Forward, gracefully

We can gladly be a witness to how salutary and strengthening it is to gracefully obey God’s call.

For early Christians, Saul, a very fearsome individual, had become their number one enemy. His reputation for bringing harm to anyone who followed the teachings of Christ Jesus went before him. Persecution of this nature contributed to Jesus’ followers becoming “all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judæa and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1 ). With a large number of Christians making their homes in the city of Damascus, Saul traveled in that direction, determined to capture them. 

On his way to Damascus, Saul’s most life-changing experience occurred. He heard the voice of Christ and suddenly found himself completely blind. In his blindness, it became clear that he had been devoting his life to something very, very wrong: persecution, sometimes with deadly consequences, of those who followed Jesus’ example.

The blindness utterly broke Saul, and he prayed, asking, “What wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6 ). He was told to continue forward to Damascus.

At the same time, there was some other crucial divine guidance going on, guidance that was not only surprising, but possibly petrifying. The individual on the receiving end of this guidance was a person in Damascus named Ananias. Ananias, a Christian, knew all about Saul. Ananias had also learned the value of following God’s guidance to the letter, but now a test like none other faced him.

God instructed Ananias not to hide from Saul but actually to go meet with him and heal him of his blindness! By all logic and reason, following such guidance would appear to be foolhardy, yet Ananias consented, and with grace, no less. The result of obeying God’s call like that was soon clear. Ananias’ prayers healed Saul’s blindness, and Saul, whom the world would later know as Paul, became one of the Christian Church’s greatest friends, with his counsel and prayer filling much of the Bible’s New Testament.

Because of the adverse circumstances of that time, Christians had sometimes kept apart from society, quietly practicing Christianity. Now it was not long before more and more Christian churches opened up throughout much of the Mediterranean world. God’s guidance had become clear, but Ananias had to be willing to follow. Honoring this kind of courage, Hymn 278 in the Christian Science Hymnal includes these lines: “Grace to go forward, wherever He guide thee, / Gladly obeying the call of His word” (P.M., adapt. CSBD).

It’s hard to go into places you’re not welcome, but I knew that I could follow God’s call and gracefully go forward.

In some ways, our times have parallels to those of the early Christians. Members of churches today often find that their activities and outreach are not exactly welcomed with open arms. Like Ananias, though, everyone possesses the God-given “grace to go forward, wherever He guide thee,” no matter the circumstances.

Do we need to know specifically what God’s guidance will be? No. All that matters is our willingness to follow it, joyfully and gracefully. Such graceful willingness is an indicator of our spiritual growth. Obedience to God always cleanses and gives us fresh views of God’s goodness.

As was the case for both Ananias and Paul, our next steps have their origin in God alone. Our role is simply to acknowledge and act on God’s guidance; we do not personally originate a single forward step. 

To give an example: A group of Christian Scientists in a small town began praying for God’s guidance about possibly sponsoring a talk for inmates in a nearby prison. They asked me if I’d give the talk in my capacity as a Christian Science lecturer.

When the group contacted the prison authorities, it soon became evident that we weren’t welcome. The prison’s chaplain felt I might undermine the theological points he’d been making with the prisoners. The Christian Scientists continued praying for guidance and, to their surprise, felt led even more strongly to go forward with the talk. More conversations with the prison chaplain followed and, with reservations, he allowed us to come.

It’s hard to go into places where you’re not welcome, and this was no exception. I knew, however, that I could follow God’s call and gracefully go forward. I asked the chaplain if he would not only introduce me to the audience but also speak to them for ten minutes or so, bringing out ideas that they’d all been prayerfully thinking through recently. He agreed. 

The chaplain’s words became the springboard for an amazing experience. I’m reminded of the Bible passage in which God says, “I create the fruit of the lips” (Isaiah 57:19 ). When it came time for me to talk to the group, that is just what God did. With the ideas God gave us all, we were blessed with such inspiring, healing, and transforming insights that at the end, the chaplain jumped up and hugged me. The audience applauded, and we all felt quite unified.

Times today might seem hard. Yet, like Ananias, we can remain ready to act and move forward based on God’s guidance. We can feel and express more gratitude and grace, not as human emotions, but as active manifestations of our commitment to a deeper love for all that God is.

Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Christian Science, once wisely observed, “Mental purgation must go on: it promotes spiritual growth, scales the mountain of human endeavor, and gains the summit in Science that otherwise could not be reached,—where the struggle with sin is forever done” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 41 ). We can gladly be a witness to how salutary and strengthening it is to gracefully obey God’s call, not only for each of us but for our whole planet.

A wake-up prayer
June 7, 2021

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