~ on unlocking your inner earth shaker ~
Something I find quite curious about words is how the addition or removal of a few letters can change their meaning so drastically. As an example, ‘significant’ is used to describe something profound and yet by preceding it with the word ‘in-’ such that it becomes ‘insignificant’ one can use what is in substance the same word to paint a picture of obscurity. I’ve chosen these two words quite purposefully to introduce my journey as they represent, to me, the essence of our struggle as humans and the hopes we have for our daily lives.
To speak to this struggle, I wonder whether our actions and choices actually have any impact or are of any consequence to those around us, our jobs, the causes we dedicate our time to and to ourselves. I often find myself pondering over the lives of the great earthshakers of our time, both good and bad, and how they had the power to move countless people, which leads me to this feeling of insignificance. Yes, we can measure impact across different spectrums and on different scales, but for most of us that earth shaking significance is something which remains completely unattainable. I’m not sure if this makes others despondent, but when I internalise and consider the significance of my time on this earth it can frustrate me that I am not doing enough.
By chance really, I came across a short story of a man in the book of Acts, which gave me a renewed sense of hope about what it means to take positive steps towards living a life of significance. This particular story is mentioned only in passing, which is also quite curious given the magnitude of its impact on the last two thousand odd years of history, and the impact it will have on countless future lives. It centres around a man named Ananias.
To provide context, Ananias practised his faith in a time when persecution for his beliefs was rife. The story concerns what appears to have been a very brief interaction he had with a man named Saul. Saul, described as a man “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord”, was travelling on the road to Damascus to request letters from the high priest which would give him the authority to arrest and persecute Christians. It was here on the road to Damascus that Saul was confronted by God and was blinded. For three days he went without sight, food or water, and had to be guided by those he travelled with into Damascus. In his interaction with God, Saul was asked why he was persecuting Him and, when Saul discovered it was in fact Jesus with whom he was talking, he immediately asked what He wanted done. Jesus’ instruction to Saul was that he needed to go into the city to be told what to do. No one outside of Saul’s travelling party could have known what had happened to him.
It’s with this in mind that Ananias enters the story. Be mindful of the circumstances under which Ananias would have found himself. A man who would ordinarily openly persecute Ananias for his beliefs arrives in the city with his company, and, it’s at this moment that God appears to Ananias in a vision and informs him that he needs to go and announce himself to his would-be jailer. God then tells him that his persecutor is expecting him and that he is to place his hand on Saul, which will restore his sight. The ludicrousness of the situation cannot be lost on any of us. It is not surprising then that Ananias questions the instruction and reminds God that Saul has the authority to bind him, to which God replies “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel”. This is no small statement.
It’s at this point that I perhaps need to pause and revisit the words ‘insignificant’ and ‘significant’. I wonder whether Ananias could even comprehend the magnitude of the impact Saul, whom he was sent to restore, would have on the early movement of Christianity and on the written recording of the message of Christ. Ananias listened to God and after meeting with Saul, restoring his vision and baptising him, we hear no more of Ananias, other than that he is a devout man of good standing with the Jews. Saul (who later becomes known as Paul) for those not in the know, is the man responsible for writing a large portion of the New Testament.
The book that introduced me to Ananias (Sidlow Baxter, J “Mark These Men”) makes three key points about his character. First that he was ready, second that he was willing and lastly that he was faithful. As daily motivation, these three words really do serve to draw out what I think is the greater meaning from the story, which has bearing on the title of this preface. The reality of life is that we are not all going to be earth shakers, but, this shouldn’t deter us from leading the Christ focused life and sharing the Good News. Ananias was a man who was prepared to do what God wanted him to do at the time God wanted him to do it. It may seem a classic case of “the right person at the right moment at the right time”, but I think that diminishes the role Ananias played in history. He was likely a man who spent his whole life preparing and training for the time God would call him, and, when that moment arrived, he was bold enough to listen.
I believe it took some time from that restoration event for Paul to step out into public ministry, which makes me wonder whether Ananias ever even got to witness the fruits of his own faithfulness in Paul’s life. I wonder whether he went to his grave despondent about the insignificance of his time on earth. I wonder if he really knew and understood the gravity of the words “bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel” when he carried out God’s instruction. I wonder if he knew that his action helped save one of the greatest earthshakers to ever walk this earth. And, it is in this wonderment, that I draw strength. Ananias may never have known exactly what he did, but with hindsight we can see the significance of this seemingly ordinary man’s life. He was not the earthshaker he perhaps had hoped to become but he did set the man up who was.
Ananias’ story is such a profound life lesson because it gives an often overlooked perspective to the word ‘significant’. Whether it be our parents, mentors, teachers or books, we are all taught at some stage in our lives and it is these teachers who stand as Ananias figures in our lives. Our interactions with others (knowingly or not) lead us to teach and this means we also stand as Ananias type figures to others in their lives. For a long time, I’ve dwelled on the word ‘significant’ and it’s held me back with great frustration. To elaborate, for thirty odd years I have wanted my writing to be significant and I have wanted that significance to centre around me. I’ve dreamt of having my name adorning multiple best-selling books. And yet, Ananias’ life has shown me that a readiness and willingness to inspire others with actions that seem to appear insignificant, may just be the kind of insignificance that moves the needle on history! Inspiration comes from the things and people around us and we should be mindful that we may be the cog in the wheel that inspires someone else’s life choices, that we can be their earthshaker – even when the world doesn’t notice. This thought gives me hope and reminds me that I am not living for myself, but for God and His purpose.
The Start Line in one way or another is the birth of an ‘Ananias moment’. To those who give their time to read these chapters and in particular those who have been Ananias type figures to me, know that I am thankful and that you are my inspiration and my earthshakers. The success or failure of this book does not hinge on its popularity, instead it rests on the acknowledgment that you have moved me to write and to share my story – ordinary as it may seem – in all its realness. Each time I write I am reminded of this.
Finally, to the unknown reader, it is my hope that the words and stories I share through The Start Line can unlock your inner earth shaker. And, before we begin, know that you are not alone and you are definitely not ordinary. Your life has a purpose if you make the significant decision, as insignificant as it may seem, to live it out purposefully.