Paul was raised the son of a Pharisee and sent to study under Gamaliel, the best education available for an aspiring young religious leader of his day. He progressed well in his education, eventually becoming an expert in the Jewish Law and demonstrating zeal beyond most of his peers as he sought to persecute what he believed to be a Jewish sect called the Way.
About the age of 30, Paul was on his way to Damascus to find members of this new sect and bring them back to prison in Jerusalem. Along the road, Jesus appears to him and tells Paul that he will now become a messenger to carry the gospel to Gentiles, their kings, and the Jewish people. What a life-altering, paradigm shifting experience that must have been!
But, all of Paul’s training and zeal did not prepare him to begin immediately to carry out this calling. God needed to prepare and shape him for this mission. Here’s a chronology of Paul’s life from conversion to his first of three missionary tours as outlined by Frank Goodwin in his Harmony of the Life of St. Paul.
- Paul’s Conversion and Early Christian Life 36-45 AD Acts 9:1-30; 11:19-30
- Conversion at Damascus 36 AD Acts 9:1-9
- In Damascus and Arabia (3 years) 37-39 AD Galatians 1:17
- Escape from Damascus 39 AD Acts 9:20-25
- First Visit to Jerusalem – vision in Temple 39 AD Galatians 1:18; Acts 9:26-29
- In Tarsus and Regions of Syria & Cilicia 39-43 AD Acts 9:30
- In Antioch with Barnabas 44 AD Acts 11:25-26
- Second Visit to Jerusalem with alms 45 AD Acts 11:27-30
- 1st Missionary Journey (2 years) 45-47 AD Acts 13-14
Note that Paul was nearly 40 years old before he began his life’s work, his destiny as described to him by the Lord when he was converted on that road outside of Damascus. It was nine years of preparation in addition to all that he had learned and been trained in before “the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (see Acts 13).
We sometimes get impatient with our own development or the development of those around us. The destiny may be clearly fixed, but we are struggling with the process and length of time needed to ‘get on with it.’ Why is it taking so long!!!!
Yet, it seems that one of the ways of God is a seemingly long preparation time for his leaders to enable them to truly become His instruments to accomplish His plans. Yes, Paul was nine years in preparation from conversion to his first missionary assignment. It may seem like a long time, but how many Apostle Paul’s have there been in history?
How’s your attitude when you consider your own growth and development? Are you straining under God’s timetable? Are you patient with His timing as He develops those around you?