We have, rather erroneously, developed this notion that the Christian life is supposed to be safe and easy. We desire comfort and we think that our Christian faith is the vessel that we can use to accomplish a reasonable level of health safety in the world.
And because this is our primary belief, we often miss the things that God has for us, not because they aren’t there, but because we aren’t looking for them.
Because great leaps of faith, great acts of daring, the deep work of transformation, takes place not when we are safe and comfortable, but when we are willing to dare and risk.
When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark. Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with 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.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. — Acts 12:25-13:3
What we see in this passage is the future direction and mission for Paul. If we engage in the story in real time, like the church and Paul were doing, we don’t know it yet, but this is the beginning of the end. This is to become the course for Paul’s life, and it is this movement and following of the Spirit that will eventually lead him to Rome.
Paul begins that journey here, in prayer and fasting. With prophets (truth-tellers of God’s justice) and teachers (communicators of God’s Good News). Paul is commissioned by people who have been gifted and indwelt by the Spirit to speak truth, advocate for justice, represent the marginalized and exhort others into a life of discipleship.
You have to wonder if Paul knew that something might be coming. Luke seems to leave us hints as well. He writes his story with subtle tones about the change in mindset.
Paul finishes his mission, literally service.
Paul gathers to worship, literally the performance a function for a specific religious community.
Paul is set apart to work for God’s mission, literally hardship, toiling and difficult endeavors.
Paul, this story tells us, is done serving and is being prepared to begin the transformative process of engaging in a long, hard toil. This is the beginning of the end for Paul. His life has led him to this point. God has prepared him for this moment, it is his time to step into the role for which God has prepared him and get to work.
The gathering community prays for Paul (who I’m sure needed it) and sends him off with Barnabas. It is time to clock in and get to work.
There are plenty of places where we can find ourselves in this passage.
Luke validates all of the places and functions found in this story: Service to the body is needed. Preparation is vital. Prophets need to call God’s people to repentance in the ways they have failed to live up to God’s standard of justice for the poor and marginalized. Teachers need to equip the body to know and live truth. The community needs to set apart people for work and obedience.
And we have been called to be people of work. People of mission. People that set out, not to be comfortable in life, but to participate in Kingdom life. To be called and transformed for the sake of God’s desires in the world — and to be people unafraid of the consequences, knowing that God is with us.
Justin Hiebert is a Mennonite Brethren pastor in the Denver metro area. He studied Youth Ministry and Christian Leadership at Tabor College and completed his M.Div. at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. He blogs at empoweringmissional.com, where this post originally appeared.