Look Wayyyy Out!
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Look Wayyyy Out!
By Richard Niell Donovan
When people think of Paul the Apostle, they have two very different reactions. Some people don’t like Paul at all. A fair number of women find themselves in this camp. They tend to think of Paul, a bachelor, as a misogynist, a woman-hater. That isn’t fair to Paul, but it is how some people see him.
On the other hand, Paul really impresses lots of folks, and I have to admit that he impresses me.
• He was always on fire for God, even before he became a Christian.
• He was born to privilege, and was an educated man in a time when education was a rarity, but he willingly sacrificed everything for Christ.
• He was the world’s greatest missionary. He single-handedly spread the church throughout the whole world of his day.
Paul wrote almost half of the New Testament. One of those books is the book of Romans. My church history professor used to say that every reawakening of the church throughout history has started with someone reading the book of Romans.
As far as I am concerned, Paul is the towering figure of the New Testament, second only to Jesus himself.
But there is another side to Paul.
• He started poorly, and he ended poorly.
• He started by persecuting Christians.
• He and was present at the assassination of Stephen.
• At the end of his story, we find him in jail.
• Life wasn’t a bed of roses for Paul.
In fact, in our text today, the Lord tells Ananias, “I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” (Acts 9:16).
We tend to think of Paul rather like we think of Colonel Sanders. When we think of Colonel Sanders, we think, “He was an old man when he finally got rich. Maybe there’s hope for me!”
But when Colonel Sanders was interviewed on television, he didn’t talk about all the money he had made or how many chickens he had cooked.
• He talked about driving on two-lane blacktop roads without a line down the middle.
• He talked about driving from town to town begging people to try his recipe and to sell his chicken.
• He talked about running his whole business from the trunk of his car.
Colonel Sanders lived a tough life—at least it was a tough life until he got rich.
Paul lived a tough life too. When God told Ananias to go to Saul (as Paul was known before he became a Christian), God said, “I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”
Paul did suffer. He had two great handicaps. One was guilt.
• He had persecuted the church.
• He had read God completely wrong.
• He had killed Christians.
• He must have remembered Stephen’s death for the rest of his life.
He said, “I am the least of the apostles, who is not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the assembly of God”—the church of God (1 Corinthians 15:9). That isn’t false humility. It’s honest grief.
Paul’s second handicap was his health. He talked about having a thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7). We don’t know what that was. It was some kind of infirmity. All I know is that Paul wasn’t a complainer, but his thorn in the flesh really caused him problems. It must have been pretty bad.
Furthermore, after his conversion, Paul suffered greatly in the course of his ministry. He said:
“Five times from the Jews I received forty stripes minus one.
Three times I was beaten with rods.
Once I was stoned.
Three times I suffered shipwreck.
I have been a night and a day in the deep.
I have been in travels often,
perils of rivers, perils of robbers,
perils from my countrymen, perils from the Gentiles,
perils in the city, perils in the wilderness, perils in the sea,
perils among false brothers;
in labor and travail, in watchings often,
in hunger and thirst, in fastings often,
and in cold and nakedness.
Besides those things that are outside,
there is that which presses on me daily,
anxiety for all the (churches)” (2 Cor. 11:24-28).
Paul’s ministry was not exactly a bed of roses, was it? How did Paul keep going? Why didn’t he quit? How did he endure?
Paul didn’t have any problem enduring. Paul spent very little time feeling sorry for himself. In fact, Paul was quite happy with his life and ministry. At one point, when Paul was in prison, King Agrippa granted him an audience. Paul took the opportunity to preach a rousing sermon to the king. Agrippa accused Paul of trying to convert him to Christianity. Paul replied:
“I pray to God, that whether with little or with much,
not only you, but also all that hear me this day,
might become such as I am,
except for these bonds” (Acts 26:29)
In other words, “I have a great life, Mr. King. I wish you were just like me, so that you could have a great life too.”
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What is the secret of Paul’s victorious life? How could he feel so good when things were going so bad?
The greater question is, how can we become like Paul?
• How can we feel good when things are going badly?
• How can we be happy when we have reason to be sad?
• How can we live victoriously in a messed-up world?
• What wisdom can Paul offer us to help us to rise above our situations?
• What help can he offer us to help us live right in a world that has gone wrong?
We don’t have to be rocket scientists to figure it out. Paul tells us the answer. God had given him the answer. God had told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9a). Paul responded by saying, “Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9b).
That was the answer. God had told him two things. First of all, he had said, “My grace is sufficient for you.” In other words, “When you are down, I will lift you up. When you are weak, I will make you strong.”
Secondly, God said, “…power is made perfect in weakness.” In other words, God said, “When you are weak, I will make you strong. And people will know that you are operating on God-power.”
That was what made Paul happy when he COULD have been unhappy.
That was what made Paul happy when it looked like he SHOULD have been unhappy.
• Paul walked hand-in-hand with God, and God’s grace transformed his life.
• He walked hand-in-hand with God, and God gave him the power to live victoriously regardless of his circumstances.
God can do the same thing for you.
In his sermon, “Commissioned of God,” Harold Songer tells about taking a job where he was required to climb a ladder. When he started the job, his boss said, “Harold, I’ll tell you a secret. When you get up on that high ladder, you’re going to look down and it’s going to be higher than you thought.” Then his boss gave him this advice:
• When that happens, don’t look up—the clouds will move and you’ll think you are falling.
• Don’t look at the trees. The wind will shake them, and you’ll think you are falling.
• Don’t look down. That is what scared you in the first place.
• Look wayyyy out—find a place on the horizon. Then back down the ladder until your feet touch the ground.”
Paul kept his eyes on Jesus Christ, and that saved him when times got tough.
• Paul looked “wayyyyy out” to Jesus, and that gave him courage to go “wayyyy on” in his life’s work.
• He remembered all that Christ had done for him, and it gave him faith that Christ would keep on doing for him.
You have probably lived through some tough times too—and you will have some more tough times before it is over. That’s just how it is—being human. Life is very seldom easy. Life is very seldom a bed of roses. Most of us have more stress than we do joy.
When the tough times come, keep your eyes on Jesus Christ.
• Look “wayyyy out” to Jesus, and he will give you courage to go “wayyyy on” in your journey of life.
• Remember all that Christ has done for you, and it will renew your faith that he will do more for you in the future.
• Keep your eyes on Christ, and he will help you to survive.
• Keep your eyes on Christ, and he will help you to thrive.
This morning, if you have not had your eyes fixed on Jesus, we invite you to come and make him your Lord and Savior.
• We invite you to fix your eyes upon him, and to find strength in him.
• We invite you to look “wayyyy out” and gain a new perspective on life.
• We invite you to learn what Christ can do when you give your life to him.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan