Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Fruitful Preparation…And the Best is Yet to Come

Have you considered how much preparation Paul experienced before his missionary journeys? He was a highly trained Pharisee, the "best of the best of the best," and had dedicated his whole life to the study of the Scriptures. Let's review his next 17 years of preparation:

Saul is converted in Damascus (Acts 9) and almost immediately begins preaching in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God (Acts 9:20). Three years later (see Galatians 1:18 about this timing) Barnabas introduces him to the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 9:27), and then…Paul is sent off to his home (Tarsus) because he stirred up deadly passion after debating with some Grecian Jews (Acts 9:30). Shipping Saul out of town must have diffused the tension, because the next verse tells us that church enjoyed a time of peace. Paul returns for a visit to Jerusalem fourteen years later, with Titus (Galatians 2:1-2). Some time later, Barnabas asks Paul to join him in Antioch and help the new church there (Acts 11:25-26). It's after all this that the Holy Spirit begins sending Paul out on his three missionary journeys.

We can infer three lessons from this period of ministry and preparation time:

1.He was alone during the three years in Arabia, and that likely was an important part of his preparation. Paul was not being taught by other men (Galatians 1:16), but receiving instruction from the Lord. I imagine he reviewed every part of the Pentateuch, Psalms, and haftarah (comprising what we call the Old Testament) and seeing it anew in the reality of Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus as fully God and fully man, and Jesus as his Lord and Savior. I also suspect it was during this time that Paul learned to discern and hear the voice of God.

2.At some point during the 14 year period Saul changes his name to Paul. Name changes are significant! Paul was a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), and now has a new name.

3.Paul wasn't just practicing preaching in a room by himself, he was preaching and teaching among Jewish and Gentile audiences. His ministry had some success: Titus, a Greek Gentile, is an early convert who later becomes a key pastor. And people clearly testify that Paul was preaching about Jesus the Messiah. But we have no recorded letters from Paul during this period. There are no other stories about converts or miracles or establishing churches.

I believe there are two key applications for us today:

1.God doesn't shortchange on preparation for ministry (and neither should we). This chronology spans more than 17 years, and God's greatest work through Paul was yet to come.

2.God is so amazingly powerful that even ministry training is fruitful for His Kingdom.

I encourage you to think about your own situation in light of God's development program for Paul. God has used many people to invest in you for years: your parents, teachers, pastors, employers, friends, even your children. And He is calling you to invest generously in others, patiently helping instruct and develop them.

Understand this: God's best ministry through you is likely still in the future.

So let us go forward today in thankful confidence that our loving Lord is developing and training us for ministry in His Name, using all kinds of people and opportunities and experiences.