COLLINS COLUMN: Navigating the Storm: Finding Hope in the Midst of Tensions and Stress

Published 9:00 am Saturday, May 25, 2024

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Tensions and stress were rising. Can you look back and remember a time when you went through some season of life and those words described your experience? Maybe you are living in such a moment now. Maybe you have a problem that you cannot solve, a diagnosis that appears unconquerable, or maybe it is a relationship that is about to go one way or the other but cannot survive another day of tension. When reading and watching the news, it seems that tensions and stress describes our politics and the politics of the world. There is so much going on it can make one wonder where God is in all of this. What is the role of the church in all that is happening in our lives, our nation, and the world?

It might be helpful to remember that while there is great strife and challenges in our present moment, this is not the first time that Christ-followers have experienced tension and stress. In fact, as we continue to read through the book of Acts, we find many examples of moments that the church appeared to be on the brink of destruction.

Just after Stephen’s martyrdom, we read that Saul approved of his execution. A well-educated and respected Pharisee who knew the Old Testament scriptures in and out approved of murdering an innocent and faithful Christ-follower. Luke records that when Stephen died, there arose that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem and the believers scattered.

Men, women and their children who gave up everything to follow Jesus now feared for their lives. And for good reason. Saul was “ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” There was plenty of tension and stress. We must remember that those who persecuted them claimed to be the faithful of God, while those who were persecuted believed in Jesus and had given their lives, even their possessions, to him. This was religious persecution in the heart of Jerusalem.

As chapter 9 opens, Saul “continued to breath threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Saul went to the high priest, according to Acts 9, and asked that he go to Damascus to arrest the Christ-followers and bring them back to Jerusalem. Based on what had already happened, we would assume these believers would face death. There was plenty of tension and stress spreading as Saul’s intensity to destroy the work of the church grew.

As Saul’s anger grew, things were moving to a potential breaking point. From both an outside and inside perspective, it would appear things were at a critical juncture.

As a leader I have been there several times, waiting to see if the contract gets signed, gets broken or if the revenue meets expectations or if payroll can be met. Anyone who has ever started a company, led a nonprofit, or has been a university president has experienced these moments. We pray. We wait. And we do both again.

At just this kind of moment, when all seemed to be about to explode, the light came on. Literally, there was a light from heaven all around Saul, and he heard a voice asking:

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

Saul replied: “Who are you, Lord?”

Jesus answered: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”

No one could have predicted the moment. The apostles didn’t see it coming. The persecuted church was scattering. The Pharisees never imagined it. But just like that, Jesus stepped into the moment and brought transformational clarity.

I have experienced moments like this. Mine didn’t involve an audible voice from heaven or a light shining down from the sky, but the unexpected presence of Jesus has stepped into my life in various times and ways that no one could have expected. That is the kind of God we serve. He knows when we are at the breaking point. He knows when the critical junction is here and needs an intervention. He is full of grace and love and intervenes as only he can.

But note that in Saul’s Damascus Road experience leading to his conversion and his appointment as an apostle, God also involved others in unexpected ways.

In this encounter God spoke to both the one persecuting and to a disciple named Ananias. Jesus spoke to Saul on the way to persecute the disciples in Damascus, and he spoke to one of the disciples that Saul was out to get. We should always remember that Jesus has access to anyone and everyone through his Holy Spirit. No matter our situation, God can move through anyone he chooses at any given time. It is hard to remember when we are in the middle of our fear and struggle, but God is always at work.

In the case of Saul, God interrupted his threats, he protected his church, and he used one of his disciples to minister to the persecutor just three days later.

I suspect there are times when we would prefer God use someone else to solve a problem and not tap us on the shoulder to be involved in his solution. But our surrender to Jesus means that we are surrendered to however he wants to use us, as well as wherever he calls us to go.

This one moment of sudden spiritual transformation continues to bring transformation even today. Paul’s missionary work, his writing, and his witness have all been used to bring you and I to faith.

God’s Spirit still works in powerful ways, even today. What God requires of us is simply obedience to follow him when he calls.  There are no situations of stress or any amount of tension that is outside of the reach of God!

Father, we are thankful for the day you interrupted the persecution of the church and blinded Saul on the Damascus road. We see the cascading impact of Jesus at work in the world today as a result of this dramatic story. Help us to trust that your Holy Spirit is still calling and moving in our lives and in our hour of need. Thank you for saving us and calling us to your service. We surrender to your call and ask you to use us today for your glory and your purposes. In Jesus’ name, amen.