Today's Reading: Acts 9:1-31
Conversion stories are always fun to hear. I love hearing how people came to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior, the twists and turns, the encouragements, the affirmations. Some conversion stories are packed full of messiness, while others are testimonies to God's long faithfulness in the same direction.
But as much as I love hearing how people came to a point of owning their faith and consciously committing to a life-long, life-altering relationship with Jesus, I personally get even more excited about what happens after that moment.
For most people, when we read the story of Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus, our evangelical tendencies drive us to put all the focus on the dramatic change that took place with Paul. He was once known as Saul, a Pharisee of Pharisees, who made it his personal calling to destroy as many Christians as possible. He was a hero to Jews everywhere! But then while traveling to Damascus on one of his "mission trips" he ran into a bright light that blinded him, threw him off his horse, and Jesus spoke to him. He was never the same again.
It's dramatic and exciting...no doubt about that.
But Jesus demand was not that Saul suddenly start believing in him, but that he go into the city and wait further instruction. At the same time, Jesus approached a disciple names Ananias and told him to go and search out Saul. Ananias found him, there was a lot of teaching and discipling going on, and eventually Saul became Paul and probably the most prolific Christian missionary in history.
Our tendency to emphasize the moment of conversion does us a dis-service in our life with Jesus. Saul's conversion - anyone's conversion! - as great as it is was not the end of the road; conversion is the beginning, or at least a significant stop along the way. A person's maturity and faithfulness to following Jesus is not the result of how dramatic their conversion was, it's a result of what they do with it afterwards. Unfortunately, far too many in our society put all their attention on getting a person dunked, and then setting them free to do whatever. It's as if the most important thing is getting that baptism out of the way, and then calling it good. A conversion means nothing if a person continue to sit where they are. People need to be fed, groomed, pruned, and fertilized (there's a reason there are so many agricultural references and analogies in the Bible).
In a certain way, Paul was a unique case (just as we all are). But I also think that we are capable of following in his footsteps more than we give ourself credit for. What Paul achieved for the Kingdom can be accomplished by virtually anyone who makes the time and effort for continued, ongoing discipleship. If Paul needed some heavy-duty, long-term discipleship before launching out, why should we think we'd be any different?