If you grew up in church, you read the story of Saul the murderer, who became Paul the martyr for Christ. But how much have you studied of Ananias, the man who baptised Paul? Ananias’s story is explained in Acts 9:10-19, and Paul references him once more in Acts 22:12. Of Ananias’ character, we know very little, except that he “was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews [of Damascus].” From this brief description, I imagine Ananias as an ideal church deacon. A hard-working family man who was soft-spoken and kind enough to get along with everyone. Unassuming. A man who lived his life in his hometown, without any aspirations to change his status or move any mountains.
This is the blessed man that God chose to bring the Holy Spirit to Paul. It’s a pretty picture. It’s also the biblical equivalent of commanding me to walk into an ISIS bunker and preach the gospel. For, while we discuss Paul’s inevitable conversion, we rarely consider the risks that Ananias took to baptise Paul.
First, Paul was not on the road alone that day. He traveled with several companions whose murderous mission matched his own. And it was these companions who led Paul to Demascus, and it was these companions who opened the door to Ananias. When God sent Ananias, He gave Ananias no promises of safety. In fact, the only prophesy God shared was that Paul would become a vessel for God’s kingdom. While Ananias may have deduced that Paul would not endanger him, he could not have known the same for Paul’s spiritually blind companions.
Second, Ananias risked ridicule from his own community. Imagine baptising Paul, and then bringing that story back to the church elders. Someone in his community must have been astonished. “Are you sure you heard God right, Ananias? Are you sure you were supposed to rescue him from the darkness?” While many disciples worshipped with Paul, there were others who could not believe the transformation (Acts 9:19-26). Because of Paul’s history, they feared him, and in turn, Ananias must have heard the whispers. Respected, trusted Ananias must have lost some of his credibility when he chose to follow God to the house of a terrorist.
Yet Ananias obeyed. He didn’t tell God to find another way. He didn’t question God’s sovereignty and power over Paul’s life. He obeyed, in return and got to participate in a miraculous healing of both the body and mind.
But we don’t study any of that. We briefly applaud Ananias for following God’s calling, and then we dive deeper into the regulations that splits our church in two rather than focusing on the singular mission of Christ’s followers. And it is this misdirection that continues to stop our nation from achieving a spiritual revival.
In the last few weeks, my social media has been aflutter with statements from Christian leaders. At the forefront of these statements are the names Beth Moore and Kanye West. They come from two very different backgrounds. Beth, a female preacher, who is beloved by her audience but apparently hated by many traditional Christian leaders. And Kanye, whose faith is new and whose leadership was thrust upon him simply because of his prior fame.
Most of the statements on my personal sites have been positive and uplifting. Most people have shown great love to both Beth and Kanye, and some have even defended them from naysayers. But all of this attention focused on two of Christ’s vessels has me asking a single question. Why does it even matter?
Praise Jesus that Beth answered the calling to be a witness from the pulpit.
Praise Jesus that Beth had the wisdom to forgive, and the kindness to ask her followers not to slander her accusers.
Praise Jesus that Kanye, after spewing hatred for years, had the scales removed from his eyes.
Praise Jesus that Kanye answered the calling to sing the praises of Him who reigns forever.
But neither Beth nor Kanye have any impact on the survival of God’s truth. When the Apostles were brought before the Sanhidren to be sentenced to death, a Pharisee named Gamaliel saved them with these words, “Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:38-39).
For surely if Kanye’s convictions turn out to be insincere or weak, God’s gospel will not collapse. And should Beth be a false prophet, God’s word will still be spread through those who seek Him. Neither Beth nor Kanye is powerful enough to create or destroy God’s kingdom. Neither Beth nor Kanye can claim responsibility for the salvation of a single person in this world. That salvation belongs only to the Creator, the Savior, and the Helper, better known as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
As for us, what do we hope to accomplish when we sit back and discuss the behaviors of other Christians rather than pleading our own cases with Christ? Will our neighbors come to Christ while we determine if Kanye is wise enough to preach the gospel? Will our friends come to Christ while we determine if Beth a heretic simply because of her gender? What risks are you taking for the kingdom that might leave the faithless in awe?
Today, God has chosen these two people as vessels. For the short period of time that these people live on this earth, they have chosen to proclaim His name. But if they backed off, and chose NOT to follow Christ, the only salvations that suffer are their own. For out of their ashes would arise two more champions, or perhaps three or four. I don’t claim to know God’s plan.
Don’t question Kanye, welcome him as a brother. Pray for him and for your own discernment, so that you will see him as nothing more than a worshipping disciple gifted by Grace, rather than a celebrity deserving of accolades.
Don’t disregard Beth. Compare her words to those written by God, and seek out wisdom to understand the truth for yourself. For while she has proven wise, her wisdom does not hold a candle to the discernment that the Holy Spirit can bring to all who are saved.
And while you are praying and reading, do not uplift either of these people as the vessel who will bring spiritual revival to our nation. If we want a revival, the entire body of Christ must cry out to God for wisdom and strength. Paul, the saint who is uplifted by the church as one of the most important instruments in founding the early church, was too weak to hold such power alone. For the message of Christ was spread before Paul’s conversion and it continued after his death. It was spread by the deeds of kindness from women like Tabitha. It was spread through the people Paul killed like Stephen. It was spread through quiet, respected people like Ananias.
Unassuming Ananias. Who said, “Yes,” to being written into God’s history books and walked into the den of those who persecuted him. Who chose to take part in Christ’s plan.
My hope is not in Beth. My hope is not in Kanye. My hope is in Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.