Do you remember the desk toy “Newton’s Cradle”? In a recent Sunday school class, Gil Kracke compared life to the perpetual motion of those toy balls. We are all juggling balls of family, work, faith, hobbies, etc., and we have become so skilled at the juggling act that the whole of life sometimes blurs in the balancing.
It takes something outside of ourselves interrupting life to bring focus. Crises have a way of doing this, pushing all unnecessary balls out of the way and bringing the single ball—the important stuff of life—to the forefront.
Paul experiences a major interruption when he meets the Lord on the road to Damascus. His life and its purpose were brought into piercing focus when his vision went dark to all but the presence and voice of Jesus. As we enter into Acts 21 and 22, we find that Paul’s singular focus has not been swayed from the one he expressed to the Corinthians: “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2, NASB).
This is the beginning of the end of Paul’s life and the start of the most difficult of his sufferings and persecutions. In Caesarea, his last stop before Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit foretells his suffering through the prophet Agabus:
…He took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 21:11-13)
For Paul, and for us, this encounter with the living God was not isolated to the initial interruption. Damascus was the beginning of a long, hard journey. Many have had a powerful encounter with God, but what makes the nature of our God unique is that he is also found in the daily stuff of life, and especially in our pain and persecution. Hear this account from Jesus, the perfect Prophet, as he tells his disciples of his coming tribulation:
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be in from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 16:21-25)
How similar is Paul’s story as he enters the final phase of his ministry. The prophet Agabus foretells Paul’s suffering, and others try to dissuade him from going to Jerusalem, to which he too replies with a firm no: he must continue on, taking up his cross.
Above: Paul in Jerusalem
Paul’s singular focus on the gospel continued, not because he was a particularly steadfast person. No, it was because he knew the Lord had gone before him and was with him in persecution and hardship.
Jesus’ love for Paul was transformative when it blinded him, and his love continued to abide with Paul and transform him through the duration of his ministry and life. Paul knew his strength to stay focused was through the grace given only by the power of God (1 Cor. 2:2-5).
The same word is available to us. When God interrupts our lives through crises or in whatever way he chooses, may we thank him for the interruption. More than this, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the one thing that is needful, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him who has endured such hostility by sinners against himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:2-3, NASB).
Fellow believer, he is found on the mountaintop, in the crisis, and everywhere in between.