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By Ted Schroder,
September 27, 2015

Life is a journey from birth to death and beyond. It has many stages. If you see your life as a spiritual journey you are seeking answers to the meaning and purpose of life. We are uniquely able to reflect, to appreciate what makes life significant and valuable. We have the desire to make sense of our lives.

In Acts 9 we encounter the spiritual journey of Saul of Tarsus as he travels from Jerusalem to Damascus and then onto to his home town of Tarsus. This journey was one of four stages.

The first stage we may call the stage of defense. Saul was educated in the best Jewish and Greek schools of his day. He was a Pharisee and a Roman citizen. His family must have been of some wealth and position. He demonstrated a cruel zeal to eliminate the followers of Jesus. His revered teacher, Gamaliel, counseled leaving the Christians alone but Saul had Stephen stoned to death, and pursued a vendetta beyond Jerusalem. What caused this fanaticism? Jesus said to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads" (Acts 26:14). The goads were the sharp edges of the plough that hurt the recalcitrant animal which attempted to kick the ploughman. Jesus was putting his yoke on Saul, but Saul was kicking out by persecuting the Christians.

Fanaticism is often a compensation for secret doubts. Action can sometimes be an attempt to silence your conscience. Perhaps by throwing himself into this murderous task, he could forget the witness of Stephen. He resisted the promptings of the Spirit. The best form of defense is attack. He was probably aware of unsettling thoughts, questions and misgivings about the fulfillment of his own life. He resent the claims of the Christians to be followers of the Way.

Whenever we feel our beliefs are called into question we get angry and defensive. When in our spiritual journey the Holy Spirit is working on us we can become very defensive, very insecure, and very angry. People who are not open to the Spirit to learning new truth become fossilized -- hardened, stunted, and their journey ends prematurely.

The second stage is the stage of crisis. Lightning literally strikes Saul. He heard the voice from heaven. He was blinded and led into the city where he fasted for three days. How the mighty had fallen. His condition would not allow him to focus on anything but this shattering experience. He had to face up to the reality of who Jesus was -- the risen Lord -- the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He had to absorb to shock of the realization of what he had been doing: fighting against God, killing God's followers. He felt like a condemned man in the dock, waiting for an execution he knew he deserved.

While our journey in life may not include anything as dramatic as this, yet we may experience a crisis when we are brought to the end of our known resources, feel completely helpless, and are forced to surrender control to the Lord. We may resist, but Christ searches for us and brings us to the end of ourselves so that we may find the beginning of God's love. We have to get to the point where we stop telling God what to do and let him tell us what to do. The last words of Jesus to Saul at the gates of Damascus were, "Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what to do."

The third stage on this spiritual journey is the stage of healing. Saul received spiritual and physical healing through the ministry of Ananias. He was filled with the Spirit and baptized into the church. After three days he rose again to a new life. He experienced conversion and new birth into a new community. He became a brother to people he had despised, and who were afraid of him. What an assimilation problem!

Healing comes physically, spiritually and socially. On our spiritual journey we learn that we are dependent on others. We are body and soul in community not solitary individuals making our way alone. We relate to the natural world of the universe, the supernatural world of heaven, and the social world of relationships. Healing comes when we discover Christ in all three worlds. Healing comes through other people. God heals us when we are ready to receive the person he sends us. We are able to be healed when we are willing to let other people minister to us, pray for us, counsel us. When we are lost we must ask for directions. When we cannot see ahead, we must let those who can lead us to the light.

The fourth stage on this spiritual journey is the stage of witness and service. So great was the change in Saul's life, so total his healing, so profound his experience, that he had to share it. He felt compelled to build up what he had been trying to tear down. For two or three years he lived in Damascus and the nearby countryside of the Roman province of Arabia, which is modern day Syria. He spent the time reflecting on God's purpose for his life, learning, studying, and preaching fearlessly in the name of Jesus. He was opposed and persecuted by his former colleagues, rebuffed by some Christians, and finally he had to take refuge in his home town of Tarsus. It would be some time before he was recruited by Barnabas to serve on his staff team.

What stage are you in on your spiritual journey? If you are on the defense stage, you have to come to the point of admitting your need. I can remember protesting loudly that I was as good a Christian as anybody else and that I did not need to go to church. Inwardly I was searching and hurting for acceptance, forgiveness and love, and an understanding of the meaning of life. It was hard for me to admit that I needed something more than I had. I was defensive, proud, angry, and self-righteous.

If you are experiencing the crisis stage, then you are aware that you have reached the end of your self-confidence. Jesus is speaking to you through your crisis. You must listen to what he is telling you to do. You have come to the end of yourself and to the beginning of his life in you. This involves an act of your will, a surrender, a commitment to follow Jesus.

If you are at the healing stage you must permit God to send someone to you. You must be ready to receive whatever healing you need. You need to be able to see with new eyes the Way forward in your life. You will want to take your place in the community of Christ and participate in the worship, fellowship and life of the Church.

If you are at the stage of witness and service you will need to tell others what has happened to you. You will be given a hunger and thirst to learn from others what you need to know as you continue on your journey.

There will be many challenges to face as you journey on through your life. At each stage you will need the community of faith to sustain you, the inspiration of the Scriptures to build you up, worship and prayer to guide you and strengthen you. When the journey is over you will be ready to receive the crown of life eternal when you come to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God, to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, for your name is written in heaven. (Hebrews 12:22, 23)

(Ted's blog is to be found at www.tedschroder.com)

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