Most roads lead somewhere. If you believe in God, no matter what your present situation, your road may lead to Damascus. I don’t mean the literal place, but everyone eventually has a “Road to Damascus,” moment. A moment when God stops you in your tracks, and you’re forced to listen and make a choice. You may not have heard “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me,” but you may have heard something like, “Have you ever thought of this before?” or “Try this and see what I do.”
Whatever it is, I believe the outcome of what is suggested to you will ultimately inspire you to become people focused.
God loves to give us callings that use us to reach and do amazing works with others. Believe me, a calling from God couldn’t be a better prescription for your anxiety or depression. I’ve spent many years wasting my time thinking about what would make me happy, instead of seeking a purpose. “What can I do in my life that uses my skills and helps others know who Jesus is?” It’s a tall order, one that only God can receive and fulfill through you.
One thing I know. God likes to use someone else to help find and fulfill your dream. The outcome will most likely NOT be what you originally preconceived specifically, but it will be beyond your expectations. And the best of all, God doesn’t throw away anything. The time we spend living for ourselves, God finds a way not to waste.
Saul and Philip
Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And Saul approved of his execution. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him, but Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.
Acts 7:58-59, 8:2-3
The Bible contains so much information that takes place after the conversion of Saul, full of beautiful letters written by a man completely changed. Sometimes we forget and take for granted that Paul was first Saul. I love the confidence in Paul's writings; they prove how full acceptance of Jesus produces a total a one-eighty turn in perspective. However, Saul’s attack on the church did not set the scene for God’s plan to create an advocate whose writings would inspire generations, but that didn't stop God from getting to work! Disciples of Jesus (like Philip) were scattered, but that didn't stop Philip, from staying People Focused.
Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city. And there was an Ethiopian seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”
Acts 8:4-8, 27-31
What an excellent question! We can’t understand anything we read without guidance. That’s why schools have teachers, so why do we sometimes try to understand the Bible on our own? There’s so much to learn! Have you heard a pastor preach an entire sermon on just a couple of verses? There is a reason why a pastor would do that; sometimes just a small gourmet portion of scripture contains buffet to digest.
Notice how the Bible describes Philip’s reaction to the spirit leading him. It doesn’t say he went to the Ethiopian, it says “So Philip ran to him”. I’d encourage you to do the same when you hear from God. Run to whatever it is, and you won’t be disappointed. You might be scared, but so was David when he fought Goliath, yet scripture tells us David ran to Goliath too. He didn’t inch his way to the much larger adversary. He didn’t take a few steps back.
He simply ran to it!
Saul and Ananias
Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. And the Lord said to him, “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 hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “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.”
If you know the story of Saul, then you know what happens next. Ananias goes to the house of Judas, lays hands on Saul, Saul is healed, and he lived happily ever after, right?
I hope you didn’t overlook that last part of scripture. “For I will show him how him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” What a statement! One that I wouldn’t dare over analyze, except to simply say if you believe in Jesus, you will most likely suffer for it.
I’ll never forget my last class at Stella Adler Acting Studio. The Studio where the great Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro had their start. It feels amazing just to be inside the building. I was taking a “Acting for film and television” class, that lasted for eight weeks. I learned more about acting in this class than any other technique class I had ever taken. I also learned pretty hard just what show business is basically all about.
Persistence in a very selfish world.
I developed a relationship with the teacher of the film class, that allowed me to become close with someone who was very connected to the business and I wanted to continue working with him after the class had ended. If you read my last post that included a story about driving without brakes, my friend Skip (who was my co-pilot on that adventure) told me to offer my teacher a fundraiser for his theatre company in New York. I told my teacher he could use Skip’s theatre to do a production and that all the proceeds would go to my teacher’s theatre company. Naturally, he was ecstatic! I’ll never forget his words, “What an absolute genuine gift.”
When I told my teacher about the fundraiser, we were having an acting session. That’s when you pay someone to judge your acting but more importantly to explain the secrets and do’s and don’ts of the business. He told me that a great head shot was not enough and that what you really must have is professional footage of yourself acting in a scene. Also he wanted to film a scene for me and told me what it would cost. I was financially prepared for a project like this, so I was excited to begin.
For months my teacher and I made plans for a production at Skip’s theater and for shooting me in a scene. I felt like I was top of the world! I thought my career was starting. I was working on my first professional production with a professional director. One of the possibilities was to have the great Austin Pendleton (pretty famous Broadway actor) to be headlining the production. I wasn’t even expecting to be in show, I was just proud to be in the production process, and to finally have professional footage of myself.
One day my teacher and I had a meeting, and after having some dinner we walked back to his apartment. On the way, we passed a christian church that was in procession. My teacher immediately stopped walking and turned towards the church, raised his middle finger, and said “F-you it’s Friday night.”
He then turned towards me for affirmation, but I kept walking and quickly changed the subject. I certainly was not going to follow suit, and I had never seen anyone simply hate the idea of God so much that he would flip-off a church just for minding its own business on a Friday night.
