Better Call Saul: Discernment at Damascus

Pr. Jeff Morlock

Ananias (not Sapphira’s husband, but the other Ananias) is an obscure figure in the New Testament. He appears only twice, for a total of eight verses. Yet Ananias is much more than the answer to a Bible trivia question. The Lord used this ordinary man to change the world in unfathomable ways. His story teaches us to listen for God’s call, discern our next assignment, and discover the astounding impact that obedience can have.

So what did Ananias hear God say? “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and 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.” (Acts 9:11b-12 ESV). The obedience that the Lord asks of us is often counterintuitive. It is rarely easy, but it ends up being one thread in the glorious tapestry He is weaving. We may or may not get to glimpse the finished project, but if God is calling you, then the role you play in God’s plan will be important.

Yet not every thought and idea is from the Lord. So how will you know? Ananias had to discern his call. To discern means to perceive, recognize, or distinguish. Although filled with fear and apprehension, Ananias sought clarity regarding God’s will. Discernment is faith seeking understanding; not stalling indefinitely but listening for further direction and confirmation. So, Ananias asks, “Ugh, Lord, isn’t Saul dangerous?” And the Lord revealed His plan: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”  (Acts 9:15b-16 ESV).

That sounds consistent with the witness of the Scriptures, which is another aspect of discernment. Beginning with Abraham, God gave His name to Israel in order to bless the nations of the world. And Jesus himself not only suffered for the sake of God’s mission, but declared, Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple ” (Luke 14:27). Biblically, to bless others and to suffer for the gospel are part of every disciple’s calling.

God is always calling you to join him in his work. To discern a particular course of action, then, means asking certain questions. Does it take me out of my comfort zone? Does it require sacrifice? Is it consistent with Scripture? Does it sound like Jesus? If the answers are “yes,” then it’s likely from the Lord.

But there’s one more question. What do other believers think about it? Ananias stepped out in faith and discovered that Saul was indeed at the home of Christian disciples who had taken him in and cared for his needs. With this confirmation, Ananias laid his trembling hands upon Saul, who had been blinded days earlier when he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus.

In that moment, God used Ananias to heal Saul, who regained his sight and was filled with the Holy Spirit. Presumably, it was also Ananias who then had the privilege of baptizing the man who would go on to write two thirds of the New Testament! And Saul, who discerned his call to preach the Gospel, became Paul, the chief apostle and church planter for the non-Jewish world!

Although it was God who called Saul, He used Ananias to be part of it. After this brief episode in Acts, we never hear from Ananias again in the Bible. But where would we be without him? Where would Saul be without Ananias? Where would the Church be without Paul? Clearly, not everyone can be Paul. But everyone can absolutely be Ananias, who learned to discern, and who helped a brother do the same.

If this passage seems detached from present day reality, let me assure you that, in recently discerning my own call to the North American Lutheran Seminary, God used a number of “Ananias’s” to remove scales  from my eyes when I was blind to God’s plan, and how it fit perfectly with my gifts and passions.  Part of my role now is to daily be an Ananias for others who are discerning a call to ordained ministry.  

Recently, I spoke with a mid-career disciple named John, who had been praying about pursuing theological education. He told me how God used a stranger to confirm that this was indeed the Lord’s plan. John was traveling and when he arrived at the airport, he presented his boarding pass to the airline attendant, who repeated John’s full name and exclaimed, “With a name like that, you ought to be a pastor!” As I write this, John is completing his seminary application.

The fact is that God can and will use you as he used the people in my life, that airline attendant in John’s life, Saul who became Paul, and Ananias himself. My prayer is that all of us will learn to consistently ask, “God, is there someone you would have me speak with today? Is there somewhere you would have me go? Is there something you would have me do?” Be listening. Be available. Be ready. You never know what difference you will make.

Pastor Jeff Morlock is Director of Vocational Discernment at the North American Lutheran Seminary.