In the book of Acts, we read of Saul, a man who had a definitive objective in life. He thought he understood what truth was, so he set out to persecute the Church of Jesus Christ. Yet, as he was on the road to Damascus one day, a blinding light from heaven suddenly caused him to be thrown to the ground. The Scripture tells us that he was blind for three days (see Acts 9:3, 9). Everything he thought he was, all that he was attempting to do, every purpose he thought he had in life suddenly came to an end.
It may feel the same way for you today. Perhaps you thought you knew what your life was going to be. But whether gradually or suddenly, like Saul—who, as we know, became the apostle Paul—you have come to an end. You can no longer see a way forward.
Paul, trembling and astonished, had an encounter with the living God. The first thing he prayed in response was a prayer that I believe everyone who wants a living relationship with God must pray. He spoke eight words that changed everything, not just for him, but for millions of people around the world.
IT STARTS WITH "LORD"
The first word of his prayer was simply, "Lord." In Luke 6:46, Jesus said to the religious leaders of the day, "Why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do the things which I say?" Yet when Paul called Him "Lord," he meant it. It was a confession that he was no longer in charge; there was a new boss in his life. Paul understood that he was called to lay down his plans and everything he thought his life was going to amount to.
I believe that part of the reason many Christians in this generation are so powerless is because they have never truly come to that place of surrender, saying, "God, You are Lord of my life now. Your Word is supreme. Your thoughts are above my thoughts; Your ways are above my ways. If Your Word says it is wrong, it is wrong—even though I might think it is right. I am not going to be among those who call You 'Lord, Lord' but do not do the things which You say. I yield the rights to my life."
A DIVINE PURPOSE
The next words that Paul said in his prayer were, "What do You want me" (Acts 9:6). This implies that God not only had the right to his life, but He had a divine purpose for his life. The will of God is not always pleasant. We often want to craft some pleasant thing in our heart and bring it to God, saying, "Okay, here is Your will for my life; obviously You are going to agree with this." Yet Jesus Himself said in Matthew 26:39, "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless not as I will, but as You will."
Remember, God does not want your plans; He does not need your strength. Imagine this formerly enraged man called Saul hauling Christians out of their homes and torturing them to the point of blaspheming God just to get out of the pain. When Stephen, a precious young servant of God, was martyred, Paul was there holding the coats of the witnesses, consenting to his death (see Acts 7:58). No doubt Saul was a man full of ideas. His whole life had been governed by his own zealous agenda. But now he had come to the point of saying, "Lord, what do You want? You have a divine purpose for my life."
We must understand that the divine purpose of God for our life is far beyond our thinking. He says in Jeremiah, "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11). In other words, "I am thinking thoughts about you that you have not even considered yet. I am able to do more for you and through your life than you can even ask or think." In the natural, we are confined in our minds by our past experiences, by the depths of our struggles, by the parameters of what other people have said about us. But the Holy Spirit, who comes to live inside of you when you yield to the Lord, is not confined by these things. He is the God of the universe, and He can do things that you cannot even imagine!
We see in the Bible that the last two words of Paul's prayer were, "to do," making the full statement, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" (Acts 9:6). In other words, He is the Lord of my life with a divine purpose for my life, and now His plan requires my active cooperation. God starts to open doors, and we are simply required to walk through them. Remember Jesus said to the Church of Philadelphia, "See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name" (Revelation 3:8). The open door is set there by God. All He requires now is our cooperation—our willingness to go where we have never gone, to do what we know we cannot do without Him, to speak even though we do not know what is going to come out of our mouth, to be put in uncomfortable places.
Consider Paul going from enraged persecutor of the Church to suddenly finding himself in the midst of followers of Jesus Christ—looking for acceptance and trying to convince the disciples that he was no longer against them. It must have been incredibly uncomfortable for him. Yet we know that from that initial prayer, God did things through his life that you and I are still talking about two thousand years later!
When Paul prayed, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" we might expect God to have replied, "Paul, I want you to get up and start writing the Scriptures. I want you to go out and establish churches." You see, you and I always want the whole package—the full answer. But God's first answer to Paul's prayer was simply, "Arise and go into the city" (Acts 9:6). That was all God told him! Although we want the entire pathway laid out before us, God says, "No, just take the first step. Just do the first thing." He does not lay it all out before us, because He knows that we would not be able to handle it. If, within the first few weeks of my salvation, Jesus had told me the plan He had for me, I think I would have collapsed on the sidewalk! I had a lot of struggles in my life at the time. I was not yet free from fear and could not speak publicly, so everything He would have laid out before me would have seemed like an absolute impossibility. So in His mercy and His gentleness, God just tells us to do the first thing first.
Remember, do not despise the day of small beginnings. Do not regard that initial answer to your prayer as nothing. Perhaps God will tell you to just get up and open your Bible. Maybe He will tell you to go to the pantry and pour that bottle of liquor down the sink or flush those drugs down the toilet. Maybe He will tell you to get a word and speak it to the heart of your wayward son or daughter. Whether they scoff or scorn or curse you out, just go through that first door by faith.
A FAR-REACHING MINISTRY
In Paul's case, after he was told to go into the city, the second answer that came to him was when God sent a man called Ananias to lay hands on Paul so that he would receive his sight back. The Lord said to Ananias, "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel" (Acts 9:15). So Ananias obeyed God, went to Paul, and essentially said, "God sent me here, and this is what He told me about you: Your ministry is going to be greater than anything you could ever imagine it to be. But it is not big to God, it is just big to you. God is going to use you because you have chosen to obey. However there is a caveat that comes with it—"For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake" (Acts 9:16).
In other words, "Yes, your ministry is going to be far-reaching, but it is not going to be easy." Likewise, I believe there is going to be hardship ahead for many who choose to stand for Christ today. They will go on to have a widespread ministry, but it will be costly. Nevertheless, we know that our generation desperately needs the Church to begin to walk in all that God has ordained for us.
My prayer is that God will give each of us the grace and willingness to say the words, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" Remember, Paul did not start by saying, "Lord, I have a hundred ideas about how to advance Your kingdom. I have a strategy." He came in surrender to the Lord's plans.
Don't forget that God's plan for your life is so much bigger than even the best one you can imagine for yourself. It simply starts with the desire to get up and then wait until the Lord speaks to you. If you will follow the leading of His voice, though it will not be easy, you will impact your known world—starting in your own home. In fact, your ministry could change the trajectory of your entire family; it could have a lasting impact at your workplace, within your community, and beyond. If God can simply find an obedient heart, it is amazing what He can do!
This newsletter is an edited version of "EIGHT WORDS THAT CHANGE EVERYTHING," a sermon given on November 10, 2020. Other sermons are available by visiting our website at tsc.nyc. You are welcome to make additional copies of this sermon for free distribution to friends. However, for all other forms of reproduction or electronic transmission existing copyright laws apply. This sermon cannot be posted on any website or webpage without permission from Times Square Church. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture taken from other versions are noted.