The apostle Paul knew his past and he knew his future. His past was filled with regret, and his future would be filled with suffering. How’s that for a combination? He knew both of these to be true within moments of meeting Jesus.
Notice the account in Acts:
And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4, 5).
Did Paul remember the people he’d thrown in prison for following Jesus? Was he haunted by the cries of Steven’s widow after he gave approval for his execution?
Possibly. Years later Paul would confess,
For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God (1 Cor. 15:9).
Do you have things in your past you regret? I know I do. As far back as I can remember there are moments I wish I could do over again. Statements made, actions taken, pain that I caused in another’s life. Your past can feel like a prison at times – with bars of regret that have locked you in.
Paul also had a future, and it didn’t look bright. Within three days of meeting Jesus God sent him a message through Ananias.
But the Lord said to [Ananias], “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 9:15-16).
Must suffer. When Paul heard those words for the first time, was he tempted to say, “No thanks”? Did he think, “Ananias, I think you have the wrong address?”
I don’t think so, and here is why. In meeting Jesus, Paul had found a delight greater than regrets or suffering. His words to the Galatians certainly seem to communicate this truth.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20).
Loved me and gave himself for me. Seven words that help us overcome the regrets of our past, and embrace the suffering in our not so distant future.
So whatever’s behind, and no matter what lies ahead, find hope in these words: Jesus loved me, and gave himself for me.