by Ava Pennington
The goat-hair cloth chafed his calloused fingers as he stitched the last seam. Paul stood and stretched his tired muscles. One more tent completed. The proceeds would help with his travel expenses to Ephesus—another city where people needed to hear that Elohim, the creator of the universe, was the redeemer of humanity.
The need is still the same 2,000 years later. People across the country and around the world are hungry for the good news of salvation. For centuries, vocational missionaries have followed the apostle Paul’s example, living in unfamiliar cultures and socio-economic conditions to share the gospel of Christ.
However, spreading the gospel is the responsibility of every Christian, not just full-time missionaries. Our mission field may be as near as a family member, neighbor, or coworker in the next cubicle. We can also follow in Paul’s traveling footsteps, if not for years, then perhaps for a few weeks on a short-term mission trip or a purposeful vacation.
Different Century, Same Motives
We often think about the apostle Paul as a larger-than-life figure. Yet his motives for spending a lifetime traveling beyond his hometown are the same motives that compel us to leave our comfort zones today.
Paul’s first motivation for sharing the gospel across cultures was to obey the Lord. God had decreed that Paul would be his messenger to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15).
Our motivation to share the gospel should also stem from obedience to God. Jesus told his disciples to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (1:8). The mandate has not changed. Our Jerusalem is our own city. Judea and Samaria are our state and country. And the ends of the earth are . . . just that!
Still, Paul was motivated by more than obedience. His heart overflowed with gratitude for God’s lavish grace and mercy (1 Timothy 1:12-16). The suffering he endured was nothing compared to what Jesus Christ had done for him. He was compelled by the love of Christ to spread the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:14).
Two things will last for eternity: people and the Word of God. Paul devoted his life to both, and his accomplishments will live forever through the people he introduced to God’s Word and God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
Paul understood his calling as “an apostle to the Gentiles” (Galatians 2:8). In taking the gospel beyond Abraham’s descendants, he fulfilled Jesus’ promise to bring in “other sheep” who are not part of the original flock. Together with God’s chosen people, they would form one flock under one Shepherd (John 10:16).
Paul did more than preach the gospel, tally converts, and move on. Wherever he traveled, he established churches and trained indigenous leaders. Paul also mentored young men like Timothy and Titus, instructing them to appoint and train local leaders. As a result, the churches thrived.
In addition to personally training leaders during his travels, Paul left a legacy of teaching and discipleship in his correspondence. He wove Old Testament Scriptures into his letters as he expounded on the person of Christ, the essence of the gospel, and believers’ relationships with the Lord, each other, and the world.
Suffering for God’s Glory
Although Paul derived joy from sharing the gospel, his missionary journeys were not pleasure trips—at least not the way most of us define pleasure today. His goal was always to glorify his Lord.
He listed many of his hardships in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29. He described floggings, beatings, stonings, and shipwrecks. He cited dangers from bandits, Gentiles, and his own countrymen. Paul knew the discomfort of going without food and water. He suffered from loss of sleep and lack of appropriate clothing to protect against the elements. Added to these privations were Paul’s concerns for the churches and individual believers he left behind in each city.
Despite the hardships, Paul drew pleasure from fulfilling God’s purposes. His catalog of hardships was not a list of complaints, but rather a record of how far he was willing to go to lift up the name of Christ and glorify God. Even when Paul appeared before Governor Felix in Acts 24, he was more concerned with sharing the gospel than obtaining his own freedom.
Paul’s sufferings were nothing compared to the joy of seeing people come to Christ and knowing they would live for eternity glorifying God.
Principles from Paul’s Travels
Travel methods may differ, but the principles that governed Paul’s journeys are just as valuable for us today. They include:
Dependence on God
Acts 13:1-4 tells us Paul was intentional in his reliance on God. His choices were the result of God’s promptings. This dependence also enabled Paul to demonstrate joyful perseverance in his travels. Prison couldn’t dampen his praise (Acts 16:25). Even when he had been stoned and left for dead, he “got up and went back into the city” (Acts 14:20).
As we choose destinations for purposeful vacations or short-term mission trips, we can be as intentional as Paul in seeking God’s guidance. We can also depend on the Lord to empower us during difficult circumstances.
No Lone Rangers
Paul understood the value of companions and teamwork. In Acts 9, Ananias restored his sight and Barnabas introduced Paul to the other apostles. On all three of his recorded missionary journeys, Paul traveled with at least one companion. Even after his disagreement with Barnabas in Acts 15:36-41, Paul did not journey alone.
Travel to new locations or cultures often takes us out of our comfort zones. Journeying with others provides encouragement and accountability.
Despite his confidence, Paul had an attitude of humility. He considered himself “the least” of the Lord’s people (Ephesians 3:8). He manifested his humility in “weakness, fear, and trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3-5). Paul was a powerful speaker, but he relied on the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit rather than on persuasive words. He surrendered his right to be supported by others, paying his own way by making tents (Acts 18:3).
As we travel outside our own cultures, we also need humility when relating to others. When we demonstrate humility before God, our traveling companions, and those we serve, God receives all the glory.
Paul discipled new believers so they could disciple others. He trained local leaders in the churches he planted (Acts 20:17), ensuring the individual churches would grow in his absence.
Wherever possible, the goal of our short-term travels should be to assist local ministries. Generally, people in the community are best reached by those from the community.
Paul could have lived in comfort, enjoying the benefits of his Roman citizenship and his training under a renowned rabbi of his day. Instead, he spent his life in missionary journeys spreading the gospel of Christ.
We can spend our vacations sunning at the beach, hiking through mountains, or cruising the ocean . . . or we can spend the same time on a short-term mission trip or a purposeful vacation. It might be a little inconvenient, but that’s not much to ask compared to what Christ has done for us. Are we compelled or are we comfortable? Our soft mattresses and favorite brands of coffee will be waiting when we return, but the changes in us and the people we serve will be eternal.
Ava Pennington is a freelance writer in Stuart, Florida.
Want to learn more about purposeful vacations and short-term missions? Check out these books:
Volunteer Vacations: Short-term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others
By Doug Cutchins
(Chicago Review Press, 2009)
Stepping Out: A Guide to Short-Term Missions
By Tim Gibson, Editor
(YWAM Publishing, 2010)
Serving with Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence
By David A. Livermore
(Baker Books, 2006)
TransforMission: Making Disciples through Short-Term Missions
By Shane W. Parker
(B&H Academic, 2010)
Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions: Doing it Right
By Robert J. Priest,
(William Carey Library Publishers, 2008)