God has a plan for each one of His children. If His only goal was to simply take us to Heaven, He would do so the moment we trust Christ. The Bible makes it clear that God has saved us to serve. “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (John 15:16a). Although our destination is settled in Heaven, God orders the steps of His children down the path of life to fulfill His purpose in our lives.
The early church in the Book of Acts found itself in the midst of constant persecution. Without question, the chief enemy of God’s people in those days was Saul of Tarsus. “And Saul was consenting unto his [Stephen’s] death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria….As for Saul, he made havock of church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison” (Acts 8:1, 3).
Not long after, however, Saul was wonderfully converted and began to preach the Gospel. But the early Christians were skeptical of Saul and wondered if they could trust this man who had once been their enemy. God in His sovereign wisdom allowed Saul to lay low for a while and get some training. In Acts 11, we find the church of Jerusalem sending Barnabas out to do teaching ministry in a young church. Barnabas has an immediate response upon receiving this commission: “Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to see Saul” (Acts 11:25).
Barnabas had been given a huge responsibility and he knew that he could not accomplish it without the help of others. But where would he find capable workers? The church at Antioch was a busy and productive church, and no doubt everyone had more than enough on their plates already. But Barnabas looked down to the end of the bench to a man whom everyone else had overlooked for various reasons. He knew that God had saved Paul for a reason, and he was willing to give him a chance.
The world may never have heard of Paul had it not been for Barnabas. While others were skeptical and perhaps even critical, Barnabas was willing to take a risk and mentor Paul toward the ministry. For the next year in Antioch this future apostle was nurtured by a friend through the local church in Antioch. “And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people” (Acts 11:26).
A large majority of the people who trust Christ today have a lot of catching up to do as they come into the local church. Bible truth and godly living are new to them. We encourage them to get into a Sunday school class or perhaps a discipleship program so they can grow. We love having them in the pews where they can be taught and mentored. But we must be careful not to leave them on the bench! Our coaching must have the purpose of getting them into the game!
When I was a sophomore in high school, I had made the varsity football team. Freshman were not allowed to play on varsity, but sophomores were eligible to be on both the sophomore team which played on Monday nights and the varsity team which played on Friday nights. There were eight of us as sophomores who made the team, and for the most part we were there to gain some experience for the future. Rarely did a sophomore ever get into a game on Friday night.
I wanted to learn, and I longed to get into a game under the lights at the Washington Park field. When the game would start, I would follow the head coach everywhere he went. He was a “walker” as he coached, and I would be step for step right behind him during the entire game listening to his instructions to players and coaches and hoping for a chance to prove to him that I could play.
One night during the game, one of our players was injured. The trainers went out onto the field, and after some examination carried him to the sidelines. The referee came over to the coach and said, “Coach, you’ll have to make a substitution.” As the coach turned around to look for a replacement, I ran by him on to the field and positioned myself in the offensive huddle. I got a strange look from our senior quarterback as he called the play. (I didn’t even play the position that I had substituted myself for and surely didn’t know the play.) When the ball was snapped, I did my best to throw a block, but as soon as the whistle blew the coach was sending in another player to take my place.
As I sprinted off the field to my usual spot behind the coach, he looked at me for a long time and just smiled. I didn’t play anymore during that game, but the next week in practice he started calling me by name, and I was getting more and more playing time every day. From my junior year on I started on both offense and defense and played on all of the special teams. I never came off the field in any game my last two years. The coach through a fluke realized that he had someone on the bench who wanted to play!
No doubt there are Christians sitting in our churches today just waiting for a chance to get in the game. They know what God has done for them, and with a little training they can be a valuable asset in the ministry. Please don’t overlook them. They may be on the back row or in the back of your mind, but a trip to “Tarsus” will reap eternal results.