Jun 19 2013 - Acts 12:24-13:15 – Prayer and fasting
Acts 13 marks a key moment in the book of Acts. Barnabas has been caring for the young church at Antioch. He had recruited the help of Saul/Paul who has now been engaged in multi-cultural ministry for more than a year. In this time others have begun to share the task of leadership within the church. Three names are mentioned in addition to Barnabas and Saul: Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene and Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch). Niger is Latin for “black” suggesting that he may have come from Africa. Cyrene is also situated on the North African coastal area. Truly this was a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic church whose varied members were reflected in the leadership. The mention of Manaen as one who had been a childhood friend of Herod the tetrarch also emphasises the way in which the message of Jesus is touching every class of society.
Barnabas and Saul have made it their business to train up others in ministry. They have done their job well and now, even after a comparatively short while, it's time for them to move on; it’s time for Saul to begin the ministry planned for him by the Lord and for which he is now fully prepared.
We read that it was while the leadership team were worshipping the Lord and fasting that the Holy Spirit instructed them to set aside Barnabas and Saul for the work to which the Lord was calling them. (Before the chapter is out, Saul has become Paul and has taken the lead in the new team; henceforth it's Paul and Barnabas.) Having received this message we read that the leadership team devoted themselves to prayer and fasting before commissioning the missionaries with the laying on of hands. The remainder of the book of Acts will be devoted to the missionary activity of Paul.
Now I like my food. More than that, I enjoy it with thankfulness, receiving it as a gift from God. I have to confess to finding such references to fasting uncomfortable (in the strict meaning of the term). Could it be that in the complacent – though thankful – enjoyment of our comforts we are missing out on some of the ministry and blessings which the Lord has for those who love him more than their necessary food? I find this food for thought.
As Paul begins his ‘first missionary journey’, accompanied by Barnabas and John Mark, we read that they were “sent on their way by the Holy Spirit”. The Spirit is the driving force behind the spread of the gospel. And it was Spirit who empowered Paul’s ministry. In Paphos, on the island of Cyprus, the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus summoned Paul, wishing to hear the message that Paul was preaching. But a Jewish sorcerer named Elymas tried to dissuade the proconsul from believing Paul’s message.
Paul looked straight at Elymas and, calling him a child of the devil, declared that he would be struck blind for a time – this is what happened to Saul when he had sought to oppose Jesus Christ. And that’s just what happened to Elymas. He is led away by the hand and the proconsul came to faith; he had witnessed the power of the risen Lord Jesus who gives sight and makes blind.
The work of the kingdom is powered by the Spirit of the risen Saviour, but it is also powered by prayer – and fasting.
Lord God, teach us to have right priorities in all things and to seek first your kingdom and your righteousness. Increase our passion for prayer that our life of communion with you might be more like that of the Lord Jesus. Guide us by your Spirit into the work you would have us do and use us to bring others to faith in Christ.