Jim Cymbala

B. Childress
Aug 04 2013

Most of us are unaware of a certain event in the Bible that likely changed the history of the Christian church.  
Understanding what happened in that moment will help us understand more about the Holy Spirit.  The story is found in
Acts, and the setting was Antioch.  After Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, he moved around a bit, making a
short visit to Jerusalem with the apostles before returning to his hometown of Tarsus.  Later Barnabas went there and
persuaded Saul to join him in helping the church at Antioch where God’s grace was so evident (Acts 11:19-26).  The two
of them joined other gifted prophets and teachers, and ministered there for many months, strengthening the believers’
faith in Jesus.

Then came the pivotal moment.  As the leaders of the church in Antioch were purposely drawing near to God
(worshiping and fasting), God drew near to them as promised (see James 4:8).  Luke tells the story in a matter-of-fact
manner, which gives us some insight into the spiritual practices of early Christian leaders.  Possibly they had some
prophetic intimation that the Lord was planning changes among them.  They tuned their ears to his voice, and God

“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work
to which I have called them.’  So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off”
(Acts 13:2-3).

The believers heard the Spirit instruct them to “set apart Barnabas and Saul” so they could be sent out to do some new,
specific work for God.  We’re not sure how that message was delivered.  Was it through some prophetic gift of the
Spirit?  The details are omitted, but it was dramatic and unmistakable.  No one seemed particularly surprised by the Spirit’
s directive for Paul and Barnabas to give themselves to this rather vague calling.  The Spirit was revealing his mind, and
the church leadership responded.  They fasted and prayed some more, placed their hands on the two men, and sent
them off (verse 3).

So what’s so significant about that moment?  That was the beginning of Saul’s first missionary journey.  His travels
changed the entire course of the Christian church.  In fact, it was during his first trip that Saul’s name was changed to
Paul, and he stepped out to take the lead as God used him in even greater ways than his older compatriot Barnabas.  
From that point on, the book of Acts shifts directions.  It is no longer focused on the acts of Peter, James, and John
around Jerusalem; instead, it focuses on Paul and his travels.  Though he wasn’t one of the original apostles, he
became the greatest of them all.  He also became the ministry model for the Christian leaders through the ages as he
preached, taught, and founded churches throughout the world.

Set Apart for an Illogical Calling

When God’s Spirit moves, a continual process of setting believers apart and sending them out to work for Christ is set in
motion.  And it isn’t reserved for only those in formal ministry.  Sometimes we’re asked to leave our house, go down the
block, and encourage a hurting neighbor, or maybe to join a ministry in our church to train children.  Perhaps we’re to go
on short-term mission trips or give ourselves to the kind of intercessory prayer that transforms lives.  When the Spirit is
moving and we yield to his influences, life becomes both exciting and filled with challenges only God can meet.  No one is
left to be merely a spectator.  

The contemporary definition of church seems to leave everything up to the professional clergy while everyone else sits
back and watches.  But this goes against God’s plan that we’re all a part of the same body and that he has a specific
purpose for each member (I Corinthians 12:12-27).  Christianity shouldn’t be reduced to filling our heads with more Bible
knowledge that we never act on.  It’s about hearing the Spirit’s call, surrendering to him, and then giving ourselves totally
to the work he puts before us.  It involves strong efforts, faith to overcome discouragement, and perseverance to keep at
it no matter what.

Oddly, God loves to choose the most unlikely, untrained, and imperfect folks to accomplish amazing things.  Abraham
lied when under pressure, Moses killed a man before he became Israel’s deliverer, King David’s family dismissed him as
only a shepherd boy, and the apostle Peter was a fisherman with no formal religious training.  Church history since then
gives us countless more examples of this encouraging truth:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not
many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise;
God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised
things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.  (I Corinthians 1:

Note that those words were written to a congregation of believers in Jesus, not to the clergy.  In case you’re feeling
inadequate and untrained when the Spirit calls, please remember that this is the way God usually works so that he will be
guaranteed to receive all the glory.

For God to use ordinary people, hard and firm
human plans have to give way.  What we think is logical, what makes the
most sense to us, must always yield to the Holy Spirit’s calling.

