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"Paul and Barnabas handpicked leaders in each church. After praying -- their prayers intensified by fasting -- they presented these new leaders to the Master to whom they had entrusted their lives. Working their way back through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia and preached in Perga. Finally, they made it to Attalia and caught a ship back to Antioch, where it had all started -- launched by God's grace and now safely home by God's grace. A good piece of work.
"On arrival they got the church together and reported on their trip, telling in detail how God had used them to throw the door of faith wide open so people of all nations could come streaming in. Then they settled down for a long, leisurely visit with the disciples." Acts 14:23-28 (The Message).
"Life is lived forward and understood backwards," Many months before, two rookie missionaries set out from Antioch. They had no mission board behind them, no regularly monthly stipend paid into their bank accounts, no cell phones or email to keep them in contact with home base, just them and the Holy Spirit in them.
Now they were back home, back in the safety and comfort of their circle of brothers and sisters, reporting on both harrowing and joyful experiences which were all in a day's work for two courageous pioneers. What did they tell them back home? What were their greatest moments on their journey through unknown territory, both geographically and spiritually?
It seems. not a word about their suffering! Did they have enough to eat? How did they get from town to town? Where did they sleep? Who did their laundry? Who cared for them when they got sick? No. They returned to their home church to report on the work God had accomplished through them. They joyfully shared their story of a wide open door for Gentiles to enter God's kingdom through faith in Jesus.
King George VI once quoted these words in his New Year message: "I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, 'Give me a lamp that I may tread safely into the unknown.' He said to me, 'Put your hand in the hand of God. That will be to you better than a light and safer than a known way.'"
Paul and Barnabas surely found those words to be profoundly true. A long look backwards revealed the hand of a faithful God on them in spite of suffering and hardship. Forgotten were the weary days, the cold nights, the steep and stony roads, the growling stomachs and the taunts and cruel words of unbelievers. It was the memory of the God who sustained them and carried them through, the God who opened hearts and gathered people into His kingdom, that filled them with joy.
We may not be facing the trials and troubles that Paul and Barnabas had to embrace to do their Master's will. By comparison, our lives may seem cushy but, nevertheless, each one of us has his or her testing to endure. The same God who sustained them is with us on our journey, but our experience of him depends on our perspective as it did theirs. They did not dwell on the hardships. Those were part of the package to toughen them up to reach their goal.
After all he went through, this was Paul's perspective: "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen it temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV).
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