Question: What do we learn from Saul’s prompt willingness to change after his conversion?
Answer: Saul’s conversion and prompt willingness to change brought great growth to the Church of Jesus Christ.
1 And Saul (whose name will be changed to Paul, when he is converted), yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest (the chief religious leader among the Jews),
2 And desired of him letters (letters of permission to empower him to arrest Christians) to Damascus (a major city in Syria) to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way (any members of the Church), whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. (Saul got permission to arrest any Christians he found as he traveled to Damascus, and to put them in chains and bring them back to Jerusalem.)
3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? (Why are you fighting against me by persecuting my saints?)
5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
Note: A prick was a goad, a sharp stick or pointed instrument of any type which could be used to poke animals when herding the along or keeping them moving when pulling a cart. The tendency of many animals, when poked with the goad, was to stubbornly kick back against it, thus driving it deeper into their hide. The imagery here seems to be that Saul’s conscience has begun to bother him, as he rounds up Christians. He has been kicking against the pricks of conscience, and perhaps has been feeling more and more miserable about what he is doing to members of the Church.
6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
7 And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. (JST “And they who were journeying with him saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him who spake to him.”)
8 And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man (he was blind): but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.
9 And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.
10 And there was a certain disciple (faithful member of the Church) at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.
11 And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,
12 And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.
Note: This had to have been a startling request from the Savior to Ananias. He knew how dangerous Saul was to the members of the Church.
13 Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man (Saul), how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:
14 And here (in Damascus) he hath authority from the chief priests to bind (arrest) all that call on thy name (all who are members of the Church).
15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way (go ahead and do what I have asked): for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear (carry) my name before the (to the) Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:
16 For I will shew him how great things (how many things) he must suffer for my name’s sake
(As he serves me).
17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way (on the road) as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
18 And immediately there fell from his (Saul’s) eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith (immediately), and arose, and was baptized.
19 And when he had received meat (food), he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples (Saul stayed with members of the Church for a few days) which were at Damascus.
20 And straightway (immediately) he (Saul) preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. (Saul went to the Jewish church buildings and began to teach about Christ.)
21 But all that heard him (Saul) were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them (members of the Church) which called on this name (who were loyal followers of Jesus) in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound (arrest them and bring them in chains) unto the chief priests?
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Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency:
One of the most remarkable events in the history of the world happened on the road to Damascus. You know well the story of Saul, a young man who had “made havoc of the church, entering into every house … [committing the Saints] to prison.” Saul was so hostile that many members of the early Church fled Jerusalem in the hope of escaping his anger.
Saul pursued them. But as he “came near Damascus … suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
“And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?”
This transformative moment changed Saul forever. Indeed, it changed the world. We know that manifestations such as this happen. In fact, we testify that a similar divine experience happened in 1820 to a boy named Joseph Smith. It is our clear and certain testimony that the heavens are open again and that God speaks to His prophets and apostles. God hears and answers the prayers of His children.
Nevertheless, there are some who feel that unless they have an experience similar to Saul’s or Joseph Smith’s, they cannot believe. They stand at the waters of baptism but do not enter. They wait at the threshold of testimony but cannot bring themselves to acknowledge the truth. Instead of taking small steps of faith on the path of discipleship, they want some dramatic event to compel them to believe. They spend their days waiting on the road to Damascus.
Belief Comes One Step at a Time
...There are many others who, for different reasons, find themselves waiting on the road to Damascus. They delay becoming fully engaged as disciples. They hope to receive the priesthood but hesitate to live worthy of that privilege. They desire to enter the temple but delay the final act of faith to qualify. They remain waiting for the Christ to be given to them like a magnificent Carl Bloch painting—to remove once and for all their doubts and fears.
The truth is, those who diligently seek to learn of Christ eventually will come to know Him. They will personally receive a divine portrait of the Master, although it most often comes in the form of a puzzle—one piece at a time. Each individual piece may not be easily recognizable by itself; it may not be clear how it relates to the whole. Each piece helps us to see the big picture a little more clearly. Eventually, after enough pieces have been put together, we recognize the grand beauty of it all. Then, looking back on our experience, we see that the Savior had indeed come to be with us—not all at once but quietly, gently, almost unnoticed.
This can be our experience if we move forward with faith and do not wait too long on the road to Damascus.
Hearken and Heed
I testify to you that our Father in Heaven loves His children. He loves us. He loves you. When necessary the Lord will even carry you over obstacles as you seek His peace with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Often He speaks to us in ways that we can hear only with our heart. To better hear His voice, it would be wise to turn down the volume control of the worldly noise in our lives. If we ignore or block out the promptings of the Spirit for whatever reason, they become less noticeable until we cannot hear them at all. Let us learn to hearken to the promptings of the Spirit and then be eager to heed them...
My dear brothers and sisters, let us strive to be among those whom the Lord can rely on to hear His whisperings and respond, as Saul did on his road to Damascus, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”
Another reason we sometimes do not recognize the voice of the Lord in our lives is because the revelations of the Spirit may not come directly to us as the answer to our prayers. Our Father in Heaven expects us to study it out first and then pray for guidance as we seek answers to questions and concerns in our personal lives. We have our Heavenly Father’s assurance that He will hear and answer our prayers. The answer may come through the voice and wisdom of trusted friends and family, the scriptures, and the words of prophets.
It has been my experience that some of the most powerful promptings we receive are not only for our own benefit but also for the benefit of others. If we are thinking only of ourselves, we may miss some of the most powerful spiritual experiences and profound revelations of our lives...
Often, the answer to our prayer does not come while we’re on our knees but while we’re on our feet serving the Lord and serving those around us...By becoming the answer to someone’s prayer, we often find the answer to our own.
There are times when the Lord reveals to us things that are intended only for us. Nevertheless, in many, many cases He entrusts a testimony of the truth to those who will share it with others. This has been the case with every prophet since the days of Adam. Even more, the Lord expects the members of His Church to “open [their mouths] at all times, declaring [His] gospel with the sound of rejoicing.” This is not always easy. Some would rather pull a handcart across the prairie than bring up the subject of faith and religion to their friends and co-workers. ...
The most effective way to preach the gospel is through example. If we live according to our beliefs, people will notice...One of the greatest sermons ever pronounced on missionary work is this simple thought attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.” Opportunities to do so are all around us. Do not miss them by waiting too long on the road to Damascus.
Our Road to Damascus
I testify that the Lord speaks to His prophets and apostles in our day. He also speaks to all who come to Him with a sincere heart and real intent. Do not doubt. Remember, “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” God loves you. He hears your prayers. He speaks to His children and offers comfort, peace, and understanding to those who seek Him and honor Him by walking in His way. I bear my sacred witness that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is on course. We have a living prophet. This Church is led by Him whose name we bear, even the Savior Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters, dear friends, let us not wait too long on our road to Damascus...For this I pray and leave you my blessing in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.
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Sources: Come, Follow Me–For Individuals and Families, p. 107; The New Testament Made Easier, Part 2, Volume 3, by David J. Ridges, 25; Excerpts from April 2007, General Conference, “Waiting on the Road to Damascus,” by Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency.