700 Miles of Discipleship

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Have you ever thought about what it was like to be Timothy during the first few verses of Acts 16? Paul holds a letter in his hands from the Church headquarters at Jerusalem stating that new believers from amongst the Gentiles don’t need to be circumcised, and yet Paul insists on circumcising Timothy — not for the sake of his salvation but to avoid unnecessary barriers while bringing the gospel to Jews. So on his very first day on the job, the new recruit learned that missionary work requires personal sacrifice for others!

Next, they start off on a long and treacherous journey because Paul wants to preach the gospel in Asia. Imagine listening to Paul tell mission stories as you walk together for 200 miles and camp each night under the stars. What an opportunity to ask questions! I seriously doubt Timothy was that disappointed when, at their journey’s end, the Holy Spirit forbade them to enter Asia, and Paul turned north.

So Timothy got another 150 — 200 miles worth of personal mentoring as they headed toward Bithynia. Then, just as they approached that border, the Holy Spirit once again told them no.

If I had been Timothy, it would have been hard to suppress a grin. Paul might have been disappointed, but not me. For when Paul turned towards Troas, it meant we got another three hundred miles of camping and hiking together and hours and hours of being personally discipled by the man Christ hand-picked to pioneer ministry among the Gentiles.

Only after they had completed a good 700 miles of journeying together and stood by the port in Troas, the gateway to any number of destinations, did God finally confirm where their journey was to end — Macedonia.

I can imagine, at this point, that as Timothy looked back on their journey and reflected on why he had been circumcised and how effective ministry led to Paul being stoned and his face being scarred and disfigured, it would have left a deep impression on the young man. Following Jesus often meant suffering, but that suffering also meant new believers springing up here and there, and those believers then making more believers. Those 700 miles of not knowing where they were going meant 700 miles of uninterrupted discipleship by the Apostle Paul.

In many of his stories, Paul was chased from place to place, so his itinerary was really in God’s hands, and he seemed to be content with that. He was also content that although he asked God to guide him, God didn’t always reveal every step he was to take, not even for a 700-mile trip, choosing instead to allow Paul to make principle-based decisions, then refine those travel plans along the way.

God hasn’t changed. And as we reach out to Him for guidance in how best to support His work, and whether or not that includes becoming missionaries or pledging to support them, He often allows us, as He did Paul, to make those decisions based on principle, then steps in to make minor corrections as we journey forward from there.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

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