Heaven is calling. Just when you think all the drama is over with Easter, God gains our attention. This applies to the calling of Saul (Acts 9: 1-20) and the restoration of Peter (John 21: 1-19).
The situation with Saul (later named Paul) reveals how this greatest of the early Christian writers was spiritually awakened. Before his conversion, Saul was a mercenary, hired by the Jewish bureaucracy to harass and arrest Christians. One day on a journey to Damascus Saul heard a voice from heaven that changed his life. Only Saul heard the heavenly words which brought-up the persecutions of Jesus’ followers. The gist was that Paul was being called to a new life. How ironic that the Saul who had been condemning Christians would assume a new name—Paul—and become the most renown missionary in Christian history.
Now we turn to Peter, who next to Paul was the most influential early Christian. The circumstance for Peter’s strange encounter involved Jesus during a post-crucifixion appearance. The risen Jesus visited his Apostles as they were on the lake fishing, and when Peter heard about this he put on his clothes. We may wonder why Peter was naked in a boat with his friends but sometimes it’s better to leave such things alone. The bizarre spectacle continued as Peter jumped into the water clothed (Peter seems to have perceived things backwards). And you thought that you had bad days! Some have called Peter’s behavior a break with reality but at the very least he seemed confused, frightened and ashamed. In these respects, we can more easily identify with what Peter was feeling.
We can understand Peter’s reluctance to face Jesus given that Peter had betrayed his Lord on the night of Jesus’ arrest (just prior to the crucifixion). During the post-resurrection visit, Jesus told Peter to “feed my lambs, tend my sheep,” and again to “feed my lambs.” Jesus further asked Peter if he loved him, and Peter said “you know that I love you.” All of this can prompt us to scratch our heads. Jesus finally asked Peter to follow him, which leads us to believe that Peter had fallen away prior to the encounter but was now restored. What a great feeling when we have our relationship with God restored.
Saul and Peter are unusual examples. Both of these pillars of Christianity were contemporaries of Jesus and both were conferred a special religious status that raises further questions about power and privilege. Hence, we are understandably cautious about comparing our spiritual calling with theirs. Many Christians have reported dramatic encounters with the divine, some so lively that they rival a movie script.
The vast majority of people who convert to Christianity don’t report theatric or Hollywood-style experiences. But don’t court complacency because a spiritual awakening is more significant than any side-show drama. How so? Our connection with and response to God involves transformation of our spirit. This is an inward miracle, but not something that will make the evening news or garner public attention. No matter what you think of Peter’s or Paul’s situation the point is that God can take us at our worst and transform us into something new and beautiful.
We are reassured to know that God’s interface with us is as unique as we are, and that God’s calling can assume a myriad of forms. Since this is the case, we can be less anxious about trying to duplicate others’ experiences. Alternatively, reading about how God has restored other peoples’ hope challenges us in a constructive manner, opening possibilities that we might not otherwise recognize.
Saul and Peter must have felt perplexed during their respective encounters with Jesus. We, too, can feel a strange mix of unusual circumstances when God wants our attention. Are you expecting God to communicate with you? Are you listening and attentive to God? It’s not always easy to feel God in daily living until we enlarge our awareness. The important thing is that we remain open and expectant. If we’re not willing to be transformed then God will not force it. Yearn for God’s presence and you will be rewarded. Connecting with God will provide the enduring joy that you can’t obtain elsewhere. –Reverend Larry Hoxey