Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. … Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said: “Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen.”
Acts 13:13-14, 16
I would like to share some thoughts which are prompted by the passage in Acts 13 where we are told that in the church at Antioch there was a young man named John Mark, who had accompanied Paul and Barnabas in their work for the Gospel.
For some reason when they were in Perga, John Mark had turned back from that work and returned to Jerusalem. We don’t know whether it was for health reasons, or whether it was too costly, or because he wanted the comfort of his home church. Maybe because he was a younger man he thought that he wasn’t being given his place or wasn’t being appreciated enough. Whatever the reason was, he contracted out and so the others went on without him. Later on this led to a strong argument between Paul and Barnabas when John Mark decided that he would like to join with them again. Barnabas wanted him to go with them, but Paul felt that his previous withdrawal from the work had disqualified him. The dispute was so great that Paul and Barnabas parted company. John Mark did eventually prove himself and resumed his fellowship and service as 2 Timothy 4:11 makes clear. The whole incident was obviously distressing and arose simply because one man decided for some reason or other, to leave the work of God.
There are times when a man or woman begins to show great reluctance to get involved, or perhaps loses interest in the work of God; or perhaps they hold back from taking part in that work. They can allow the comforts of home and family and the status quo of their present pattern of life to prevent them from becoming what God is calling them to be and to do.
All of which reminds us that our lives and our service are ultimately in the hands of God. He can place us in suitable churches or situations where we can serve Him. On the other hand, as we are serving Him He can withhold from us further opportunities. He can encourage and even frustrate us at times. But it is all done in great love and with great patience, and with a wise purpose. He may disrupt our circumstances in order that we might grow spiritually and that we may lead an ever more useful life in a different sphere of service.
Some of us have discovered that what we feared, or worried about the most about God’s will for us, has in the event become something far wider and deeper than we ever thought or imagined. We were guided to a greater place of blessing and fruitful service.
Another thought from that passage is this. To be in a place like the church at Antioch where God is working and blessing can be an enormous privilege, but it can also be dangerous. We can assume that because the work is going on that we ourselves are going on with God, and that may not be the case.
It can be an unhealthy thing to be constantly introspective, examining ourselves and our thoughts, actions and motives and wondering what the Lord is doing with us. Nevertheless from time to time it is both necessary and profitable to do that, in order to see if we are listening to the voice of God or the voices of others, or even our own voice. Sometimes we are not listening at all, because we are not expecting God to speak to us. Or maybe it is because we are reluctant to have our lives disturbed by what He might say.
Even in this unusual situation where we find ourselves meeting together through modern technology, God is still speaking so clearly and wonderfully through His faithful pastors. The question then arises: Are we listening?
We all need to give heed, and listen carefully to what He is saying lest we find ourselves left behind in the ongoing work of His kingdom.
Yours earnestly and sincerely,