21.
Mary-Alice White is a retired dietitian and an active member of the Mount Pisgah Academy Seventh-day Adventist Church. She and her husband enjoy life in Asheville, North Carolina, U.S.A.