“You will find a great adventure—or a great adventure will find you!” The first of J.R.R. Tolkien’s wonder-filled trilogy introduced millions to this promise. Tolkien draws various characters into his story, each of whom face evils within and without as they strive together towards one great task.
Jesus too calls people to great adventures of faith and to a grand mission in his name. In fulfilling our callings we find ourselves walking with other companions along the Christian way. We discover that we really do need each other, and indeed the Presence of God, as we journey. Yet it is not always easy to welcome those whom God brings to the journey alongside us.
We face both risks and rewards as we seek to obey our Lord and join in the divine plan in our cities and villages. But what does risk-taking mean for 21st century missions?
Ontario and Quebec are one of the most ethically- and culturally-diverse places in the world. People from over 200 nations and speaking hundreds of languages have come to live in our provinces. Missions for us involves not only sending missionaries overseas, but also welcoming people locally.
Several CBOQ churches now have over 40 different nations represented in their fellowship. The Christian church is called to muster a new sense of adventure, creativity, stamina and cooperation. We are learning to welcome and integrate new forms of worship, music, and ways of doing ministry into our fellowships.
Canadian Baptists have begun several risk-filled, sacrificial activities, seeking to be attentive and available to God. Some have been called to leave home, family, friends and everything familiar in obedience to God’s call to missions and encounter repeated physical risks, even persecution. Others encounter risks of different kinds without ever leaving home. Like Saul, we must become aware of our own blindness. We must confront our tendencies to ignore or overlook people who are unlike us. Turbans, saris, mosques, gurdwaras, temples and the many other elements of global culture we now find in our communities should remind us that missions is both local and global.
From Jerusalem to Damascus to Montreal to New York, the great cities of the world can become welcoming centres for the Diasporas of the world. When we welcome people from other cultures, our life and witness will be strengthened. As we listen to and obey God’s Word, great blessing awaits all of us, as we share in the great adventure of mission with Jesus. Like pebbles in a pond, we drop the gospel into the hearts of individuals all over this shrinking world. Those who are then arrested by the love of Christ will be moved to share the good news with others in distant places on this planet as well.
Acts: 9:10-12 New Insight, New People, New Practices
10Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”
Not long after he was present at the death of Stephen, a Jewish Pharisee named Saul pursued the adventure of his life along the road from Jerusalem to Damascus. Arrested by the Lord himself through a blinding vision of great light, Saul was led to a Christian disciple named Ananias (9:1-9). But first Ananias needed to receive a word from the Lord so that he could be ready to receive and minister to Saul.
Acts: 9:13-14 Risky Business — Is God Calling?
13But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.”
Ananias’ reaction to the divine directive is understandable. God asked him to deliberately seek out and help a man who had a reputation for persecuting followers of Christ. How might we have responded in that situation? What if a former member of the Taliban knocked on your door with a similar story of God’s intervention?
Ananias followed the tradition of the Psalmist and many others recorded in scripture with his honest dialogue. God is not threatened when we discuss the situation or outline our hesitation. The scriptural examples teach us to search, and wisely discern so that we may be sure of God’s instructions. Indeed, sometimes the deepest faith is born in the crucible of our honest doubts and fears.
Acts 9:15-16 Instruments of God
15But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
God patiently persisted with Ananias and reassured him, just as God does with us. Saul, it turns out, was a part of the divine plan, and God wanted Ananias to get in on the blessing of the divine plan. Often we will not get all the answers we want, but if we are faithful, we may well “get in” on more of God ‘s plan. God encourages and sometimes even pushes. Perhaps the problem in responding is not that we don’t know God’s will but that we are afraid of where God may be taking us and what God might be asking us to do.
Notice that included in God’s plan for Saul’s life was the call to “suffer for the sake of [God’s] name” (v 16). Saul, who had witnessed Stephen’s earlier martyrdom, would himself discover the privilege of suffering for Christ’s cause. And so will we, as we follow in our own part of the adventure.
Acts 9:17-19 Mission Accomplished – Risk & Reward
17So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus.
Leaving the security of his own turf, Ananias entered the home where Saul was staying, coming close enough to lay hands on this new Christian brother. He demonstrated acceptance and gave Saul God’s word of direction, dispelling Saul’s blindness. Because Ananias faced his own fears, took the risk of faith and ministered in the Spirit’s power to Saul, the Christian church came to know the gifted contribution of this saint whose writings inspire and direct our lives and experience today.
We know God’s mind and will when we get close to God’s heart. God speaks to us and leads us to people and places by divine appointment. The people who cross our paths may well be the ones to whom God has called us to minister and with whom God has called us to form community. As Ananias discovered, responding obediently entails risk. Listening with sensitive awareness to God’s voice and with the scriptures as our guide, we too seek to listen to the voices of other believers who may speak God’s will into our lives. Each of us, perhaps in new and risky ways, may be called to say “Yes, Lord” to something or someone we have previously feared.
We may not remember lesser-known saints like Ananias who have helped in our own lives, but we may be called to be similar encouragers and enablers, overcoming the same kinds of fears, acting anyway. Thus, we will know what it means to take risks — and also to find great rewards.
Originally published in Ethics Daily.