Galatians 1:11-24

plans

An Activity

We are going to make a labyrinth. That’s not the same as a maze. A maze has junctions, and is designed to get you lost. A labyrinth has only one path and, despite all the twists and turns, will get you to your destination, if you trust the path. We can use this as a metaphor of the Christian life, in which we can trust God for the end, even if the journey seems less than direct.

You can either make a labyrinth on paper and write your life along the path, or you can make a person-sized labyrinth in a large room and walk through it prayerfully, pausing at the turns. To make a room-sized labyrinth you will need rope or tape for the boundaries. You will need about 30m to make a labyrinth 3m across.

Start by marking a grid of dots, 8 by 8 on the floor or on your paper. Follow the pictures to join the dots and make your labyrinth.

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Use the prayer below as you enter the labyrinth and walk, with your feet or your fingers, slowly along the paths. As you reach each turn, pause and consider the turns in your life that have led you to where you are now.

A Reflection

Paul is writing a letter to the Christians in Galatia, part of Eastern Turkey. Paul is a get-on-with-things kind of guy. He is well-educated and dynamic, hard-working and dedicated. Whatever he set his mind to, he accomplishes. The kind of guy you’d vote ‘most likely to …’ well, pretty much anything he wants, really.

Not much like me, then. It seems sometimes that everything I try to do, I can’t. There’s always something in the way. I’m too old, too young, in the wrong place, not got the right bits of paper, have to look after the kids, can’t afford it. I end up doing something else entirely. Like changing nappies and picking up socks.

It was OK for Paul. He had his fancy education and his wealthy upbringing. Road to Damascus – Flash-bang-wallop – instant apostle! Then all he has to do was settle down and write half of the New Testament. It’s OK for some.

But it wasn’t quite like that. Do you know his story? The dates are a bit fuzzy, (different scholars have different datings), but his life goes something like this:

The flash-bang-wallop was around 34 ad, the year after Jesus didn’t stay dead, and then Paul waited in Damascus for three days. All this is in Acts 9. But there’s a bit of the story that’s not mentioned there. A big bit. In fact, there’s a three-year gap in the middle of Acts 9:19! It gets a passing mention in verse 17 of our passage. Paul popped out for a visit to Arabia. That’s all we know.

The great Paul – writer of some of the best-known prose in all history – becomes a Christian and … tells everyone about it? Writes a great essay on salvation by grace alone? Nope. He bogs off to goodness-knows-where for three whole years and never even sends a post-card.

Silence.

And it’s not much better when he gets back. He comes back to Damascus, but his preaching annoys the local Jews so much that Paul has to sneak out at night in a basket on a rope. Sort of like Mission Impossible, but not so cool.

Only now does he go to Jerusalem and introduce himself to the leaders of the church there. A quick ‘hello’ to Peter and James, then Paul has to escape again, back to Tarsus, his home town.

Again, years of apparent nothing, working quietly in the background while others are more prominent. Then, in the late 40s Paul goes to Jerusalem to take some disaster relief funds, and he gets sent off on the famous First Missionary Journey (patent pending).

Finally, around 15 years after the flash-bang-wallop, the Paul we know and love (and often puzzle over) has arrived. The letter to the Galatians that we’re reading was probably written a couple of years later, when Paul got home again.

But all this took years. Lots and lots of years. It even started before Paul was born, he said. That’s an awful lot of years. And an awful lot of those years were spent in silence, as far as the Bible record goes. What a waste!chuckle

If I’m honest, that makes me feel rather better about myself. It sounds much more like my life. Much more hit-and-miss, muddling through. Much less straight-to-the-mark, organisational perfection. Laurel and Hardy rather than Venus and Serena. Chuckle Brothers rather than Wright Brothers.

Changing nappies, picking up socks, making tents. Maybe there’s a reason for the season of set-aside. It’s like walking a labyrinth. Much of the time it seems like you’re going nowhere. You think you’ve made progress, then you end up back pretty much where you started. But the point of a labyrinth is the journey, not the destination.

I may have in my head an idea of where God wants me. I may even have an idea of how I’m going to get there. Probably bears absolutely no resemblance to God’s plans. That’s OK. It’s always nice to give my Lord and Maker a chuckle.

Our Response

What is my plan for my life? How does God’s plan for my life fit with this?

Or should that question be the other way around?

A Prayer

Lord, Father, Faithful Guide

You know that I find it frustrating when it seems that I am set aside for a season.

Please teach me to slow down, to hold lightly onto my plans and ideas, to be open to your plans for my life and those I love.

May I rest secure in the knowledge that you are greater than all of life’s spirals and curls, and that you will ultimately bring me home to your side.

Amen

Bible Text

Galatians 1:11-24 New Living Translation

Dear brothers and sisters, I want you to understand that the gospel message I preach is not based on mere human reasoning. I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ.

You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted God’s church. I did my best to destroy it. I was far ahead of my fellow Jews in my zeal for the traditions of my ancestors.

But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvellous grace. Then it pleased him to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles.

When this happened, I did not rush out to consult with any human being. Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to consult with those who were apostles before I was. Instead, I went away into Arabia, and later I returned to the city of Damascus.

Then three years later I went to Jerusalem to get to know Peter, and I stayed with him for fifteen days. The only other apostle I met at that time was James, the Lord’s brother. I declare before God that what I am writing to you is not a lie.

After that visit I went north into the provinces of Syria and Cilicia. And still the churches in Christ that are in Judea didn’t know me personally. All they knew was that people were saying, “The one who used to persecute us is now preaching the very faith he tried to destroy!” And they praised God because of me.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.


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