Consider Philip, the deacon who through the Holy Spirit became an evangelist.  He ended up preaching the gospel to
large crowds in Samaria, and God brought a spiritual awakening in that city.  Although it surely didn’t make sense for
Philip to leave the crusade he was leading and head out of town to an isolated desert road, that’s exactly what an angel
of the Lord told him to do (Acts 8:26).  While he was there, along came an Ethiopian eunuch (you’ll read in a minute why
I love Ethiopians so much) who was reading the book of Isaiah in his chariot.  “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot
and stay near it’” (verse 29).  While near the chariot, a conversation ensued that permitted Philip to share the gospel
and lead the eunuch to Christ.

Notice how the Holy Spirit gave specific, almost trivial directions.  “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”  The Spirit
probably said that to Philip, in a still small voice that Philip recognized in his heart.  It wasn’t an addition to Scripture.  It
was detailed instructions given by the Holy Spirit to a believer that resulted in the gospel of Jesus spreading to the
continent of Africa.

If we insist on doing our own thing in our own time and resist God’s “setting apart,” we will miss out on the amazing “sent
out” part.  None of us can possibly know in advance what God wants to do with our lives.  Certainly no one ever would
have predicted that Saul, the persecutor of the church, would become Paul, the greatest of the apostles.

The Unlikely Evangelist

Paul was Jewish, trained as a Pharisee, and an expert in Old Testament teaching.  No one was better equipped to take
the good news to the Jewish people.  But that’s not where God placed Paul.  Instead, he used him to spread the gospel
among the Gentiles!  Logically, Peter would have been a better choice, but God’s ways are
not our ways (Peter became
the apostle to the Jews!).  When God’s Spirit moves, his purposes are revealed and accomplished in ways that no
committee, personality test, or computer program could ever figure out.

D. L. Moody is a great example of that.  No one ever would have expected him to be one of the greatest evangelists of
all time.  Moody was initially a shoe salesman and basically uneducated.  He was a short, overweight man and not very
good-looking.  He had a slight speech impediment and a rapid-fire delivery when he spoke.  After he became a
Christian, he started working with children on the streets of Chicago, working with the YMCA, and later handing out tracts
during the Civil War.  Though he never went to seminary, his work bore fruit, and eventually he was invited to England to

While he was there, well-trained, velvet-tongued pastors sat in amazement at his preaching.  Many of their churches
were dead, and the kingdom wasn’t being extended.   But along came Moody, and the crowds followed.  Despite his
limitations, God’s blessing was evident.  The guy couldn’t even pronounce Daniel correctly.  He said Dan’l.  And more
difficult names like Nebuchadnezzar?  Not even close.

A man known only by Mr. Reynolds once described the first time he met Moody:

    The first meeting I ever saw him at was in a little old shanty that had been abandoned by a saloon-keeper.  Mr.
    Moody had got the place to hold the meeting in at night.  I went there a little late: and the first thing I saw as a man
    standing up, with a few tallow candles around him, holding a negro boy, and trying to read to him the story of the
    Prodigal Son; and a great many of the words he could not make out, and had to skip.  I thought, If the Lord can
    ever use such an instrument as that for his honor and glory, it will astonish me.  After that meeting was over, Mr.
    Moody said to me, “Reynolds, I have got only one talent: I have no education, but I love the Lord Jesus Christ, and
    I want to do something for Him: and I want you to pray for me.”  I have never ceased from that day to this, morning
    and night, to pray for that devoted Christian soldier.

In a sense, Moody was nearly semiliterate.  I once saw a letter written by Moody that was reproduced in
Love them In:
The Life and Theology of D.L. Moody
, by Stanley N. Gundry.   Any sixth grader could do better.  There were no capital
letters, and commas and periods were few and far between.  He would have been laughed at today when we judge
ministry by slickness of delivery style and not by spiritual power.  Yet this man preached to millions of people with no
sound system and became one of the best-known evangelists in the history of Christianity.  He led thousands to the Lord
and went on to found three schools and a university.

We’re not all called to be a D.L. Moody.  But regardless of how we’re set apart, it is God’s responsibility to equip us.  And
in the case of Moody, boy, did he ever!

The Spirit calls Christians to all sorts of work for him.  Sometimes the work encompasses world-changing missions, such
as that of Moody.  At other times, the work is much more personal and closer to home.

A Hunger She Couldn’t Satisfy

My daughter, Susan, and her husband, Brian, know something about that.  They had a son and daughter who were long
out of diapers, but since a visit to Haiti at age seventeen, Susan had felt a recurring tug on her heart to adopt.

She got married young, but because of some physical problems, she was told she probably wouldn’t have children, and
if she did, there would be lots of complications.  But that never happened.  She had her first child, Luke, when she was
twenty-three, and her daughter, Claire, not long after.  But when Claire was five, Susan and Brian wanted to have
another child.  This time, however, she unexpectedly miscarried.

