I have been on incapacity leave for almost three months. It has been a time in which to reflect on the meaning of my life as well as ministry. I will remain on incapacity leave for 9 more months and then a review will be held based on the reports of my doctor’s. I must be honest and say that I never dreamed at age 45, that I would not be able to do ministry due to a health issue, but one thing that I have learned is that life is filled with twists and turns. It is filled with both laughter and tears. The difficult times are just as much a part of life as are the good times. It goes without saying that the twists and turns in life are not always expected. Realizing this fact got me to thinking and I discovered that all of our experiences in life are what make us who we are. I have also discovered that God can use those unexpected twist and turns to make us all that we can be.
The Apostle Paul is a prime example. If we look at what The Book of Acts reveals about the Apostle Paul’s life we will find a man whose life took a hundred and eighty degree turn. We first read of Paul in chapter seven in The Book of Acts. Paul has not been converted yet and is still known by the name of Saul. We read in the fifty eighth verse, “And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young mans feet, whose name was Saul.” Paul as we will later know him is in on the stoning of Stephen a man who is full of the Spirit of God. We then read in the eight chapter that Paul made havoc of the church and even entered into houses dragging men and women to prison for their belief in Jesus the Christ. It is in the ninth chapter that we read of Paul’s conversion. He is on his way to Damascus to persecute the followers of Jesus when he has an unexpected encounter with Jesus. paul is blinded by a bright light and is knocked off his horse. He then hears a voice that says, “Saul, Saul, why persecuteth thou me?” (Acts 9:4). Paul then responds, “Who art thou Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”(John 9:5). Paul then asks the Lord what he is to do, and Jesus reveals to him that he is to go into the city and it will be revealed to him what he is to do next. We know the rest of the story, Paul’s sight is restored and he becomes on of the greatest spokesman for Christianity that the world has ever or will ever know.
The Apostle Paul’s life would end in Rome as a martyr for the faith that in the beginning he worked to destroy. We could go on and on with the life of Paul. The Scripture tells us that the Apostle Paul would endure all kinds of troubles and trials in his life. At the end of the day Paul sums his life and ministry up in the following way: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” (Philippians 3:10). Paul could have had great remorse for his active role in the persecution of the church. He could have grown bitter about being imprisoned. He could have had doubt in the reality of Jesus due to all the suffering that he endured for the cause of Christ, but as far as we know he did not experience these feelings.
The point to be made is that all of these things made the Apostle Paul who he was. His past experiences were opportunities for God to shape him and create an Apostle Paul that was up to the task. Our past troubles, trials and experiences shape us into who and what God wants us to be. Anyone that has any knowledge or past experience with 12 step programs know that one thing that is emphasized over and over again is that the past cannot be undone, and that’s o.k. This fact has to be realized in order to move beyond the past and into a life filled with healing and wholeness. The Apostle Paul would never have been effective in his ministry if he had not gone through each and every event from his role in the stoning of Stephen to his martyrdom in Rome and all events in between. We cannot be all that God wants us to be and has created us to be until we realize that all of the events both past, present and future will shape us into that which God wants us to be. God uses in his sovereignty our experiences to create a vessel fit for use in the kingdom. So what does incapacity leave mean for me? I’m not sure. What does my past or your past mean? God shaping us into all that we can be. We may not understand the whys or the hows but one thing we can and do know is that God is at work. The writer of Romans gives us a great promise, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) We can believe that God is at work for the good even in the most difficult of times.