Three Visions (Acts 9:1-6; 16:6-10; 18:9-11)
God intends for the believer to experience His presence in three ways. These three ways may be illustrated from three visions in Paul's life. Very few believers actually have the visions that Paul literally saw. But every believer can experience the intense, inward spiritual reality of those three visions. We must have the vision that changes us—conversion. We should have the vision that calls us—vocation. We may have the vision that comforts us—consolation.
You Must Have the Vision That Changes You
The basic Christian decision is conversion, turning, redirection. That vision came to Saul of Tarsus in the summer of A.D. 33. Very few have a "Damascus road" experience of such dramatic intensity. But the reasons for and reality of Saul's changing vision are the same for all Christians.
There are abiding reasons for the vision that changes life. It begins with the recognition of alienation from God. Pharisaism did not work for Paul. Even though his life was outwardly perfect, he was inwardly a civil war (Phil. 3:6; Rom. 7:23). Change begins when we recognize our distance from God.
Change continues when we hear the witness of Christians. Saul could not escape the dying agony of Stephen's face while illuminated with the light of heaven (Acts 7:54-60). Saul could not explain away the boldness and peace of Peter and other believers. Change comes when we are forced to a time of reflection. Saul's persecuting trip to Damascus forced him to stop his frenzy long enough to have to think. Many more would meet Christ if they would stop their frantic pace long enough to think.
There is enduring reality to the nature of the vision that changes life. For many it is sudden. Although Saul had been prepared, the vision itself came in an instant. For all it is illuminating. Saul saw a light brighter than the noonday sun. Christ brings light to life. For all it is personal. Saul saw the form of Jesus (1 Cor. 9:1) and heard himself personally addressed. For all it is individual. Others saw the light and heard the thunder, but only Saul experienced the reality. For all it is forgiving. Christ did not upbraid him for the past, but gave him a call for the future.
You Should Have a Vision that Calls You
Implicit in the vision that changes you is a vision that calls you. Every believer is called to a Christian vocation. This is not an ordained ministry, but it is the exercise of your gift in the body of Christ.
God uses several methods to call you to your task. He uses closed doors and dead ends (Acts 18:6-10). Paul tried to go west, north, and even to minister at Troas. But the providence and presence of God prohibited him. God uses personal pleas to call you to your task. In one vision, a man with a Macedonian cloak and hat gave a personal plea to Paul. You should listen to pleas from the pastor and the church. God speaks through them.
Mark the response to the vision that calls. The response ought to be immediate. Paul and his companion left at once (10:10). Procrastination is the enemy of obedience. The results of Paul's response were far greater than Paul anticipated. In that one decision Christianity moved west. Your own Christian life was wrapped up in Paul's response to the vision that calls. We can never imagine or measure the impact of our "yes" to God's call.
You May Have a Vision that Comforts You
Those whom God changes and calls He comforts. The response to God's call usually places you in a difficult situation. It landed Paul in the worst and vilest city of the Roman world, Corinth. Then Paul began to faint from opposition and physical threat (18:1-8). For a third time the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision. This vision brought comfort to the one God had called and changed.
The vision prohibits fear. This is the characteristic word that accompanies the presence of Christ (Luke 1:13; 2:10; 5:10; 8:50; 12:7). The vision is a personal presence of Christ. The words are emphatic. "I [myself] am with you" (Acts 18:10a). The vision is a promise both of protection and success. We are not promised freedom from opposition but we are promised ultimate protection. We are further promised the success of God's cause for He has "many people in this city" (v. 10b).