The miscarriage rekindled her long-held desire to adopt.  “In that moment,” Susan said, “it almost seemed selfish for me
to want more biological children.”  Brian was open to the idea of adopting, but he wanted to make sure the Spirit was
truly leading them.

While Susan and Brian were on a mission trip to the Philippines, one of the locals mentioned that a family had just given
birth to a child, but because they couldn’t afford to take care of her, they planned to sell her.  Susan was all action.  “I’ll
take her!” she said immediately, not understanding anything about international adoption laws.

A friend on the mission trip led Brian and Susan to a remote area where the family lived.  Inside the hut was a very sick
mother lying with her newborn.  The family quickly confirmed they wanted to give up their new baby.

Susan and Brian had no idea that the whole thing was illegal.  A lawyer drew up the paperwork, and Susan and Brian
paid him and signed the forms.  They took the baby girl and named her Emily.  They placed her in the care of a couple
at the church where they were ministering and promised to be back soon to take Emily home.

But back in the United States, Susan researched adoption law and quickly realized something was wrong.  “This is totally
illegal!”  Susan told Brian.  With that, they began a two-year, heartbreaking journey of trying to identify political, legal,
and humanitarian connections in both the Philippines and the United States who could help them bring Emily to the
United States.  But nothing worked.

Eventually everyone began to see that it wasn’t going to work for Susan and Brian to bring Emily home.  During that
time, the family in the Philippines who had cared for Emily had fallen in love with her.  They joyously committed to
adopting her and raising Emily as their own.

Despite the heartbreak, Susan still felt the tug on her soul to adopt.  While she was ready to move forward, Brian was
cautious.  They had already been through so much.

“It didn’t work out with Emily,” Brian said one day.  “Maybe we’re just not supposed to adopt.”  Susan wanted to honor
her husband.  She prayed the desire for adoption would go away if they weren’t supposed to adopt; but, if anything, it
only came back stronger.  Something inside of her wouldn’t let go of bringing another child into her family.

On the Internet, she learned about a Christian adoption agency with a program in Ethiopia.  She talked to Brian about
calling them, but he was still apprehensive and wanted to be sure it was what God wanted.  After a few weeks of
conversation, Susan couldn’t wait any longer.  “I’m going to call them today and start the process.”

That morning, as they both headed to their offices at the Brooklyn Tabernacle, Susan felt torn.  “I wanted to call the
agency that day, but I also knew Brian wasn’t convinced God wanted this.  Could he be right?  My kids are ten and
twelve.  And in a lot of ways, I was done.  They were self-sufficient, and I was independent again.  It had been a long time
since I carried a diaper bag.”

“What was even crazier was that three years earlier, I had taken over leadership of the Brooklyn Tabernacle children’s
ministry.  Between my work and my kids at home, you would think that I wouldn’t want more kids.  But my desire to adopt
had only grown.  A lot of people said to me, ‘What are you doing?’ and I would think,
I don’t know.  But as much as the
idea alarms you, it delights me.
”  God had put something in Susan’s heart, and she couldn’t let go.  “It was a hunger in
me that I couldn’t satisfy.  I was consumed with the idea.”  But obviously Brian wasn’t there yet.

Susan was busy in meetings that morning, and it was midafternoon before she had a chance to return to her desk and
see a message on her cell phone from Terry, a member of the church.

Terry is a respected woman in our church whom God sometimes uses in the gifts of the Spirit. “I knew of her,” Susan
said, “but I had never talked to her.  I can be cautious of people being used in the gifts of the Spirit, but I always
respected Terry.  I believe she’s the real deal and that she really hears from God.”  
How did she get my cell phone
 Susan wondered.

She played the message.  “Susan, God has put you on my heart,” Terry said.  “I’ve been praying for you all day.  I feel
like God’s given me a word for you, and I’m apprehensive to give it.  I want to be careful that this is from God.  But this is
what I believe he’s telling me.  He wants to say to you that it won’t be long now and just to use wisdom as you proceed.”

