Today I want to take you on a journey through the life of the apostle Paul, beginning shortly after his conversion on the road to Damascus. Some think that after Paul became a Christian, he immediately stepped into a prominent role in church leadership, but that was not the case. Even though Paul was highly skilled and trained as a Pharisee, his path to becoming an influential leader in the Early Church was long, and Paul’s positioning in church leadership didn’t happen overnight. It took a great deal of time and preparation — and many challenges and mistakes — before he was ready and able to step into the fullness of his apostolic calling. 

I believe that by examining this period of Paul’s life, you will see why preparation is such an important part of fulfilling your own God-given assignment. 

Let’s begin in Acts 9:10-22, where Paul, after receiving his salvation, was sitting in a house in Damascus, seeking the Lord’s direction for his life. It reads: 

And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, and hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight. Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. 

But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.

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 as thou camest, hath sent me, that you mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. 

And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received his sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed, and said; is not his he that destroyed them which called on his name in Jerusalem, and hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound into the chief priests? 

But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ. 

There is a lot to digest in this passage of Scripture, but it’s too important to overlook. Several crucial events occur throughout these verses. Despite his fearful objection, Ananias, a disciple in Damascus, reluctantly laid his hands on Paul. Paul was saved and received his sight again. He was then baptized and came out of the water as a new creation, having left everything he used to be “under the water.” Paul’s entire destiny had just changed, and His calling was confirmed. 

The Bible tells us that after this life-changing encounter, Paul immediately began going to the synagogue to argue with the Jews about their doctrine. If you look back to what the Lord told Ananias about Paul (and it would do us all good to reflect on what the Lord has told us from time to time), you will see that the apostle Paul was called first and foremost to the Gentiles, or pagans. Second, he was called to kings, and, lastly, he was called to the Jews, or the children of Israel. 

But who did Paul go to first? The Jewish people. Why? Because like all of us, Paul’s flesh was inclined to gravitate toward where it was most comfortable. 

The story continues in Acts 9:23-25, which says:

And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him: but their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket. 

Paul was most comfortable among the Jews, so that was where he went first. In God’s eyes, teaching and persuading the Jewish people should have been Paul’s lowest priority, yet instead of obeying God’s instruction, he followed his flesh and made them his highest priority — staying within his comfort zone. If you haven’t learned this already, let me assure you that God doesn’t call us to where we feel most comfortable. 

The problems Paul faced in Acts 9:23-25 were self-inflicted because he was in the wrong place speaking to the wrong people. As Scripture tells us, the Jews became so angry at him that they plotted to kill him. Eventually the situation got so bad for Paul that the Bible says his fellow brothers had to extract him from the terrible mess he had created for himself and for the church in Jerusalem. Because Paul started his ministry in disobedience to God, it took him years to correct his mistake and straighten out his ministry. Thankfully, he did, but it took some time. 

Acts 9:26 says, “And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.” I want you to imagine Paul — the notorious Christian killer named Saul before he came to Christ — as a rough character, especially in the eyes of the people of Jerusalem. He was a fierce persecutor of Christianity and had a lot of innocent blood on his hands. Paul had also been a very prominent Jewish leader with status. He was revered and held an impressive reputation among the Jews long before he ever came to Christ. 

So Paul, the fresh convert, went to Jerusalem thinking that because he had been a respected leader among the Jewish people, he would be a respected leader among the Christians. He tried to join himself with church leadership, but the issue was that he could not be vouched for and was not known by anyone. At that time, Paul didn’t understand anything about spiritual authority and likely assumed it would just be a natural progression for him to automatically step into a leadership position within the church. 

But that’s not how it works. When you get saved and come into the church, you start where everyone else starts. It doesn’t matter who you are outside the church, how big your business is, or how influential you are. When it comes to the house of God, you have to learn to serve like everyone else because that is God’s process — you cannot bypass it.

Like many powerful people, Paul believed he could just skip God’s process. But he was completely out of line when he immediately tried to insert himself as a church leader. He had such a bad reputation among Christians that, as a new believer, people weren’t sure if he was really even saved! Only one believed him, and that was Barnabas. 

Acts 9:27-30 reads:

But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly in Damascus in the name of Jesus. And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem. And he spake boldly in the name of Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him. Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus. 

In verse 20, we again see Paul was going to the Jews! You have to understand that Paul had no grace to reach the Jews. That’s why his efforts were such a failure. The Lord told him through the prophet Ananias that his primary calling was to reach the Gentiles, yet Paul kept trying to persuade the Jews to convert, and it kept getting him into more and more trouble. He got into so much trouble, in fact, that verse 30 says, “Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus.”

