He had found himself here before. The first time, although years ago, seemed as though it were yesterday.
I was waiting to find my calling. I even looked to new lands for the spread of the truth about the one who called me. Funny thing was that it seemed that God didn’t have the same desires that were in my soul. The people to the north needed to hear truth. The people to the east needed to hear truth. The people to the west wouldn’t hear the truth. Their government was liberal, yet restrictive. If I wanted to tell about Diana or Venus and participate in the worship customs, I would have been welcome. If I were comfortable to allow my standards to slip, that also would have been rewarded. But to share an immutable truth? That would be frowned upon. It seemed odd: don’t go north or east. Clear as a bell.
That is how I found myself to be here the first time. A desire with no road to follow. Then one night it happened. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I was. Sleeping, or rather, not sleeping at night, I was restless. Why was I here? Where should I go? Had I been mistaken? In the midst of my questioning he came to me. I knew at once who sent him and from whence he came. A man. A simple man calling to me: “Come. Come and teach us.” The man’s dress was obvious: the west was my destination. And in that simple vision two things became crystal clear: I had a purpose and God sent the vision. These calls have a way of comforting and unsettling you. The comfort of knowing a hand is guiding you and the restlessness of not knowing what it will require of you. So I went as soon as day broke.
I had been stoned and beaten before. I expected it again and was not soon disappointed. Prison, floggings, beatings, riots, arguments, hatred, anger, disputes. All these were mine. I knew it, and I expected it. Even in the midst of this, however, I had a comfort knowing my life was in the hands of my sender. I felt that my work was important and that God was keeping me. As I left Troas I sensed, deep inside, an assurance of safety: safety even in pain. I was ready and willing to go. I left ready for the challenge.
Now he was here again. This time with thoughts much different than before. He was a weary man, disfigured after years of abuse and torture. To see him was to see strength. To hear him was to hear truth. To know him was to know compassion. He was a man changed by time. This time, however, his thoughts were different.
The years have been good to me. Yes, there have been physical problems: some my own, some from others. But I have had good care. I have always had assurances from God. “Go.” “I will take care of you.” “No one will harm you.” This time, however, I feel different. I have just returned from seeing some close friends that I have grown to love over the past years. My life has been poured into them. Not only my life, but the truth of God has been given to them. I know my work has not been in vain but deep within me I don’t sense the same assurances about my life as I did in the past. I believe I have seen these friends for the last time on earth. I believe the road of my life is nearing completion. I believe that I am in pain. In a few days I will be returning to Jerusalem and my life will be in great demand there. This time I think God may allow it to be taken.
His friends were returning to Jerusalem and he wanted to be alone. Alone to reflect on his life. Alone to reflect on his future. Alone to reflect on his God. His friends left with instructions to meet him in Assos. He alone would walk the twenty miles. He alone would reflect.
I have always been a confident man. As a youth I knew what I wanted: to study in Jerusalem. Gamaliel was a good friend and a level teacher. I couldn’t have asked for anyone better. I was the student of one of the most well respected of all teachers. My life was set: education, position and power. Power. When I heard about The Way, I knew it was my path to the top. Find and destroy them all with the blessings of the leaders: both Jewish and Roman. This was my future. A glorious future. But in a moment a light changed me forever. What once was to be glorious was now putrid to me. Not only a physical light (though it was that), but the light that lights the very soul of man. I found myself to be abhorrent in the face of all that was true. In a moment my future was set before me. In a moment God spoke. In a moment I responded. In three days I was healed. In thirteen years I was called to speak. It is ironic that God takes but a moment to work and man takes years to change.
There is no doubt in me. I know that God has been with me. I know he has led me. I know he has worked in and through me. I know that I will face severe persecution. I know I will die for what God has called me to do. Knowledge doesn’t always bring reassurance though. I am in knots. Like a man awaiting a storm. It is coming and he must prepare. But all during the time of work and preparation he is anxious about the outcome. Is it enough? How will I fare? What will I lose? What will happen? It is coming and I must prepare. Even my master prepared. When he was baptized he left all of mankind and spent forty days with only the angels and the scorpions as his companions. This preceded a great test. He spent all night sweating blood asking for the outcome to be the same, the process to be different. This preceded his biggest test. God must expect this of me. Please, make it happen differently. I am begging. I know my flesh is weak. I know my spirit, the one that has been changed with God’s gentle and strong hand, is willing. But the battle is real. Flesh over spirit. Why does it have to be so? Why can’t I fade like a beautiful sunset over the sea? Why must it be as a hurricane: swift, painful and cataclysmic? You never promised an easy life. But you never said I couldn’t ask for an easy end.
I am sorry to be so selfish. I only ask that I may be strengthened to withstand it. Thank you for being willing to listen. Thank you for being willing to change me. A life that I began as the hunter now ends with me as the hunted. You have an interesting knack of doing that to men. If Jesus could handle the betrayal of his closest friends, I can handle the pain given me by those that hate me. I may not completely understand it. I may still, in my flesh, wish to avoid it. I may continually change until I am present with you. But I will be looking forward to what you have promised me. You have promised all mankind the same thing. Follow and you will be with us, beside us.
Here I am: Assos. The time has gone quickly. Thank you for allowing me this preparation before the storm. I know that you will be with me always. Enable me live externally and internally consistent with the truth you have given mankind. Thank you for being a God who cares for the people and for the person. You have renewed my mind with your truth, changed my soul with your passion and enlivened my heart with your love. I am ready.
A man prepared is better than a man taken unawares. The preparation is also best made in proportion to the battle. Although he had been to this same place twice, his experience was completely different. The first time he was anxious to embark on a journey fraught with peril and assurances. The second time he was anxious to spend time in the arms of gentle assurance before embarking on a perilous journey. Our journeys are much the same: calls to action or calls to assurance. God grant us the wisdom to know the difference. God grant us the life worthy of both.