In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'
And I said, 'Who are you, Lord?'
And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles--to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'
Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.
Acts 26:12-20Just days ago, I was telling my son the story of Saul, in part because my boy is one who frequently kicks against the goads. My child does not yet have the training Saul did, but he is every bit as single-minded, wrong or right. Before his conversion, Saul was in that category of Jewish culture largely viewed as righteous. He was rigorously engaged in persecuting those who were following the teachings of Jesus and "breathing out threats and murder" against them. Full of what I am sure he thought was holy anger, he sought permission from the high priest to travel to Damascus and haul more of those heretical Jesus-followers in to justice.
However, as Saul stormed down that road toward Damascus, the Lord pricked him sharply with a goad, turning him aside from his rampage by striking him temporarily blind, and thus steering him to the rather reluctant ministrations of a believer by the name of Ananias. He spent the next three days in fasting and prayer until Ananias arrived on Straight Street, perhaps somewhat nervously inquiring if the ruthless Saul was around and in need of having his vision restored.
I have to wonder what Saul pondered during his period of helplessness? Did he realize that his blindness was a tangible representation of what he had been before encountering Jesus, a man spiritually blind? For after he was healed, he was no longer Saul, the hate-minded persecutor of Christianity but Paul, the enormously loyal and obedient servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. The temporary loss of sight was also a foreshadowing of what he was setting out to do, for he also was to become a minister of the risen Lord and restorer of sight to the spiritually blind just as Ananias had been to him.Whether or not those things passed over his mind, it is certain that the affliction served as a rather efficient impetus for him to join his God on the correct path.
As my son and I walked, I found myself wondering aloud whether Paul thought of these words, "it is hard for you to kick against the goads," later in his life. When he wrote of the thorn in his flesh placed there to prevent his becoming conceited, was he writing from a mental image of the goads used to keep the plow animals in line? As he endured the agony of the lash or the scorn of crowds furiously pummeling him with stones, did he remind himself not to retaliate; not to kick against these goads, too? It was an interesting thought.
I think that many times, I have kicked against the goads--and so my son comes by it honestly, it would seem. I know that I have been called to a much more simple way of life, to listen to what that voice behind me directing, "This way," when I must turn to the right or to the left. However, I find I still constantly run ahead, charging full-bore down what I am certain is the correct path only to find that I have left the Lord's side and am barreling down the wrong path--alone. And I must find my way back. At other times, I will simply snap and give in to my anger, throwing what amounts to a grown-up temper tantrum. Always, always when this happens, I am pricked and shamed once my fury ebbs, and I am soon repenting before God and the target of my ire, typically my children. Still other times I will almost painstakingly nurse my hurts, letting my thoughts linger over what life should be or what I wish could be, if only... Yet this sort of selfish mental meandering only brings a keen jab from the One who lovingly seeks to keep me in line.
There are so many instances and so many ways in which goads are used in my life that I could fill a book with them, though it doubtless would be a rather dull book! Each time they are used, I am reminded that the whole point of the story--of any story--is not me at all. My life is wholly given to serve the One who died in my place, paying ransom for the atrocities I have committed as well as those I still commit. It is love for Him that fuels me now; the goads are in place to remind me of that when I momentarily forget it.
For you see, the natural me does not want to pick up my cross daily. Like the oxen that needed the goads to plow a straight furrow, the natural me is prone to wander, leaning always toward those paths that seem good because they feel good for a time. But my Master knows what is good for me far beyond what my eyes can see, and so he pricks with the goads to keep me on the narrow Way. Because I trust Him, I believe that He knows best, and so I yield to the goads no matter how much discomfort or inconvenience it causes me now. He is leading me through this brief life to something greater than I can even fathom. He is my Shepherd, marshaling me onward towards joy.
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives."
Hebrews 12:1-6Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.