Paul had to be dealt with. Even his fellow believers didn’t know what he was doing. Without any spiritual covering or approval from the elders, Paul went out on his own — apparently determined to start his ministry his way and on his terms. This created so many problems in Jerusalem that Paul was finally sent away to prevent himself from being murdered.  Can you imagine that?

You Can Be Called — But You Have To Prepare To Fulfill the Call

I want to make this point clear: Paul was called and anointed by God. He had a huge assignment on his life, but he was not ready for ministry yet. Paul kept trying to shortcut God’s divine process to be promoted to church leadership, and by doing so, he left a mess in his wake. He had to learn the hard way that just because you’re called doesn’t mean you’re ready. Paul had things to learn first, and his character had to be refined before he was ready to fully step into his ministry. 

What happened to Paul after his forced departure from Jerusalem? After Acts 9, chapters 10 and 11 make no mention of Paul. These chapters detail very significant events in the New Testament. Acts 10 describes the ministry of Peter and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles. But Paul is not there or mentioned even once! And in Acts 11, the Bible talks about the apostles and brethren throughout Judaea, and we see that God is moving and working, and the church is exploding and rapidly growing — yet Paul is nowhere to be found and doesn’t appear until the end of Acts 11. 

For context, before Paul gave his life to Christ, he was a Pharisee and a married man. We know because according to the Pharisee’s rules, you couldn’t be recognized as a spiritual leader among the Jews unless you were married and had at least one child. So for Paul to be a Pharisee, he had to be married, and he had to have at least one child. That much is certain. 

When you get to the end of Acts 11, Paul finally reappears and there is no mention of his wife or children. First Corinthians 7:7-9 says, “For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and the widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.”

This is very important. The word “unmarried” is the Greek word agamos, which means not married, and it is from the word gamos, or married. But the “a” in front of it cancels out the meaning of the word it proceeds. In other words, Paul was referring to the unmarried or to those with a marriage that has been canceled. The word agamos is actually the word for “divorce.”

Paul was speaking to three categories of people in First Corinthians 7: the married, the never married, and the divorced or widowed. When Paul referred to himself in this chapter, he categorized himself as divorced, and we know that because he used to be a Pharisee, and Pharisees had to be married. When Paul, as a believer in Christ, wrote about marriage in Scripture, he wrote authority because he understood the marital relationship. 

But Paul referred to himself as divorced after he came to Christ. And when they sent Paul back home to Tarsus in Acts 9, he was not the same man he was when he left his hometown. He returned to his Jewish family in Tarsus, but he was now a Christian. According to the rules of Jewish law, his family was to completely disown him. They had to legally disconnect themselves from him. He was no longer allowed to be received by his family. So by law, he would lose his child, or children, because of his conversion. This was a very serious matter. 

Philippians 3:8 says, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count but dung, that I may win in Christ.” Paul lost everything when he came to Christ. We know from First Corinthians 7 that he even lost his family for the sake of Christ. 

Just imagine how Paul must have felt. After his conversion, he journeyed back to Jerusalem — blinded after he had received a visitation from the Lord. He received his sight back after Ananias prayed for him and talked to him about his calling from God. Then Paul attempted to insert himself into a position of authority in the church. But instead of being welcomed and received, he created such a huge mess that no one wanted him around. He upset people so much that his life was in danger, and he had to go back to Tarsus. But when he returned to his family and declared his Christianity, he was disowned and legally separated from them. Paul’s entire life as he knew it had come undone.

Can you imagine how difficult it must have been for Paul? Jerusalem didn’t want him. His family didn’t want him. Nobody wanted him.

Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever thought, Nobody wants me. I can’t go where I once was, and I can’t go where I want to be?

Coming to Christ changed everything in Paul’s life. He was entirely rejected and lost his status in every conceivable way. And since he couldn’t stay in Jerusalem and nobody wanted him in Tarsus, what did Paul do? 

For I neither received it of any man, neither was I taught it, but by revelation of Jesus Christ. For ye have heard of my conversion in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: and profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. 

But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathens; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia and returned again unto Damascus. 

— Galatians 1:12-17

Nobody wanted him, so Paul decided to disappear into the Arabian wilderness. Think about the loneliness and isolation Paul experienced. No one wanted anything to do with him, so Jesus personally appeared to Paul to teach and prepare him. Galatians 1:12 says, “For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” For more than a year, he received divine revelations from Jesus concerning the mysteries of salvation. It was during this time that he received the revelations that would eventually become his New Testament writings. 

At the end of that two-year period, Paul was totally saturated with divine revelation. He received apostolic revelation about the Church, and the things he knew, no man taught him — they came directly from the Head of the Church Himself. Afterward, he traveled back home to Tarsus. Acts 11:19 says, “Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.” 

