Take TIME to HEAR from GOD through FASTING & PRAYER: “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.” (Acts 13:1-3)
As we read through the history of the 1st century church, there is one element that stands out prominently: this church was initiated and sustained by prayer. The disciples of Jesus Christ waited upon direction and empowerment from God at various occasions from the time that their Rabbi and Master Jesus Christ had left for His heavenly abode. Initially, 120 disciples waited in Jerusalem for the power from high, which was the baptism of the Holy Spirit (see Luke 24:49; 1:4-8). The disciples of Christ had sought the face of God in prayer: "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication" (1:14). In 2:1-41, the church was empowered to proclaim the resurrection of Christ and moved forward in prayer (v. 42b). The church continued to pray for boldness and miracles in 4:23-31, which God answered (see vv. 31-35). A church-wide prayer is recorded in 12:5 for Peter to be released from prison, which God answered as well. Thus, this early church was fulfilling its motto: “pray and proclaim”.
The church in Antioch also experienced a time of exciting growth when many new people joined the church (11:21), out of which many were under the tutelage of Barnabas and Saul. We come now to a point of time when the church needed to expand within its current borders to Asia, Europe and other countries. A shift was taking place in three different ways: (1) the spread of the gospel earlier was often the result of persecution, but now it would become the result of mission programs; (2) as this evangelism spreads to the Gentiles the focus would pass from Peter to Paul; and (3) the operations base would move from Jerusalem to Antioch of Syria. In order for the shift to take place, this church had to take time to go closer to God and hear from Him.
The passage in 13:1-3 reveals that the church in Antioch had at least five prophets and teachers. Prophets functioned in the early church as the mouthpieces for the Lord proclaiming God’s revelation, and could often foretell coming events. Teachers explained the meaning of the revelation and helped the people apply it to their lives. These prophets and teachers from the church in Antioch had gathered together for a time of intercessory prayer and fasting, probably with the entire church, since they had felt a deep burden for the evangelization of the world. As they prayed, the Holy Spirit definitely instructed them to separate Barnabas and Saul for the specific work which He had in mind that is ministry among the Gentiles, and take the gospel to Asia. Thus, the Holy Spirit has a prominent role in guiding the early church, and the disciples were sensitive to His leading!
This was the commissioning of Apostle Paul’s great apostolic ministry. After the Holy Spirit had thus revealed His will, the church continued to fast and pray. Then the three men (Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen) laid hands on Barnabas and Saul, which was an expression of their fellowship with these two men in the work to which the Holy Spirit had called them. They were simply expressing their identification with them in this special commission to take the gospel to the Gentiles. The laying on of hands was the church’s way of identifying with and affirming the mission to which God had called them. Even though the church released them from their ministry at Antioch, but it was the Holy Spirit who sent them. The commissioning of Barnabas and Saul for their missionary endeavor was the work of the Holy Spirit!
Let’s also take time to hear from God through fasting and prayer. God calls people who take time to worship and minister to the Lord. Just like in the case of Barnabas and Saul, God usually uses His servants who are already serving Him, as they have opportunity, rather than those who are just sitting by idly waiting for direction. Let us submit to the guidance of the Holy Spirit when we are confronting tough decisions and looking for clear directions to move forward. God will then reveal the steps of life and service as He shows us ways to Honor Him. Let the church leadership call for prayer and fasting in these times, and release ministers freely to follow God’s will when asked to do so by the Holy Spirit. This is what God tells us today: "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye. Do not be like the horse or like the mule, which have no understanding." (Psalms 32:8-9)