I’ve known Paul’s story all my life. Murderer turned missionary. Destroyer of the church who became one of it’s greatest architects and builders. A persecutor of the church transformed into a fearless proclaimer of the gospel by that earth-shattering encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus.
I know Paul’s story. But these last few weeks I’ve had pictures in my mind to go along with the story.
We’ve seen again on the news those images of hooded men dressed in black, looming over their line of captives clad in prison orange.
We’ve heard the tragic story of Christians fleeing persecution only to be tossed into the sea and left to drown.
We’ve heard. We’ve seen. And we’ve wept with our brothers and sisters.
Jesus said we’re to pray for those who persecute us. When I see this, when I hear the arrogance, when I see the destruction waged by those who see rape as a weapon of war and the sword as an instrument of justice, what I want most to pray is probably not what Jesus had in mind. James and John once wanted to call down fire from heaven on a village that refused to welcome Jesus. I know the feeling.
But this week, God has shown me something different to pray for persecutors.
He’s reminded me that Paul was one of them.
Before Jesus brought Paul to his knees that day on the Damascus road, Paul’s goal was to destroy the church (Galatians 1:13). He ravaged the church, dragging off both men and women to prison. Like a dragon, he breathed out threats and murder against the church. Paul held the coats for the mob who stoned Stephen to death, and he “heartily approved” of what they did (Acts 8:1-3; 9:1). Paul had blood on his hands, and in his zeal he believed he was serving God by killing the church.
Paul would have worn a black robe.
Paul would have stood on that boat in the middle of the Mediterranean and held coats for the men who threw Christians into the sea.
Until he met Jesus, anyway. Jesus knocked Paul to his knees in the middle of that dusty road, striking him blind so God could open Paul’s eyes in spiritual sight. And he who had tried to extinguish the church started lighting gospel fires.
I’m praying for a new generation of Pauls among the persecutors.
I’m praying that those men holding swords and guns and cameras will be blinded by the light of God’s glory. I’m praying Jesus shows up in their dreams, asking questions, calling names, and showing them the wounds in his hands and feet. I’m praying that on beaches and boats and desolate roads they’ll find themselves driven to their knees before the Savior, weeping because the one whom they have persecuted is waiting to welcome them home.
I haven’t forgotten the victims. I pray for their safety and protection. I pray that God blinds the eyes of their enemies. May God shut the mouths of lions and be with his people in the midst of the furnace. Our God of justice will avenge his people. But I also remember God’s ultimate answer to evil was the cross. The road to victory always leads through Calvary.
“They kept hearing, ‘He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.’ And they were glorifying God because of me” (Galatians 1:23-24).
May it be so, Lord Jesus–always and forever for your glory.