One of the great sculptures of Gutzon Borghum is the head of Abraham Lincoln at the Capitol in Washington D.C. He cut it from a large, square block of stone in his workshop.
A story was told that one day, when the face of Lincoln was just becoming recognizable out of the stone, a young girl was visiting the studio with her parents. She looked at the half-done face of Lincoln, her eyes showing wonder and astonishment. She stared at the piece for a while, and then went up to Gutzon. “Is that Lincoln?” she asked. “Yes”, he replied. “Well,” said the little girl, “how in the world did you know he was there inside?”
As for any craftsman, the Divine Creator has a plan for each one of us. Everyone is a masterpiece – designed for a particular purpose. In order to know His purpose, the individual need to have an encounter with Him. Such encounter can at times be life-changing or a manifestation of Him working through our lives.
The Life-Changing Story of Paul, the Apostle
Paul was born a Roman citizen with the name ‘Saul’ at Tarsus in Cilicia about 10 A.D. from a Jewish family of the tribe of Benjamin. As a young man, he was educated in Jerusalem under the noted instructor Gamaliel. He became a man of great religious dedication, capable of pursuing his Jewish ideals without any compromise in the Greco-Roman culture of the times. With single-minded determination, he persecuted the early Christians whom he considered as enemies of God and even played some part in Stephen’s martyrdom.
But on the road to Damascus around 34 A.D., with directives from the High Priest and the Sanhedrin to arrest and bring to Jerusalem the disciples of Jesus, Saul had a particular encounter with the risen Christ which changed the course of his life. A bright light enveloped him while riding on his horse. He was blinded and fell to the ground. Then he heard a voice saying: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? … Get up now and go into the city, and you will be told what to do.”(Acts 9:4-6) For three days he had no sight and did not eat nor drink until a Christian disciple named Ananias was sent by Jesus himself through a vision “…because this man is my chosen instrument to bring my name before pagans and pagan kings and before the people of Israel. I myself will show him how much he himself must suffer for my name.”(Acts 9:15-17). As Ananias laid his hands on him, his sight was restored, was baptized and was filled with the God’s Holy Spirit. After spending a few days with the disciples in Damascus, he started passionately preaching in the Synagogues that this Jesus, whom he earlier considered a blasphemer and an adversary of the God of Abraham and of the Patriarchs, is indeed the “Son of God”, the fulfillment of God’s promise through the prophets. The Jews were indignant and tried to kill him. He escaped and went to join the Apostles in Jerusalem thru Barnabas.
Saul incurred the ire of the Hellenists in Jerusalem by his fearless arguments and preaching. He was then sent to Arabia and returned to Damascus. In 39 A.D., he went to Syria and Cilicia until Barnabas brought him back to Antioch where they preached together. During his first missionary journey (45 – 49 A.D.) to Cyrus, Pamphilia, Pisidia and Lycaonia, Saul took on his Greco-roman name ‘Paul’. In 49 A.D., he went to Jerusalem to take part in the Council of the Apostles where it was agreed that the Jewish Law was not binding on Christian converts from paganism.
Paul wrote his Letters to the Christian churches at intervals during his second (50 – 52 A.D.) and third (53 – 58 A.D.) missionary journeys. His life became characterized by selfless dedication to his calling (1 Cor 9:16) and offered himself up as a model to his converts (2 Th 3:7+) to follow. In 58 A.D., Paul was arrested in Jerusalem and was imprisoned in Caesarea Palestinae up to the time that Festus the procurator sent him to Rome under escort to be tried as a Roman citizen in 60 A.D. He was set free in 63 A.D. for lack of sufficient evidence. A subsequent imprisonment in Rome however ended with his martyrdom at around 67 A.D., some 33 years after his personal encounter with the risen Christ and his total conversion to a life of passionate and selfless service – for the spread of Christianity among the pagans.
Enabled to Preach
Paul the Apostle had his task laid out by God even before he was conceived. In his own words, he said that “… God, who had specially chosen me while I was still in my mother’s womb, called me through his grace and chose to reveal his Son in me, so that I might preach the Good News about him to the pagans.”(Gal 1:15-16) From his childhood, Paul was endowed with the prestigious Roman citizenry of the time, a thorough education in Greek arts and philosophy, and a deep grounding in religious doctrine at the school of the Pharisees in Jerusalem. He stood out among other Jews of his generation and was fervently enthusiastic in the observance of the Mosaic traditions of his ancestors. Naturally, everyone expected this young man to eventually emerge as one of the prominent religious and political leader of the Jews in the future..
But God had other plans. Through the ‘encounter in Damascus’ and subsequent mystical experiences with the risen Christ, he became not only a believer but the very Apostle of Jesus to the gentiles. Ironically, this fierce persecutor instead became the persecuted, and was even martyred for Jesus. He used his skills in Greco-Roman eloquence to explain, not the preeminence of his Jewish religion, but the truth of the apostolic ‘Kerygma’ (Acts 2:22+), that “Christ had been crucified and had risen from the dead, and that this had been foretold in the scriptures”(1 Cor. 2:2; 15:3-4; Gal. 3:1). By his training in the rabbinical method, he provided logic to the proposition that Christ is the fulfillment of the covenant God made with Abraham. His being a Jew with Greek cultural background in a predominantly Roman world enabled him to easily go around preaching in Asia Minor and adapt his teachings to his intended audience.
Notice that God chose him, prepared him, and led him to fulfill his mission in spreading the Good News. But what really sealed his destiny is his eventual response to God’s call on the road to Damascus and his sincere openness to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
Paul’s Story, Our Story
This can very well apply to our life in the here and now. Have we ever considered how God is likewise preparing us for our role in spreading the ‘Good News of Salvation’, no matter how big or small? Events and circumstances in our life did not really happen by chance. God, thru His unconditional love, keeps on enabling us to achieve our rightful role in His eternal Kingdom. But out of the same love, He also gave us the freedom to either accept or repudiate His invitation to a fruitful life. We can choose whether to accept it by putting all our faith and trust in Him and become part of His Kingdom filled with love, based on truth and justice; or we can reject it by embracing the prevailing materialism of a world filled with deceit and falsehood, poverty, injustice, violence, scandals, degradation of human dignity, destruction of creation and of the environment, eventually hanging on to a life filled with fear, anxiety and depression due to rejection, self-inadequacy and social ridicule.
Just like Paul the Apostle, an unexpected event in life can lead us to spend some time in prayer and fasting in order to bring us closer to God’s Presence. By humbly listening in silence and opening up ourselves to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, He will reveal the great plans He has in store for us, He will guide us in our decisions, and He will give us more than enough grace to achieve our real destiny.
Let God Himself lead us day by day towards our full potential and purpose. May His will be done – on earth as it is in heaven. We merely have to say… AMEN.