The darkest time of the year and we are longing for light. We bring in trees from the wild and make something beautiful with a set of twinkling fairy lights. We string up ropes of coloured bulbs between the lampposts in Princes Street. We wrap glittering strands around the bare branches of the trees. The shops shine out the messages of bright consumerism. And we are soothed. The real light will come again. But for now, we make do with what we can get.
Here is the story of one man who got a little bit more light than he wanted.
Acts 9: 1 - 9, The Damascus Road Experience :
Here's what Paul might have said about that event :
"Let's be honest, I was terrified, absolutely terrified. You can imagine - I thought I was dreaming, either that or off my head!"
"Jesus! The very name sent shivers down my spine - He was the enemy of the Jewish faith, determined to destroy everything I'd ever been taught. Yet somehow I couldn't get that voice out of my head. When He said "Why are you persecuting me Saul?" He had sounded so sad, not angry, sad."
"I tried to fight it. For three days, I was blind and alone and I fought it. Told myself it was a trick of the mind, did my level best to think of something else, but it was no good, I knew it was God, and that He was calling me. I couldn't believe it at first, well, wouldn't you, would you ? But when I accepted it, when I realised that God valued me, loved me, and forgave me, then I found peace."
"Sometimes since then I've been in difficult situations sometimes, but it's never been difficult to keep on doing what God wants me to do. After God spoke to me on the Damascus Road, I've always known exactly what He wanted me to do, and I've just done it, simple really." "
Most of us walk the Christian journey without experiencing anything like Paul's great light. But God does not leave us in the dark. He gives us 'sparks', 'divine sparks' which come to light the next step of the way, A spark at the right moment to show us the next turning, A spark of light, just big enough to guide us at the crossroads. Below are just four of these 'divine sparks'
Divine Spark 1 :
George Foreman, champion boxer for many years, talks of his change of career. He tells us that, one night, after a bruising fight, he encountered God in the dressing-room. That is strong language - encountering God in the dressing-room. That sounds more like the full Damascus road experience than a divine spark! But whatever form the experience took, he was ordained a minister if the Gospel just one year later. And he says that his life has changed completely and he has never looked back. His advice to us today? 'Remember this. ' he says, 'We only have today. Tomorrow is not promised. Win, lose or draw, come out with a smile on your face. Make the most of every moment.' A divine spark in the changing-room changed his life for ever.
Divine Spark 2 :
I was sitting in the service and it was good to be back here, and on holiday. Life was just awful these days. The depression just won't go away, no matter how positive I tried to be. One day would be fine and then the next would be weepy and emotional and I just couldn't operate properly. Why was God allowing this to happen to me? It was destroying me! The singing went on around me and was soothing as I sat there in my lonely world. And then I heard it - in fact, I almost felt it. They were singing "I am the God who heals you " The place seemed hushed as I listened. And I felt that it was a promise from God and that He was speaking directly to me and me alone. This depression would end someday. This was God, the God that heals. And this was a promise. This God who heals would heal me too. A divine spark to keep me travelling in hope and faith. And He did heal me. I am here today to prove it.
Divine Spark 3 :
It was one of those really bad days when you just can't cope any more. On days like that, the only thing which helps me, is to find a quiet chapel set aside for prayer, and pour everything out to God. I don't have any words for how I feel, all I can do is fall to my knees and cry. And cry. And cry. I firmly believe that God understands that prayer of tears, even if I don't, and also that He answers it. So, on that bad day I had been on my knees in the chapel crying my heart out, oblivious to everything for quite a while, when I became aware of a clergyman quietly setting up for a service. I decided to leave, but by then he was ready to start, and as the only one there, I felt I couldn't leave then. It was a service of Holy Communion and as it progressed, it seemed that this was a gift from God just to me. It was as if Jesus had invited just me to His Last Supper. As though He said to me "Even if there was no-one else in the world, I would still have died for you. That's how much I love you." By the end of the service, I was at peace, and also completely overwhelmed by the knowledge that God loved me personally, and that he was with me even on the bad days. I still have bad days, but I do cope with them better now, as I remember that special time when God was there for me.
Divine Spark 4 :
I had decided to spend my holiday exploring Scottish castles, so set off each day with my map and directions. Trying to navigate and drive at the same time, meant I got lost a lot and drove across deserted moors, over steep hills, and along narrow roads only slightly wider than the car. This annoyed me, until I realised every time I got lost I saw stunningly beautiful scenery. It was then that I started talking to God as though he was in the car with me, sharing with Him my reactions to what I saw. I felt he loved the views and was delighted when I loved them too. One day I saw a rainbow hovering over the edge of a loch. It was so beautiful it bought a lump to my throat, and I knew God was with me enjoying my wonder. I love rainbows because they remind me of God's unchanging presence, that He's always there and always will be there. After that, I saw a rainbow almost every day. Sometimes clearly, and sometimes just a glimpse behind me as a turned a corner. That holiday I spent more time alone with God and talking to Him, than I'd ever done before. It felt as though a relationship was built as we shared our love of the Scottish scenery and rainbows, and enjoyed each other's company. I've always loved rainbows, but whenever I see one now, it's like God tapping me on the shoulder, reminding me that He's still here with me.
One final thought :
'I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: "Give me a light that I might tread safely into the unknown" And he replied' "Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way."'
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