The apostle Paul is one of the greatest men of faith found in the bible. God used him mightily to spread the gospel, bring people to Christ, and inspired him with the knowledge and words to write over 48% of the New Testament. Paul’s writings are full of wisdom, love, and Jesus. Paul is the one who wrote, “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). God transformed Paul into a wonderful example of what a genuine follower of Christ is.
Who Paul Was (Before Christ)
If you would have been introduced to Paul before his journey on the road to Damascus, you would have met a very different man than the one who wrote first Corinthians. Before his encounter with Christ, he was consumed with hatred, not love. In Acts chapter 26, Paul tells King Agrippa exactly the type of man he was before his conversion: “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.”
Through Paul’s life, conversion, and ministry we are able to see that God is powerful enough to change even the hardest of hearts, and even use that person for His glory! I know it’s easy to read about how God made Paul, and many other women and men in the bible, new creations in Christ. However, it’s not always easy to believe that God will do the same thing with the difficult or hurtful people that are in our own lives. Let’s talk about the person the Lord just put on your heart…maybe you’ve been praying for them to change or come to Christ for years, yet there hasn’t been any type of transformation in their lives? Have you started to believe, whether consciously or unconsciously, that they will never change? If you have, your prayers for them have probably changed as well.
Although the words in your prayer may be the same, if your faith that God will or can change them has diminished, you have rendered your prayer ineffective. It is only through faith that our prayers become powerful (Matthew 21:22). If we don’t have faith in God’s powers and abilities, we are simply speaking empty words. If this is you, I want to encourage you today that there is hope for whoever the Lord has put on your heart, He put them there for a reason! Have hope in knowing that a person’s future or salvation doesn’t depend on who they are today, but on who God has always been. It is the power and love of Christ that not only changes people, but also saves. I think it’s easy for many of us to forget that we were all once just as lost as they are, we just struggled with different sins:
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who submit to nor perform homosexual acts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor verbal abusers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
A New Heart
None of us were less of a sinner, or any more deserving of salvation than anyone else. We are saved now not because of who we are or were, but who God is: gracious and merciful, not wanting anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9). God “saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). He is the one that not only saves people, but transforms them into new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). He is able to give a person a new heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 36:26). God can change that difficult or lost person in your life, and in the process He will change your heart for that person. Empty, faithless prayers don’t produce anything good in you or the person you’re praying for, but fervent prayers, full of faith change lives.
For those of you just going through the motions, praying but not having faith in what God can do, I encourage you to start praying for yourself. That God would give you eyes to see that person how He sees them, and a heart that loves them how He loves them. Tell the Lord that you believe that He is able to do any and all things, including changing that person, and ask Him to take away any unbelief you may have. For those of you who are on the brink of leaving that person entirely out of your prayers, I urge you to keep praying and to not lose hope. Remember that your hope lies in an unchanging, faithful, and loving God who hears your prayers and who desires (more than you do) for that person to either change or accept Him in their heart. God is working, whether you see Him or not in the process. Walk and pray by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).