I want you to notice where it mentions Stephen. Do you remember the first person to die for his faith? It was Stephen — the same Stephen who was sentenced to death by Paul (then called Saul) for preaching and evangelizing. But before Paul had him killed, Stephen traveled as far as Antioch to preach, and he eventually established the church in that city. 

The story continues in Acts 11:20-25, which says:

And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord. 

Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave to the lord. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much that people was added unto the Lord. Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul. 

Remember that no one had heard from Paul for two years. Only Barnabas believed in Paul when he first converted, and Barnabas probably carried him in his heart ever since. Antioch wasn’t too far from Tarsus, so he determined to look for the man who’d retreated to Tarsus those many months ago. Barnabas went looking for Paul — he had to find him.

When Paul went home to Tarsus, he was filled with revelation about the Church, but he had no relationship with the Church. He was just one man filled with divine revelation. We don’t know if there was even a church in Tarsus at all! Paul was most likely living in solitude, having lost everything for the sake of the Gospel. He had so completely disappeared from his hometown that when Barnabas came looking for him, he had to look for him intently. No one in Tarsus had any idea where Paul was or what happened to him. But when Barnabas finally found him, he was so overjoyed that he brought Paul back to the church of Antioch. 

And when he found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. 

And the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. 

— Acts 11:26

How incredible! The very first church Paul attended and became connected to was started by Stephen — the very same Stephen he’d killed. Paul became part of the church whose founder he murdered. I don’t know about you, but this is such a beautiful picture of the grace of God that He would bring Paul to that church to be prepared for his ministry. Imagine how Paul would have had to come to grips with this profound forgiveness as he joined as a member of the church of Antioch. He was responsible for the death of its founder, yet he saw the grace of God when he was welcomed and embraced regardless of what he had done. 

At one point, a prophet came and prophesied that a famine would come. 

Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul. 

— Acts 11:29,30

Here we see Paul’s first big ministry opportunity. He wasn’t sent to preach or teach but to travel with Barnabas to deliver an offering to a church in need. It didn’t matter how much revelation Paul had — he still had to be tested. So for an entire year, he’d sat in that church under Barnabas until he received his first job, and he carried the offering to Jerusalem with Barnabas. The Bible tells us:

And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark.

— Acts 12:25

Friend, where God sends you is so important for your future. If Paul had stayed at the church in Jerusalem, he would have never received the preparation he needed for his ministry to be as influential and successful as it was. Jerusalem was filled with Jewish Christians; there were hardly any Gentiles there, whom the Lord commanded Paul to minister to first. 

Make no mistake: It wasn’t by accident or coincidence that Barnabas took him back to Antioch — Antioch was the very first church whose congregation was comprised of both Jews and Gentiles. This was something that had never been done before — it was the very first of its kind. Paul was surrounded by a group of believers he never would have known if he had been in any other place. 

Paul’s time in Antioch was such a pivotal time for him because he was finally in the right place under the right leadership, and he was afforded the opportunity to prove himself faithful before being released by God and his spiritual leadership into his divine calling and ministry. This demonstrates why it’s so vitally important that you’re in the right church and connected to the right people. After ten years of Paul’s ministry in Antioch, the Bible says, “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:2). 

Again, just because you’re called doesn’t mean you’re ready. Paul was theologically trained, but his character wasn’t developed. He had to go through God’s divine process of preparation, and he finally submitted to the spiritual leadership in his life and got to a place where his faithfulness and commitment to the Lord could be proven. It took Paul ten years to be tested, proven, and declared ready for ministry by the Lord. But without that time of preparation, who knows how Paul’s ministry would have ended up?

Don’t Be Discouraged — Trust God’s Timeline and Remain Faithful

If you know what God has told you to do, but it’s taking a little time to fully step into that calling, do not be discouraged. There is a time of preparation for each person, and it’s during this time that God is changing and altering you from the inside out. It can take time before His divine process is complete, much like it did for Paul, although that isn’t necessarily always the case. But it takes place on God’s timeline.

Even if you’re filled with knowledge and revelation and you’re highly gifted and anointed, you must trust and obey God’s process. Paul had revelation about the Church, but he had had to first learn how to have a relationship with the Church before he was released to be in the ministry on his own. Eventually the day came when Paul was ready and released into his own unique ministry by the Lord. Once he finally stepped out, the rest is history! The life and legacy Paul left for us are still felt to this day, and the ministry he so faithfully gave himself to lives on for all eternityFriend, it’s so important to be faithful where you are. Submit yourself to God’s divine process of preparation and, eventually, the day your heart has so desperately longed for will arrive. Through His preparation, you will be ready to walk out whatever God has called and anointed you to do. I assure you, you will be glad you did it God’s way!