As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
— Acts 13:2
When I made my first missions trip to the USSR, it was in the spring of 1991, just months before the Soviet Union finally dissolved. I was shocked by how dilapidated everything seemed to be. From what I observed, the mighty USSR was worn out and falling apart. The streets, sidewalks, cars, shops, people’s clothing — everything I saw — simply looked either broken, exhausted, or worn out.
I checked into my hotel, and when I pulled the curtains back to give me a view of the street below, they were so rotten that they ripped right off the curtain rod into my hands. For the rest of my stay there, I had no curtains. There was a dead mouse in one corner of the room, and the shower looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in decades. I was simply stunned that a global superpower that had kept the rest of the world in fear for so many years was so utterly dilapidated.
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The next morning after our arrival, my teammates and I walked to the building where the first aboveground Bible school was being conducted — the first in more than 70 years. Two hundred and twenty students had gathered from every republic of the USSR to attend the school, and I wept when I realized this was a dream come true for them. They lifted their hands to worship, and the Spirit of God moved across the large classroom in a powerful manner. His presence was so strong.
When I stood in front of that room full of young people from all over the Soviet Union to teach them for the first time, I approached the lectern to begin my first teaching session, opened my Bible, took a step back, and looked up at the room full of students eagerly looking back at me. And at that moment, I vividly heard the Holy Spirit speak loudly to my heart and say, “WELCOME TO YOUR NEW HOME!”
I know the voice of the Holy Spirit, and there was no doubt in my heart or mind that it was the Spirit who had spoken these words to me. Feeling shocked by what I’d just heard, I choked up and stumbled with my words a bit. Then the Holy Spirit spoke it a second time: “WELCOME TO YOUR NEW HOME!”
With that, I knew God was calling me to relocate my family to the Soviet Union. As I looked at those 220 students and the dilapidated surroundings all around me, I kept thinking, God is calling me to make THIS my home and to embrace these students and the USSR for me and my family’s future.
Later that day in prayer, the Lord continued speaking to my spirit. He explained, “There are many good Bible teachers in the United States, but I need skilled Bible teachers HERE to undergird the massive move of My Spirit that is happening. That is why I am calling you to move here and to do it as quickly as possible.”
This was completely contrary to the plans I had made for my life and ministry. Back in those days, we were receiving 900 invitations a year to come and hold seminars in churches and speak in conferences. The growth of our ministry was literally exploding in the United States — and my books were becoming bestsellers. I had never dreamed of moving away from America and leaving that life behind. But that was exactly what God was calling us to do. That week as I ministered every day to the students, the love of God in me connected me to them, and I could begin to visually see our family living in the USSR.
When I came back to Tulsa after that missions trip, I knew I needed to break the news to Denise. I didn’t know how she would respond, but the Lord had prepared her heart before I ever said a word, and the same grace that was upon me was upon Denise. She said, “I’m not excited yet, but when we step onto that plane to move, I’ll be filled with faith and anticipation.” Our sons were too young to understand what the Soviet Union was, so they just exploded with glee that we were going to be doing something adventurous as we followed the will of God.
Finally, the morning came when Denise and I and our three small sons gathered at the airport with family and friends. We hugged and kissed everyone and told them all farewell; then we stepped onto the plane that would carry us to our new home in the former Soviet Union. As we sat down in those seats on the plane, Denise and I looked at each other with jubilation, because we knew we had passed a major test. We had said yes to the Lord, surrendering to His revealed will for us, and we were on our way to the greatest adventure of our lives.
Saying yes to the Lord requires surrender. I’m talking about that moment when you are willing to lay down all your own plans and yield to what the Holy Spirit has revealed to you about God’s will for your life. Some people pass this test, whereas others do not. However, those who surrender, yield, and obey experience the joy, power, and victory of the Spirit. They live an enriched life filled both with opportunities to be seized and obstacles to be overcome in order to attain victory and to complete the assignment.
I want to tell you how I felt that day when the Holy Spirit said, “WELCOME TO YOUR NEW HOME!” It immediately reminded me of Acts 13:2, which says, “As they [the elders in Antioch] ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.”
Barnabas and Saul had been serving in the church of Antioch for several years when suddenly during a time of prayer and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” The word “separate” is the Greek word asphortidzo, and it means to mark off, to set boundaries around, or to set apart for a special purpose. The verse continues to say that they were to be set apart “…for the work whereunto I have called them.” Apparently, God had a “work” for these two men that exceeded what they had done in Antioch.
Serving in Antioch was an honor, but it was not the ultimate goal of God’s call on their lives. Way beyond Antioch, Barnabas and Saul [Paul] would be used by God to touch and revolutionize the Gentile world. Had they stayed in Antioch, they would have missed the adventuresome apostolic life that God had designed for them. Accepting and obeying God’s call thrust them forward into a life and ministry of divine purpose that radically affected the development and growth of the Church of Jesus Christ all over the Roman Empire.
Everything Paul and Barnabas had done in ministry until that time had been nothing more than preparation for what lay ahead. Although they had spent several serious years in ministry, it was simply “getting-ready time” for the ultimate call that was before them.
This is precisely how I felt when the Holy Spirit spoke to me about my new home. God has blessed our ministry immensely, but I was suddenly aware that everything that had occurred until that moment was preparation for what was about to follow. And what was about to transpire was so immense that it made everything up to that moment look minuscule. Those previous days were days of proving to learn how to be faithful. God was watching — and now that He was satisfied, He was ready to launch us into the calling He had for our lives, which was far larger than anything that Denise or I had imagined or anticipated.
Barnabas and Saul were immediately sent forth to begin their apostolic ministries, but it took me several months to really embrace what God had said. However, I did come around, and our family entered the greatest phase of our lives as a result. We have never had any regrets about leaving America behind and moving to the former USSR.
Today I want to encourage you to let the Lord reveal to you His plan for your life. It may be different from what you had previously thought. It is possible that everything you have done up until now has merely been preparation for a greater call before you. So open your heart and be careful to pay heed if the Holy Spirit affirms that He’s leading you to take a new direction. It could add more fruitfulness and adventure to your life than you ever dreamed possible!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, I thank You for Your predetermined plan for my life — and that You want to launch me into it as soon as I’m ready. I ask You to help me prove myself faithful where I am, so I will be prepared for the call that lies ahead of me. Help me not to be stuck in my thinking — assuming that where I am is the ultimate end of what I am called to do. I ask You to open my eyes to see that great and wonderful things lie ahead of me if I will fully surrender to You!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that God knows the good plans He has for me. He is ordering my steps along His ordained path, and I am following the Holy Spirit’s direction to do all He is leading me to do in preparation for God’s next phase of my life. I recognize now that all I have done thus far has been preparation for the next part of His call on my life. Jesus, You said if a man is faithful in little, You will put him over much. So I declare that I will be faithful in every assignment You’ve given to me now, and I believe that You will promote me to the next phase when You have found me proven and ready.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- What are you doing right now to give yourself fully to the tasks at hand, so God will know that you are proven and ready for the job ahead of you?
- Has God ever told you something that caught you off-guard and by surprise? If so, when was that, and what did He say? Have you followed through on what He spoke to your heart?
- Are you doing what God has told you to do right now? Are you being faithful with the call that He’s given you? If God were asked this question, how would He answer about you?