According to the Daily Office lectionary that I use, today is a holy day commemorating the conversion of Saint Paul. Most of us, I suspect, know his story. There he was, an accomplished and deeply committed Pharisee who was so devoted to his interpretation of the Law that he was hunting down Christians in order to eliminate the dangerous message they were proclaiming. But then, he was met on the road by the Light of Christ in such a powerful way that it changed completely both the man and his priorities. Everything that Paul had valued now seemed meaningless when compared to “the expulsive power of his new affection” (to borrow a phrase from Thomas Chalmers), and Paul himself would later describe the change like this:
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more…But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:4b; 7-11
Now, on the one hand, I’m somewhat grateful that I didn’t have to go through the kind of “disorienting experience” that Paul did in order to begin appreciating the reality and the goodness of Christ. I was blessed by an upbringing that encouraged me to know and seek Him. But on the other hand, I can’t help but wonder at times if the perceived “normality” of following Jesus has actually made it harder for me (and other folks I know) to appreciate fully the life-changing significance of desiring Him above all else. Looking at my life, I’m not sure it’s all that obvious that “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” And yet — in my better moments, at least — I would like my priorities to be so ordered.
The Trappist monk Thomas Merton once composed a prayer that captures some of these dynamics. He wrote:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
May the Light of Christ surprise us on the roads that we travel today. And may the vision of His glory and the clarity of His call so completely transform our desires that “knowing Him” truly becomes our highest good.