What’s the difference between a duty and a calling? Duty arises out of a need, but a calling keeps coming back again and again in the depth of your soul. It may or may not be something you ever thought you would do. And doubt in your ability to fulfill it often accompanies the Holy Spirit’s nudging. How will God prepare you? How do you make yourself ready?
Can you think of a more driven biblical character than Paul? Okay, maybe Jesus. But let’s face it, Paul was on the fast track to spiritual success in his day- until Jesus showed up and rocked his world (See Acts 9). In a heavenly vision, Jesus proclaimed a call on his life- missionary to the Gentiles. Whoa! Now this was WAY out of Paul’s comfort zone. He spent his life avoiding Gentile sinners. Now he was supposed to fellowship with them? Jesus put Paul through several tests before He allowed him to fully step into this monumental call to ministry.
1. The test of waiting
Paul waited a minimum of ten years since Jesus first appeared to him before he began ministering to the Gentiles in Antioch. Other than a three-year stint where he went down to Arabia to understand the gospel of grace, we are not told how he spent his time. We also know he returned home to Tarsus, but that is all we are told. Until Barnabas arrived from Antioch to bring him into that predominantly Gentile church, Paul waited to see his calling fulfilled. What we do know is that God did not waste that time of waiting, but faithfully used it in Paul’s life to ready him for what was next. If you are also in a time of waiting friend, God is using it in your life as well.
2. The test of spiritual opposition
After Paul spent a year of preparation teaching at the church in Antioch alongside Barnabas, both men embarked upon their first missionary journey. God allowed these men to bond in service together in a thriving church before sending them out to face opposition on missionary soil. Just like Jesus in Luke 4, their first test of opposition came from the forces of darkness in Cyprus. To adequately prepare for ministry, we must understand the schemes of our enemy outlined for us in Scripture.
3. The test of emotional opposition
After leaving Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas traveled to Iconium where their motives were questioned and their character slandered. When we step into the fullness of our calling others will downplay, distract and discredit us. Some might even desecrate us emotionally. God calls His servants to lean on Him emotionally in the sometimes lonely place of living out one’s calling.
4. The test of praise.
After leaving Iconium, Paul and Barnabas traveled to Lystra where they were worshipped as gods in response to a miracle. When God begins to do the unexplainable among and through us, people will start to praise the messenger over the Miracle Working God. Will we pass the test and humbly point them to Jesus or begin to think we really are something special?
5. The test of release.
When Paul and Barnabas finished their missionary journey, they returned home to Antioch. Undoubtedly, they wondered how their fledging churches would fair in their absence. It would be tempting to stay and continue to disciple each church for longer periods, yet they both knew they were called to spread the gospel to new lands. This meant letting go and letting God. Sometimes in our calling we can fall into the trap of being needed- as if God’s kingdom plans rest solely on our ability or involvement. Then we lose focus on what God has called us to do.
Whether you feel as though you are walking in your calling or waiting for it to be fulfilled, God calls us to intentionally prepare ourselves for what’s ahead. Passing these tests will never be easy, but just as Paul and Barnabas had the support of one another and the church at large, you and I are not meant to step into and walk out our calling alone. We are inextricably tied to the unexplainable church and we’re all in this together, so let’s get to studying, shall we?
What test are you currently undergoing?
What word of encouragement can you give to someone who is currently facing one of these tests?
This blog excerpt is from Erica’s latest study The Unexplainable Church: Reigniting The Mission of the Early Believers a study on Acts 13-28 just released from Moody Publishers.
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