Have you ever been asked to do something far outside your comfort zone?
How did you feel? Were you overwhelmed? Anxious? Afraid?
What if the Lord instructed you to go to a specific address, knock on the door, and ask by name for the person who wanted you arrested, if not dead?
What would you do?
Would you complain that God is asking too much? Or perhaps question God’s command, thereby implicitly questioning his love, care, or wisdom? Or would you ignore the directive, hoping he would choose someone else?
That was the scenario for Ananias, an ordinary follower of Jesus.
Before we look at how he responded, let’s set the scene.
We first meet Saul of Tarsus when Stephen, a Christian, is condemned by the Jewish ruling council (the Sanhedrin) on trumped-up charges of blasphemy.
I encourage you to take a few moments to read the circumstances and Stephen’s clear and biblical response in Acts 6:11-8:1.
Here is the Sanhedrin’s reaction to Stephen’s defense (Acts 7:54-59):
When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. … they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
The judge and jury now became the executor. Removing their outer clothes— no doubt for greater freedom of movement —they stone Stephen. This episode ends with (8:1):
“Saul was there, giving approval to his death.”
The persecution of Christians begins and they scatter.
Saul then undertakes a new campaign (9:1-2):
Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters 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.
Ananias knew the reputation of Saul, who was on his way to Damascus, and Ananias.
Next, we have a report of Saul’s unexpected and radical transformation. Again, I encourage you to read that scene (Acts 9:1-9).
In his religious zeal, Saul is confronted by the Lord Jesus Christ— the very One to whom Stephen prayed as he died.
Ananias was unaware of what had happened to Saul on his way to Damascus.
Let’s listen in on the dialogue between the Lord and Ananias (9:10-17):
In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered.
The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
At this point, Ananias raises his concerns:
“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints 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 carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord— Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here …
The rest, as they say, is history.
Our focus is on Ananias and his circumstances. What can we learn from this scene that can equip and encourage us when it seems that God is asking too much?
Here are four things we can learn— perhaps you can add more:
As we listen to Ananias express his concern, I sense anxiety, even fear. After all, he has no warning about this task or knowledge of Saul’s radical transformation. It appears to Ananias that the Lord is thrusting him into a situation of certain arrest, if not death.
In some ways, Ananias’ response is similar to complaints we encountered in the lament Psalms. As we have been learning, when we enter into times of disorientation, we should be informed by the lament psalms:
Although abbreviated, Ananias’ encounter with the Lord bears marks of wholesome lament.
You and I need to harness this God-oriented dynamic in our lives.
We do not learn much about Ananias. Only here does he appear in the biblical record. By all accounts, he was no one special— just an ordinary follower of Jesus.
And yet, Ananias expresses no surprise when the Lord speaks with him and then answers. When I noted this, it led me to wonder what “normal” was in the prayer life of Ananias. If Christian prayer is “keeping company with God,” Ananias seems to be keeping company with God (see: An Understanding That Helps You Pray Better). For me, this came as an amazing insight.
Has our praying—has my praying—become bland, routine, and irrelevant to the extent that we do not expect to hear God speaking?
Here I add a note of caution respecting God speaking so that we are biblically discerning and not gullible (see: Is that you, God?)
Where God commands, God provides. More technically, for every divine imperative (expectation), there is a divine indicative (provision). (See: Loving like Jesus and the indicative-imperative principle).
In this case, the Lord provided Ananias with more insight. God was already at work, Saul had been radically transformed, and Ananias is invited to participate in what God was doing.
If a divine command is given to you or me, look for the divine resources that come with it.
The outcome is that Ananias exercised the faith of obedience. He believed what God said and did what God asked— even when He seemed to ask too much.
The first words Saul heard from the lips of Ananias were, “Brother, Saul …” With these words, Saul was welcomed into the community of faith, the family who loves Jesus Christ.
This challenging incident of obedience marked Ananias’ life in ways we can only imagine.
Ananias’ obedience overcame his anxiety and fear, and Ananias grew beyond his perceived limitations. It led him to understand God better, obediently push beyond his “comfort zone,” and welcome Saul into the family of God.
There is much more that we can learn from this incident in the life of Ananias. What can you add?
So, next time you feel that God is asking too much, what will you do?
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