The other day I was reading a chapter from a book analyzing some characteristics of people who were skeptical and cynical. Feeling slightly convicted about all the ways in which this chapter pegged me, I casually turned to my wife Polly and said, “Wow, I guess I’m a skeptical and cynical person, huh?” Her immediate retort was an eager and innocent, “Yea, I know!”
Once I got over Polly’s “lemon juice in the paper cut” comment (true love stings), I realized that she hit the nail on the head. I am a very skeptical and cynical person about a lot of things in life, especially the way God can work in people’s lives.
I’m quick to deem people and cultures as lost causes. If you’re anything like me, your first reaction to hearing about that family member who divorced, or to listening to your unbelieving co-worker’s and/or roommate’s conversation about their “weekend activities”, is to think there is no hope that they will ever come to believe in Christ. As you look around at all the people who practice other religions, or hear about increasing violence and sexual immorality in our culture, maybe you you begin wondering if God is at work at all. Why isn’t anything happening?
Enter the Apostle Paul. By his own admission he knew he was a servant of God (Titus 1:1), but this was not always the case. If we check his pre-Christian resume we find some not-so-encouraging evidence. We know Paul presided over and allowed the killing of Stephen, the first recorded martyr for Christ (Acts 7:58). We know that he persecuted the church (Phil. 3:6). We even know that Paul went so far as to go on a door-to-door mission to imprison believers in Christ (Acts 9:1-2)! Telling a believer in the first century that Paul (Saul at the time) would become a believer and go on to write 13 books of the Bible would be somewhat akin to someone telling you that atheistic scientist and author Richard Dawkins would go on to plant the most successful evangelical church in U.S. History!
There are lots of things we could learn about Paul’s conversion, but I hope the following 3 things will melt the lingering skepticism and cynicism your heart:
1) Age is not a factor in who will or won’t become a believer. Don’t disqualify someone in your mind because of their age. Despite your doubts that a close friend you’ve known all your life or a parent will ever believe, don’t worry. Paul was at his worst well into his adult years, and God worked.
2) God works with us and without us. God didn’t use anyone but the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. But because Paul was blinded and needed help, God used a man named Ananias to care for Paul (Acts 9:10-16). God doesn’t need you and I to play a part in others’ lives, but he chooses to. Therefore, sitting down and comforting someone in your dorm who is going through a crisis, or inviting a friend from class to church and then lunch afterward are all ways God can use us.
3) God is the one at work in our lives. 1 Corinthians 3:7 says, “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” Although the means God used in Paul’s conversion is an exception, the power at work in his life is the rule. Whenever we hear of a person coming to a genuine belief in the gospel, we can be confident God was and is at work.
So the next time you find yourself indulging skeptical and cynical thoughts, remember Paul. God changed his heart, and if He wants to, he can change the person you have in mind’s heart too.