The first missionary journey of the apostle Paul was well under way. The circumstances are set out in the previous chapter. After leaving Cyprus (the home island of Barnabas) they had been disappointed by the defection of John Mark (13.13) who had returned home. At Antioch in Pisidia they were expelled from the city (13.50) and at their next stop at Iconium they were forced to flee (14.6). On top of this, at Lystra, where they preached next, Paul was stoned and left for dead (14.19). Lesser men would have been convinced that it was time to retreat. It could be argued that circumstances were clearly showing that it would be better to move on and leave this area. Their continued presence, they may have decided, would not only bring them further hardship, but would also make life more difficult for those who had believed the message. So, after preaching at Derbe, to which they had moved after leaving Lystra (14.20), they could have left the area. However, rather than leave they chose to retrace their steps and to "return again" to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch in Pisidia.
Christian service has its bright days and its dark days. At times we wonder why it is that when we seek the will of the Lord we are met with disappointment, danger, and difficulty. The pathway of discipleship does not seem to be an easy one, but was this not the way that the Master went? At other times we are called to continue in work for Him that we would rather leave behind us. Tasks that have caused worry and despair and circumstances that we may even face with fear and trepidation have blunted our fervour. How often do we feel that we would like to rise as a bird and fly away, leaving others to take up where we have left off?
On a human level it could not have been with any enthusiasm that Paul faced the need to "return again". The very cities to which his footsteps were directed where those where he had been so abused. What made them enter the mouth of the lion and face again the malice of evil men? Was it not that there was work for the Lord to be done and that they appreciated that it was their responsibility to complete it? There were souls there, newly born again, and Paul could not leave without encouraging them and ensuring that there were recognised elders who would care for the flock. Whatever fear gripped them, they commended themselves to God, and their return visits, rather than being marked by violence, were times of teaching and preaching. The Lord stayed the hands of evil men.
Are there not responsibilities that we face and to which we would rather not return? The difficulties may have been great. Fellow believers may have been unhelpful, resulting in a greater workload for those who were willing. The results have not been what were envisaged. They have been meagre and the thought has crossed the mind, "Has it been worth the time and effort expended and perhaps the troubles faced?". Is the answer to rest from it all or even to give it up? Is a quiet life appealing? Should we run away?
There is always a note of pathos when mention is made of those who turned back from service, whatever the reason. John Mark recovered from leaving Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13.13), but we do not know how Demas fared after abandoning Paul (2 Tim 4.10). There are times when the Lord does call servants to move on, and that voice must be heard. It takes a spiritual servant, however, to know when this call is being made, but one must be careful as to motives.
If you have been considering giving up, take heart. It is the Lords work and He will reward faithful, devoted service. The pathway you have taken may have been difficult, but is it really time to abandon it? Could it be that to return again, to face the issues and continue the work is His will, as it was with Paul and his companions, and that such a pathway would be a sign of true devotion to the Lord? Let us commend the difficulties to Him and leave the future in His hands. To the work with which we were charged, despite the pressure, despite the demands, let us "return again".