Shortly after that meeting everything went ice cold.
I never heard from teacher about the show at Skip’s theater or shooting me in a scene, again. He kept in touch, but never mentioned a thing about the show/fundraiser or the footage I needed. I never asked him about the show because I felt it was his position to tell me that it wasn’t going to work out, but asked him countless times about paying him to shoot me in a scene. You can’t move forward in show business without good footage of yourself, and you can’t do it all on your own. I even asked him if there was another director he could recommend as I was getting pretty desperate. He never responded. He went completely cold.
I didn’t know what hit me. I went from working on a professional production and getting professional footage of myself… to nothing.
I was devastated.
For months I didn’t know what to do with myself. My depression skyrocketed. I felt like I was being blocked by God. I couldn’t understand why everything fell through. The connection was there, the money was there, but God didn’t show up.
What happened? Was it because my teacher decided I wasn’t talented enough to work with? Was it because I didn’t flip-off the church?
No matter what the reason, I couldn’t understand the lack of professionalism. My teacher never said a word! I had put my chips in the secular basket of show business and no one even said, “Sorry, this isn’t going to work out,” or even a simple, “Sorry, I’m too busy for you.”
Instead in my head I said to myself, “You’re an idiot.” “God doesn’t want you to have your dream.”
I withdrew myself completely, making things so much worse. My depression was at its worst. I blamed myself. I blamed God. I didn’t know what to do next...who to turn to for comfort. I made life hell for my wife I’m sure as I fell deeper and deeper into a disconsolate state of mind, body, and soul.
It took a lot of prayer, but I finally gave the whole situation over to God and said something like Saul, “Lord, what would you have me do.”
Dream within a Dream
During my Valley Forge days, I met a guy named Devon Ritchey who was also a music major at the college. We didn’t know each other well, but we knew of each other and sometimes said hello or gave each other a shy nod. We had so much in common. Neither of us knew that, nor did we know that years later we’d both end up marrying into the same family.
Devon married my wife’s cousin before I married my wife. We still didn’t have much contact with each other except at family gatherings.
One day while I was still wallowing in self-pity over everything that had happened with my teacher from Stella Adler, my cell-phone lit up with a text message from Devon, asking me to play the role of Jesus in a huge Passion Play production at their church. I tried to play cool with my response with something like, “Sure, my schedule’s free,” but I was in tears so I think I responded with, “Of course!!!!! Thank you! Thank you!”
What happened next was so far beyond my expectations.
The cast that I worked with was A-list, and Devon as a director/producer was the most incredible experience of my acting career. Everyone in the cast was so professional and friendly. Devon was the most professional and sensitive director I had ever worked with, and the show was extraordinary!
Character studying Jesus was the most demanding and provocative journey of my life. I had played the role of Jesus in a production of “Godspell” when I was much younger, but this took all of my skill plus some that I didn’t posses (without God’s help).
I learned so much from the experience and the irony is that if everything had gone right with my teacher from Stella Adler, I would have missed all of it. I wouldn’t have been available.
After God used Ananias to heal Saul of his literal blindness, he immediately surrendered his life to Jesus and proclaimed it, and also immediately he was rejected for it. Yet God used him through his suffering.
For some days he was with disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, He is the son of God. And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon his name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket. And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who to spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenist. But they were seeking to kill him. And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
Acts 19-21, 23-31
If you know the story of Saul becoming Paul, you know his sufferings and rejections continued, but so did his ministry. Paul was faithful to his calling, and he accomplished so much that we’re still reading and preaching his writings today.
Sometimes it’s such a challenge to follow the call especially when we’re faced with rejection or failure or we can’t see the results. But God does not call us to results.
He calls us to faithfulness.
You are not alone! God surrounds us with people that we are to focus on even if we’re not ready or willing. God even used Philip while Saul was persecuting the church. God used Ananias to heal Saul of his blindness. God used Barnabas to introduce him to the apostles.
And God used my cousin Devon when I was rock bottom in my depression.
Depression, anxiety, fear, doubt...it surrounds all of us at different times. You can’t fight the battle alone. Reach out to the people who are around you. You might be surprised how God will use someone in your life to help you through your battles. What may be even more surprising, is how God may use you in someone else’s life who is fighting a battle of their own.
We all have the same goal. To be able to say Paul’s words at the end of second Timothy…”I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Dear friends, fight the good fight! And do not let the lack of results ever stop you.
God is faithful. Let us also be faithful.
“You may doubt yourself because of your lack of education or lack of experience. But if God has called you, you aren’t really doubting yourself your doubting God. God doesn’t call the qualified. God qualifies the called. Sometimes God will put a dream in your heart that is actually for someone else to accomplish. And sometimes there is more joy in watching someone else do it. Faith is unlearning your fears until all that’s left is the fear of God. Faith is the willingness to look foolish. Faith is taking the first step before God reveals the second step.”
-Chase the Lion by Mark Batterson