When he was blinded at his conversion, the Word tells us that for 3 days he prayed, neither eating or drinking. Wow. 3 days without stopping - what was he saying?
I cannot imagine being struck blind (my 6 weeks with one eye was enough, thank you). Added to the fear of the present and future without sight. Is it permanent? Is it a punishment for persecuting Jesus so harshly and condoning the torture and murder of His followers? How terrifying to discover his whole life was - well, completely wrong and evil - a man who had studied every second practically since birth to know and follow the law according to the Pharisees - of which he was one - the group Jesus had pronounced the "woes" upon.
I think Paul's heart was broken. All this time he'd been trying to please his God - and he'd actually been dishonoring him. I can't imagine the sword through his heart, the nausea, the shame. Did he spend those three days confessing sins and asking for forgiveness? He knew nothing of grace yet, nothing of how "The Way" worked, its laws and customs. Was he going over all the scriptures in his mind to see where the Messiah predictions pointed to Jesus? Sick at heart, sick in body, hurting, isolated, totally alone and distrusted by anyone who knew Jesus, for Saul had a reputation that ranged far and wide, and it was not a good one to those of The Way.
And then, like his Lord, on the third day he arose.
"...something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see."
But according to tradition and clues in the Word, he could not see clearly. It seems his eyesight was bad for the rest of his life.
Making him a CI.
Jesus said He would show Paul how much he must suffer for Jesus's sake.
And suffer he did. In 2 Cor:8-10 (Modern Language Bible) "We are hedged in from every side, but we do not live cramped lives; we are perplexed, but we do not despair; we are persecuted but not deserted; struck down but not destroyed, all the while bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that by our bodies the life of Jesus may also be shown." He was also shipwrecked, spending a night and a day on the sea - I can't imagine clinging to a piece of flotsam for 24 hours, in the dark, sharks circling, circling. It gives me shivers.
Then there were the floggings - plural. The Jews could only give him 39 lashes, but the Romans had no such rule. The whipping with the cat o' nine tails had leather thongs with nails and thorns and sharp pebbles attached to them, ripping and shredding with every lash - and then being raw and rubbing against any clothing you wore, finally healing in long, ropey scars that would shrink with age into hard ridges - and nothing much in the way of pain relief was available (and if it was, prisoners wouldn't get it!). He was stoned by a mob - the people thought they'd killed him; perhaps they did - it may be then that Paul had his vision of heaven.
He often was imprisoned - he would consider an American prison a country club. Those prisons were many times in caves, dark, cold, smelling of mildew and unwashed humanity. In many there was no such thing as "cells", plural - many were kept in a huge enclosure, no lights, food shoved through a hole and the strongest got the most. If you were ill or slow you didn't eat. And Paul mentions being without food, without lodging, without warm clothes, naked, plotted against, lied about - the list goes on and on. All while being CI and disadvantaged by not seeing well. According to Josephus he was a small man. I'm sure when he showed up somewhere people would look at him and say, "You're Paul?'
Amazing how those verses fit being CI! Now, I am in noooooooo way equating my life with Paul's. He got out and converted the known world! But in those verses I found a blueprint for living. There are hours of meditation in those words.
As a Christian CI, my life does not have to be cramped - I can travel the world in prayer, studying a specific country and praying for their needs. Or, as the now defunct Pray! magazine recommended, to pray for the world in the grocery store - all the fruits and veggies are marked with the country they come from, and the specialty foods aisle has a smorgasbord of lands represented, all in need of prayer. I get one of those rider carts and putt-putt my way around the world.
I never have to despair - although I am perplexed, a lot! Despair and faith cannot live together. Because He lives, I can face tomorrow (hmmm - that sounds familiar). The reason is, I may be persecuted because of my illness, by hospitals and health organizations impatient for money, declining coverage to many because of one tiny ailment when I have gazillions! Or it may be friends who slowly delete you from their lives, not calling, not including you anymore, breaking your heart over and over again - but I am not deserted. The Comforter is always with me. I may be struck down on bad days, but I am not destroyed - and these ailments are bearing in me the dying of Jesus somehow, mystically, and by my disabled, CI body the life of Jesus is shown - because one and all of these things - living free, not despairing, not deserted, not destroyed - are impossible in the flesh. At least in my flesh! When I can do something, people know it ain't me. It's Him.
2Cor:16-18 "For this reason, we are not discouraged,even though our outer nature suffers decay, our inner self is renewed day after day. For this slight, momentary trouble is producing for us an everlasting weight of glory that exceeds all measures, because we do not fasten our eyes on the visible but on the unseen; for the visible things are transitory, but the unseen things are everlasting." (emphasis mine)
I can see in Paul's life an everlasting weight of glory that exceeds all measures - Paul was definitely an A type personality, an abundant over achiever with a "face set like flint" to be a slave to his Master. He was the poster boy for abundant, loyal, unending sharing of his faith, spending his last breath in service to his Lord.
But Paul includes us in that "we."
That is an amazing thought. God sees something that is precious to Him when we bear with the pain, the weakness, the isolation. He has allowed the suffering only to a predetermined point - this is not a random situation we are in, it is a planned event. God chose us for some reason - clay vessels so leaky that His glory leaks out when we are not looking.
I often think that God treasures things in an upside-down way. The dearest treasure of earth - gold - will in heaven be merely pavement. Instead of rock stars, God chooses us - tattered and weakened, souls worn down to the nub, not faithful in prayer (I speak for myself here,) often lowered from top priority on my "to do" list. We are His examples of what He can do with nothing - weak, fallen mankind, sinners saved by grace and grace alone.
But it occurred to me today that is I, not God, who has things upside-down. It is not for Him to bend Himself to my way of thinking, it is for me to be "renewed in my mind," transformed, not conforming myself to the world. God thinks straight, my thinking is a wee bit off.
OK, it's a lot off.
I am open-mouthed with wonder at what Paul accomplished, the travels he took, often having to rely on others for health care (the beloved physician, Luke) and having a traveling companion, no doubt to help him when he had a physical need.
|Cesarea Maritime, the Bema seat where Paul stood in front of Felix and Herod Agrippa|
If Paul, who was a mere mortal the same as us, could survive the things he did,, it humbles and encourages me. I have my soft bed with downy coverlets, pain medicine at hand, help always available, no one (yet) breaking down my door to drag me off to a flogging or imprisonment.
I am not negating the suffering that CI brings, the strange stretching of a time warp that makes minutes spent in pain seem like hours, or the isolation, or the discouragement. But the same One Who comforted Paul is available to me, the same grace, the same promise that He is made strong in our weakness, that I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me. Inch by inch I am learning to stand on those promises.
I pray for any who stumble on this blog, that His tender love and unending strength will fill you with peace, the knowledge that you are dearly loved, and the strength to endure.