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The Christian God is so full of wonder, overflowing in adventurous mystery. As long as we live in these earthly bodies, we will not fully comprehend the nature of this stunning, sovereign God. His ways are higher than ours. Not just a little higher: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). 1

So, as a case in point, I’d like to dig with you into the call of Paul. No, not the conversion of Saul, but his calling to the mission field.

Here are the verses we’ll be looking at, as well as the portion that will follow:

“Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:1–3).

So, a question. How did those gathered know the Holy Spirit said this? Did He speak through a prophet? Who? That is unknown. And here is where those who deny the present reality of the gifts of the Spirit cannot comprehend what happened that day. I think we can properly assume that more than one person heard from the Holy Spirit in that gathering. Or, relying upon my experience in such circumstances, many of those in that place experienced what is often called a “witness in their spirit.” I guess it could also be called a divine amen. You just know that you know that you know that it’s the Lord.

So, based upon this biblical experience—and that’s what it was—these believers fasted, prayed, and “laid their hands on them and sent them off.”

All is well, right? Well, not if you are Paul and Barnabas, because immediately the question must have come to mind, “Where are we to go?”

We are not told in the verses that follow this sending off how these two men decided where to go. We read next, “So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them” (Acts 13:4–5).

Here is their journey thus far.

Selucia. Nothing happened.

Cyprus. Nothing happened.

Salamis. Nothing happened.

Then, according to the narrative that follows, they went to Paphos. Here, a magician named Elymas was saved (Acts 13:6-12). They met no resistance in Paphos; nevertheless, they moved on to Perga, where again, nothing of note was done by the Lord.

This is when John Mark left for Jerusalem (Acts 13:13).

Paul and Barnabas then traveled to Antioch in Pisidia. Paul preached a great message, probably for ten or fifteen minutes. The Gentiles, whom Paul in his sermon had notified could receive eternal life, rejoiced. However, the Jews were unhappy and forced the two men to leave (Acts 13:14-52).

Paul and Barnabas then traveled to Iconium, “where a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed” (Acts 14:1). By His grace, the Lord did wondrous things there: “So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands” (Acts 14:3).

However, once again, the Jews resisted them, and they fled to Lystra and Derbe (Acts 14:5-7).

What lesson can we learn from this narrative?

We don’t know how Paul and Barnabas made the decision to head off first of all to Selucia, Cyprus, Salamis, and Paphos. We are not told in Scripture why John Mark left. Paul was angry with him (Acts 15:37-40), although they later reconciled (2 Timothy 4:11). But I can’t help wondering if John questioned why they should leave Paphos after the only spiritual event yet had just occurred—a powerful one. “Why leave now?” If John had stuck around, however, he would have been with them when things began to pop in Iconium.

However, this dispute is not the focus of this article. The point I’m attempting to make is the mysterious process of discerning the Lord’s specific, directional will. Yes, the call comes. Yes, we act upon it. However, the Lord gives us no further input. What are we to do?

You were called, so go. Pray. Act. Seek. Move. Keep moving. Keep seeking. Keep praying. The first three attempts—Selucia, Cyprus, and Salamis—may seem to be outside of God’s plan. Members of our group may think we have erred, missed God’s leading. Paphos may seem to be what God intended because miraculous ministry occurred, but Paul and Barnabas felt the need—prayerfully, we assume—to move on. Antioch seemed good. But they stayed in Iconium “for a long time.”

I hope this little treatise is helpful to you. We must be sure of the Lord’s call. Then we pray. Seek. Move. Love one another despite differences. Honor elders, those who have been called. Forgive when you think they have missed it. And always remember that the Lord is perfect in all His ways and is not hindered by your mistakes. His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). His ways are so high above yours that you cannot see them. You will never know them unless He reveals them to you, and that revelation is not a given.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

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