The Prayer Project: July


From Saul to Paul

“Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him.” ~Acts 13:9

Saint Paul by Bartolomeo Montagna

God is in the transformation business. Your beginning does not have to be your end. We see this made manifest in the life of Paul. Paul began his life as a persecutor of Christians. He was known as Saul of Tarsus before he was handpicked by God to be His apostle. At this time in his life, he had no regard, reverence or love for Christians. Saul watched the stoning death of the martyr Stephen and held the garments of the ones hurling stones. 

He was a devout Jew who had permission from the High Priest to persecute anyone professing that Jesus was the Chosen One. Saul says:

“I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished.”Acts 22:3-5

It wasn’t until that faithful day on Damascus Road that Saul encountered the Prince of peace in a personal way. The bright light and the voice of the Savior caused him to fall to his feet, “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me? ~Acts 9:4 

Persecution of His people was persecution of Him. Saul answered humbly and submitted himself and asked what he should do. He was told to rise and go into the city. This act of obedience left him blind. There he met Ananais who was rightfully afraid as Saul’s reputation preceded him. Also instructed by the Lord, he too obeyed and healed Saul of his temporary blindness. 

Although Saul was well versed in the Bible, he did not believe that Jesus was the anointed Messiah. After the fateful encounter, he dedicated his life to the Great Commission and  traveled to synagogues all across the region to deliver the Good News. Because he was a Hebrew who held Roman citizenship, he was able to speak  with confidence to both the Jews and Greeks and therefore was able to reach more people.  

Throughout his life Paul suffered many trials but continued to press on and fight the good fight of faith despite being imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, flogged, stoned, faced death a myriad of times, battled his own flesh, was often hungry, thirsty and cold-yet he never allowed any of it to prevent him from serving the Lord. Even when the Lord elected not to remove the thorn from his side, he continued on. He felt it an honor to be weak as it showed the strength of the Lord. “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” 1 Corinthians 12:9

At the end of his life Paul was content knowing his reward. He spent the remainder of his life working tirelessly for the Kingdom. He had written 14 of the 27 epistles in the New Testsment, lead an innumerable amount of people to Christ, enlisted others to teach about Christ, created the theological framework of justification by faith and lead an exemplary life of faith. He had done all he was called to do and knew his time of death was at hand. “I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”~2 Timothy 4-6 

Through his life we learn that God can use anyone. Each and every one of us matter to God. We are never beyond redemption. We also learn that anyone can be a witness for Christ if they are willing to be transformed and made anew. 

Paul was willing and even counted his sufferings all joy. “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” ~Philippians 1:12-14). His transformation was complete. Can you say the same? 

Going Viral

“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” ~Romans 12:2

Social media can be both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that it allows some to keep in communication with long distance loved ones, network with others, provide much needed encouragement and a forum to learn new things. However, it can also lead to posturing, vanity, idolatry, gluttony, envy, debauchery, gossip, bitterness, pride and hatred.

It is common for users to do things solely for “likes” and attention. Some women post pictures with very little clothing or make provocative “twerking” videos. Others fall in the comedic  group and make it their mission to turn everything into a “meme” just to get a laugh at anyone’s expense as well as to gain a myriad of followers in the process. Many male social media users are overtly looking for lust  and encourage female followers to let it all hang out so to speak and showboat their various material possessions. And in the midst of it all is a group of very impressionable kids and teenagers, wanting to fit in and follow the lead of these irresponsible, self-serving adults.

I actually have one social media outlet and I am always AMAZED and not in a good way at how far people will go. Everyone wants to be cool, chic, smart, beautiful, rich and well…liked whether they admit it or not.

I am very selective about what I post and who I interact with online. I do not accept 99% of the requests I receive. I never want my account to control my life or misrepresent who I am and Who I belong to. I don’t want to be one of the confused, crazed, misguided people who put their godly qualities in the bio section but their accounts are so far removed from the One Most High.  We are cautioned not to set our eyes on anything worthless. Nor do I want to interact with those who may pervert my walk on the narrow path. The Bible clearly says in 1 Corinthians 15:33 “Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” And since celebrities are not my role models, I follow none of them either.

I’d even argue that social media is a tool of Satan. He knows how weak and vain the human mind is. He is all over Instagram, SnapChat, FaceBook, Kik, Tumblr, Twitter, LinkedIn (and the other sites I failed to mention) just as he is loose all over the world.

The need to be in the limelight is at an all time high. Everything done is in an attempt to make it “go viral.” It makes me wonder when I hear about a “good” deed via social media  if it was done out of kindness or for the attention such a act will garner once it has been viewed and shared thousands of times. I’ve seen people taking pictures with the homeless they have helped, money they’ve tithed at church, visiting babies at the hospital, even paying for someone else’s drink at Starbucks.

On the flip side of going viral for a good deed is the public shaming that one incurs for a bad act. Many people feel inclined to leave judgemental, abusive, hate-filled comments.  The individuals in the hot seat are harassed  publicly and a bullying frenzy begins. A recent example of this can be found in the case of the mother of the child who made his way into the gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati zoo. I’ve even heard of suicide resulting in extreme cases of online attacks.

The Bible says to do all things in moderation and thus I don’t believe that social media is a bad thing per say. However, too much of ANYTHING is a bad thing. It is definitely something that must be used with caution as we are instructed to focus on “… whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” Philippians 4: 8 We cannot afford to allow our minds and hearts to be sullied by the ways of the world.

End of Days

“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”Ecclesiates 1:1

Life has a way of fooling most. We get puffed up with pride and form a false sense of self sufficiency. Oftentimes we believe we are too “evolved,” too smart and foolishly decide we do not need the Lord. 

We are reminded of the fragility of life and how insignificant we truly are in the face of tragedy-particularly death. Death, the great equalizer, has a way of forcing us to come to terms with who we belong to. It isn’t ourselves, our parents, or even our spouses. We belong to the Lord. The Bible records in Romans 14:8, “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.” 

At the end of days, the only thing that matters is our service to the Lord. Not titles, degrees, pedigrees, celebrity status, riches, cars, clothes, or any other material aspects of the world we inhibit.

When I was in junior high school, I remember watching Cosmos: A Personal Voyage narrated by Carl Sagan in my Earth Science class. All these years later I can still here him saying “we are star stuff.” The thought of being celestial fascinated me as a youth. But now older and wiser, I have to disagree. We are but mere dust-truly nobodies in terms of the Creator of all things. Remember that “faith without works is dead.”James 2:26 It’s not enough to praise God and profess your love for Him without serving Him through loving and serving His people. 

I was watching the coverage of the death of famed boxer Muhammad Ali and heard the quote below:

“I conquered the world, and it didn’t bring me happiness. The only true satisfaction comes from honouring and worshipping God. Time passes quick; this life is short. I see my daughter Maryum. Yesterday she was a baby. Now she’s grown and ready to get married. My hair is grey…God doesn’t allow you to go back and live your life over again. But the older you get, the wiser you get; and in the time I got left, I’m living right. Every day is a judgement for me. Every night when I go to bed, I ask myself, ‘If God were to judge me just on what I did today, would I go to heaven or hell?’ I can’t save other people’s souls; only God can do that. But I can try to save mine.”

I am thankful that he was eventually able to have such a revelation. Before his end of days he saw past the mere mirage and vanity of stardom. 

Nowadays when I hear of someone dying-whether it be a prince or pauper, my only concern is whether they have made themselves right with God. We are quick to idolize celebrities and place them on a pedestal. But they are no different than us as we were all made from the same body of Adam. They have to answer to the same God as we do. Let us not forget this. 

EVERYTHING else is vanity.