If you want to be transformed by the Messiah, the first step is to recognize the Messiah in your midst. This means being ready to encounter the Son of God wherever you are and whatever time it is. This means inclining not just your ear for God’s voice, but your heart for God’s presence.
During the time of the prophet Ezekiel, God spoke to him, saying, “I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day.” God claimed the people were “impudent and stubborn” but that they would know that a prophet had been sent to them, if not when the call of repentance was given, then sometime in the future.
But hard hearts and crooked ways are not just something in the past. What Ezekiel found in his own day is precisely what we find today in our own hearts. Will we listen, hear and do what is necessary when God speaks?
An essential aspect to both hearing God and then doing God’s will is humility, for often God is speaking to us things we do not want to hear and telling us things we would rather not do. Jesus in his own hometown faced a lack of humility, with people unwilling to open themselves up to the will of God. Mark tells us that Jesus “could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” The reason for this was their “unbelief,” which in Greek is apistia, “lack of faith.” What Jesus explains as “lack of faith” might also be described as unwillingness to acknowledge God’s will and then to cooperate with it. If we refuse to respond, there is little God can do.
The apostle Paul offers us another picture, that of a man convinced he was doing God’s will when he persecuted the earliest disciples of Jesus, acting as a man of violence and anger to impose his will on a way he did not understand. But when Saul was struck by the presence of the risen Jesus, he changed his ways. As stunning as his encounter with the risen Lord was, it was still incumbent on Paul to acknowledge it was the Lord and to change radically his own ways.
And what changed most profoundly with Paul was his humility, his willingness to repent of his past persecutions and to admit to a past that shamed him. The genuineness of his humility is seen most clearly in his readiness to go from persecutor to persecuted, to suffer all things for the word of God. For in light of the crucified one, life was no longer about imposing Paul’s will. It was about hearing and following the will of God, whose Son had transformed him.
Jesus told Paul in the context of one of his revelations, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Each of these claims, however, required sacrifice on the part of Paul: to accept God’s grace is to let go of our own ways and desires; to believe that power is made perfect in weakness is to accept that we are indeed weak and powerless. This means listening for God but also doing what God desires even when we would rather not follow.
What is more is that Paul heard God’s call, accepted God’s grace and lived out God’s powerful weakness in his own life. For though Paul experienced these overwhelming revelations of God’s radiant presence, of the voice of God speaking to him, he was willing to be “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ.”
We too, even today, can experience the risen Lord in our midst if we attend to him, even if our experiences are not as overwhelming as Paul’s conversion or subsequent revelations. We too, still today, are called to be open to God’s word and to hear it. We too must have faith no matter the circumstances in which we are called, or to which we are called, even though we might prefer an easier path. For in our humility comes our transformation to greatness in imitation of our Lord: “For whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”