Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Becoming Ananias

We have much to learn from Ananias. Yesterday, we looked at what this story must look like from Saul's perspective, when he opens his blinded eyes to see that not only does this Christian stand before him, but this Christian dared touch him...and he was touched by a Christian. 

It would be easy, then, to say that Ananias teaches us to go where God sends us and touch who He tells us to touch. 

But that would be missing the point.

The truth is that Ananias had a thousand ways to mess this up, even if he still went. Even if he still healed this Saul. Being obedient is more than just doing what you're asked; it's doing it in pure heart and good faith. The story of Ananias should not just be what he did, but we should focus emphatically on how he did it.

First, he had his concerns. He had heard about this Saul and knew exactly what this man was about. So the first thing that Ananias does is confess his hesitations to God. He turns to God for reassurance that it's going to be okay. He doesn't talk to the experts in Jewish persecution. He doesn't talk to a thousand friends. He doesn't post on Facebook this "crazy thing" he's thinking about doing, making it some poll of public opinion, as though just anyone could talk him out of it. He goes straight to God. He says, "Hey, I've heard about this guy. Are You sure?" And when God says yes, that's all he needs. Off he goes to visit the persecutor.

When he gets there, he does not hold the goodness of God hostage to Saul's heart. Oh, this is where we are so good at what we do. We are so gifted at holding God hostage to what other people do. Bless you? You want me to bless you? You have to show that you're worthy to be blessed. Forgive you? Are you sorry? We wait for some sign that the person is worthy of God's goodness before we even dare offer it, but Ananias does no such thing. He doesn't make Saul promise not to kill him. He doesn't make Saul promise to change his ways. He doesn't ask Saul to recite some creed or prayer or whatever to show that he truly has a heart for God. Ananias touches the man and heals him because God sent him to do just this; whether the man meets Ananias's criteria is null. He meets God's. That's enough. (And it's good, too, because I don't think Saul's heart actually turns until his eyes are opened again. I think in the darkness, he was a mess, but in sight, he was redeemed.)

Even after Saul opens his eyes, sees the Christian standing there, and has this awkward silent exchange where they look into each other's eyes and see what they've heard each man to be, an image falling away in new eyes for both of them, Ananias does not say, "Are you going to kill me?" He doesn't bring up Saul's past. Now is not the time. It's too soon. Here is this Saul who is about to do a new thing, and Ananias doesn't hold him back by proclaiming the old thing he's always been. We are too good at this, too. We are too good at holding others to what they always were, never giving them a real chance to do a new thing. Now, maybe twenty years from that moment, Ananias and Paul could be sitting around a table sharing a meal and Ananias might say to Paul, "Man, brother, I was so nervous. I was shaking in my boots. A Christian sent to heal a persecutor? I must've been CRAZY. I just knew you were going to kill me." Twenty years later, they can laugh about it. In the moment, though, it would have ruined everything. 

And after all was said and done, Ananias let Paul go. He let the man continue on his way, with his ow friends. He didn't crowd in, press his way into the group, demand that he gets to be part of the gang. He didn't linger around, waiting on Paul to somehow thank him or show his deepest appreciation. He didn't demand anything in return, and he didn't require that he be given due credit in Paul's continuing story. He didn't seek recognition. He simply...let the man go. And he, Ananias, returned to his place, as well. 

We have much to learn from Ananias. Indeed, our ministries in the world would be more fruitful, I think, if we could follow his example. First, bring our concerns to God, not to the world. Ask God for clarification and affirmation. These things don't need to be public opinion polls; either God says go or He doesn't. Second, stop holding God hostage to the hearts of others. We never know what God could be up to, what He could do or maybe even is already doing. Persons don't have to be deserving of God's grace before we give it to them; Lord knows none of us were worthy when He gave it to us. Third, let it drop. Stop holding people hostage to their own stories. Stop bringing up who they were, even if there is long-running testimony to this or that or the other. Twenty years from now, maybe, but not right now. Not here. Persons who have been touched by God, even through our hands, are right on the verge of doing a new thing. Let us not hinder them in that. And then, let them go. Stop demanding recognition for the part you played in someone's life. Stop demanding that you get to be a part of their ongoing life forevermore. God operates in seasons and in moments. Ananias was called to open the eyes of the blind man, not to enlist with the man's ministry team. Do what God sends you to do, and then go home. And let others go on. It's that simple.

Learn from Ananias. 

He has so much to teach us. 

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