He went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him. When the believers learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. (Acts 9:28-30)
In Acts 9, we find Paul moving back home in his late twenties. The son who was destined for greatness, who was educated in the finest schools in Tarsus and Jerusalem, likely moved back into his parent’s house. How many young adults today can relate to this story?
Paul’s return must have caused confusion and disappointment for his parents, and possibly for Paul. We don’t know how long he lived there. In Galatians 2:1, he notes that “after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem,” but there is some confusion as to when the fourteen years started and whether or not it included Paul’s first missionary journey. At the very least it appears that Paul lived in Tarsus for upwards of ten years after his conversion.
During that time, Paul likely used Tarsus as his home base, preaching and teaching at synagogues and fledgling churches in the regions of Cilicia and Syria, in what today is southeast Turkey. Note, however, that Paul had been told by the Lord at his conversion that he had an important mission to fulfill, yet for at least ten years Paul lived in Tarsus, likely in his parents’ home as he made tents in his father’s business.
While living at home, Paul certainly must have continued to contemplate the meaning of the gospel. He undoubtedly grew in wisdom, which included both head and heart knowledge gained through lived experience. I’ve found that often the greatest wisdom-building experiences are those that come in the midst of disappointment, adversity, and waiting. Our faith often grows deeper, though we may not recognize it at the time.
We don’t know if Paul was experiencing a “dark night of the soul” during these ten years, but surely he wondered what had happened to the dramatic call he had heard from Ananias: “You will be [God’s] witness to all the world of what you have seen and heard” (Acts 22:15).
It is interesting to note how often in Scripture there is a delay between the moment of God’s call or an experience of God’s presence or a vision that seems to come from God about the future and when these things actually come to pass.
Consider Abraham, who was told in Genesis 12 that God would make him “a great nation,” and in Genesis 22 that his descendants would be “as numerous as the stars of heaven.” Abraham was seventy-five when he first heard God’s call and promises.
But it was nine chapters later, when Abraham was one hundred years old that Isaac was finally born. There were some challenging years in those nine chapters. The twenty-five years between the vision and fulfillment were the “in-between” time for Abraham and Sarah.
Moses, after fleeing Pharaoh’s palace, spent forty years in the Sinai tending goats before God finally called him back to demand the release of the Israelite slaves. David was anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel, but he went through twenty-five years and a whole lot of trouble before he finally assumed the throne. And consider Jesus, who at the age of twelve knew he had a unique relationship with God, but there would be eighteen years of waiting before he was baptized and began his three-year public ministry.
Was God at work during Abraham’s twenty-five years of waiting? Were Moses’ forty years in the wilderness wasted? Or David’s twenty-five years, much of it spent avoiding King Saul’s efforts to kill him? And what of Jesus? Was his Father at work in Jesus’ life during those eighteen years when he labored alongside his earthly father?
In Paul’s case, he spent ten years wondering what Ananias could possibly have meant and why he still was making tents when there was a big world out there to be saved. Perhaps his sense of calling began to fade during that time. But God was at work during the “in-between” time.
How often this pattern has persisted for those whom God uses to change the world. I think of John Wesley, who spent most of his twenties and thirties striving to do God’s will but often feeling like a failure. Finally, after his greatest disappointment, God unleashed him to lead a revival across Great Britain that would leap across a continent and change the world.
Have you ever experienced an “in-between” time? Perhaps you are experiencing one now. God is at work; trust that! Keep putting one foot in front of the other!
Moses, David, Jesus, Paul, Wesley, and many others did not stop dreaming, thinking, and working as they waited, and in the waiting God was preparing them, transforming them, and readying them for what lay in store.
Today’s post is an excerpt from The Call: The Life and Message of the Apostle Paul.