Susan was stunned.  This was the day she was supposed to call the agency, and earlier that day, Brian said he needed
to hear from God.  That was it.  Susan called Brian, “You got your word!  You’ll never believe what happened.”  She told
him about Terry’s phone call. Brian agreed it was the sign he needed, so Susan called the agency and started the

They went on the waiting list in August, and then on January 22, they received a call from the agency that a baby boy
was waiting for them.  They named him Levi.  The details of Levi’s life were sad.  Levi’s mom had passed away from
malaria while giving birth to her son.  Levi’s father knew he couldn’t take care of his new son in addition to the four
children he already had.  In the remote area where Levi’s family lived, without a mother’s milk, Levi would have had little
chance for survival.

Some parents who couldn’t feed their babies left them to die, but Levi’s father wanted more for his son.  So that grieving
father traveled eight hours on a bus to bring Levi to the orphanage.  Weeks later, when Susan, Brian, and their two
children arrived in Ethiopia, the father made the same eight-hour trip back to finalize the adoption in court.  Through an
interpreter, the father told them he hoped Levi would become a doctor and come back to Ethiopia one day with a cure
for malaria.

Because those people followed the promptings of the Spirit, I now have the most amazing grandson!  On my desk is an 8
X 10 frame with a picture of one-year-old Levi.  I love his handsome face and the mischievous twinkle in his dark brown
eyes.  When he walks into a room, people notice the light within him.

I believe it was the Holy Spirit who inspired Susan all those years ago and continually stirred the idea of adoption so she
couldn’t let it go.  Terry would tell you it was the prompting of the Holy Spirit that made her call Susan and leave a
message that day even though she felt uncomfortable and wasn’t sure why she did it.  And Brian felt peace only after the
Spirit’s confirmation.  It was also the prompting of the Holy Spirit that led Levi’s father to make that long journey to place
his baby in the caring hands of adoption workers.

The Holy Spirit worked through many people over many years to bring Levi to our family.  And though Levi is a special
joy, Susan would tell you that he hasn’t made her life easier.  Brian is an incredibly busy associate pastor in our church.  
They have two other children and live in the greater New York City area – a difficult place to raise a family.  But Susan
would also tell you that God puts us in hard places so that we become more dependent on him and so we can
experience his power in greater ways.  What the Spirit leads us to do isn’t always easy, and it doesn’t always make a lot
of sense, but whom God calls, he equips.  And in this case, I am so glad he did!  After all, I’m the only Polish-Ukrainian
pastor in downtown Brooklyn with an Ethiopian grandson.

Prompt Responses

When God sets us apart and sends us out, it isn’t necessarily to preach or be a missionary.  There are countless
examples of people in our churches whom the Holy Spirit has called to start a new ministry, evangelize in the streets,
disciple and care for senior citizens, teach the Bible to preteens, or serve his people in many other ways.  Just as each
member of the human body functions differently from the others, the Spirit energizes each of us in the body of Christ to
fulfill God’s purposes.  Without the Spirit’s power being exercised, we tend to sit on the sidelines, inactive and unfulfilled.  
Worse, we are tempted to critique those actually “in the game” trying to proclaim Christ and serve his people.  Anyone
can criticize the efforts of another believer, but at the judgment seat of Christ, we will answer for ourselves only, not

Although God can speak to anyone at any time, if we want to discover what he has called us to do, we would do well to
remember the “drawing near” of the leaders in Antioch.  They were “worshiping the Lord” and denying themselves food
for a season so they could become more spiritually sensitive to the Spirit of God.  Somehow the Spirit actually named
Barnabas and Saul.  He had been tracking their growth and yieldedness through the years.  As they sought the Lord in
prayer, the Spirit revealed a new work assignment for them that would result in awesome blessings to countless people.  
This was not a case of two men hearing strange voices that no one else could confirm.  Barnabas and Saul had the
leadership of the church bear witness to the Spirit’s call.  When the Holy Spirit speaks and leads, confirmation will always
come in some way, including by the witness of other mature believers.

Christ didn’t die on the cross so that we would spend our time as Christians on earth merely sitting around waiting for his
return.  Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37).  The reason for the shortage today
is that too few are yielded to the Spirit whom Christ sent to us.  But there’s still time, and we have a patient, merciful
Savior on our side.

Who knows how God can use you if you step out in faith and let the Holy Spirit take control?  We’re not called to be
spectators watching from the stands as the prince of darkness goes about to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10).  Jesus
said there is a shortage of workers, but the actual work will be done by God’s Spirit through
you and me doing things
beyond our wildest imagination.  It all begins when you offer yourself to serve.

And then we can pray the prophet Isaiah’s prayer, “Here am I, Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)


SPIRIT RISING, by Jim Cymbala with Jennifer Schuchmann, Copyright 2012, Zondervan.