Reading Galatians in the Passion Translation (yes, still LOVING this translation), Paul is talking about the radical transformation that came from the encounter he had on the road to Damascus.
By now you have heard stories of how severely I harassed and persecuted Christians and did my best to systematically destroy God’s church, all because of my radical devotion to preserve the traditions of the Jewish religion. My zeal and passion for the doctrines of Judaism distinguished me among my people, for I was far more advanced in my religious instruction than others my age.
But then something happened! God called me by his grace, and in love, he chose me from my birth to be his. Galatians 1:13-15
Several things stick out to me in this passage. First, God help me to not be so committed to my traditions and the way I have always seen things done that I miss you altogether! God is into doing new things and if we aren’t careful, we can get offended pretty easily when He chooses to move in ways and through people that are different than what we’ve known in the past. God help me keep an open heart that values what you value and not get hung up on my own personal preferences or limited ways of predicting “how it’s supposed to be.” I want God. Period. No matter what it looks like, no matter who He moves through or how He does it, I want as much of Him as I can get and that requires an open and humble heart that is constantly willing to go to Him with my questions, searching the Word and listening to His voice and receiving from any vessel He chooses.
That said, I find a tremendous amount of HOPE in this passage. Before Paul met Jesus, He was considered the enemy of the church. He was absolutely committed to hunting down, killing, and snuffing out any memory of this new Christian faith. He was radically devoted to the religious traditions He’d been trained up in. But then something happened. Paul encountered Jesus. That’s all it took and everything changed.
God called me by his grace, and in love, He chose me from my birth to be His. Galatians 1:15
God chose Paul before he ever became a pharisee. The entire time Paul (Saul) was rounding up and killing Christians, God knew who He had called him to be. God never lost faith and loved Saul even when he was in the middle of persecuting the very movement he was called to be a leader in! Why does this give me hope? As I read this passage, another familiar verse straight from the mouth of Jesus came to mind:
But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. Matthew 5:44 NKJV
I’ve never seen this verse in the context of Paul before, but is it possible that during the time that Paul was persecuting the early church, someone remembered what Jesus said to do about their enemies? Perhaps there is even more power in the instruction to pray for our enemies than we have hoped to believe. Yes, of course, we need to love our enemies for the sake of our own hearts, not allowing bitterness to take root, but reading this with fresh eyes, I believe that when Jesus gave them this instruction He had Paul, and so many others like him in mind. Pray for your enemies, those who persecute you, and then see what I will do!
Someone was praying for Paul, including Jesus himself because before Paul was even born, God had a dream in His heart about who he was called to be and He never let go of that dream. When we pray for our enemies, or anyone who hurts, frustrates, or even irritates us, we are calling them into the destiny that God had in mind before they were even born. The destiny God will never give up on. Paul was born with such a destiny and by all natural accounts, he was living a life that could not have been further from it, but all it took was one encounter with Jesus and all that radical passion was redirected and intensified to live wrecklessly abandoned to the One he loved.
The only thing they heard about me was this: “Our former enemy, who once brutally persecuted us, is now preaching the good news of the faith that he was once obsessed with destroying!” Because of the transformation that took place in my life, they praised God even more! Galatians 1:23-24
Imagine what would happen if in the midst of our pain, discouragement, fear, or frustration we made a decision to pray bold prayers of faith? Prayers that speak forth both love and destiny, tapping into the promises and dreams of God and paving the way for Damascus-like encounters with Christ? Take this challenge as local or specific as you want: in our homes, cities, nation, the presidency, even other world religions! Paul is arguably one of the most influential Christians of all times and at one point he was considered it’s biggest threat. Let’s let his story fuel our faith and our prayers. I’m ready to see radical transformations and increasing reports of life-changing encounters with Jesus. It’s happened before, it’s biblical. Let’s pray it in. Someone was praying for Paul, who are we supposed to pray for today?