Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Guidance of God

They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
~Acts 16:6-10

There are two words everyone, whether young or old, are concerned about. These two words are "God's Will." People are always inquiring as to what "God's Will" is for their life or what God would have them do in a specific situation. The questions range from whether it is God's will that one looks for a new job, whether one should buy the new house, or who one should marry (I have personally searched for an answer pertaining to this one and have found numerous names of Marys and Marthas but nothing that seems to correspond to my current situation). Often, people speak of God's will as being lost. That it is somewhere hidden and needs to be found. However, God's will has never been lost but is given clearly in His Word. Scripture tells us that For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that you abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3) and Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Of course, these are examples of God's will generally for our lives, you may be wondering about the specifics. Though to hear God's guidance pertaining to the specifics we need to be obedient with the general. In Acts 16:6-10, we see how God guided Paul specifically to where He had for him to serve and in turn how He will guide us as well to where He wants us to be or do for His glory.

In this passage, Luke takes us with Paul on his second missionary journey. After having a dispute with Barnabas over the inclusion of John Mark in the mission, Paul started out with Silas. His goal in this trip was to visit some former churches to check on their progress as well as deliver to them the decree that had been decided upon at the Jerusalem Council. Along the way he picks up young Timothy who joins him in his work. After making his rounds to several of these churches, Paul decides to go preach the gospel in an unreached territory. In his first evangelistic tour he traveled no farther west than Antioch in Pisida. Now he appears to be heading to Asia to proclaim the greatness of God and the work of Christ.

In heading in this direction, Paul was basically doing what God had called him to do; preach the gospel to the Gentiles. God told Ananias before he met Paul that His purpose for him was to “bear His name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Paul even stated to the Galatians that God had called and prepared him to “preach Him among the Gentiles” (Galatians 1:16). Likewise, God has a specific purpose for us to serve and glorify Him. I like how my mentor always put it that God “wires” us for certain types of ministry. God’s Holy Spirit grants us different gifts in certain areas as well as desires which lead us to gravitate towards certain ministry fields. An evangelist has a heart for full time evangelism and a pastor for preaching and teaching God’s Word. (Such is the reason why I cannot stop teaching whether it be behind the pulpit, writing a blog/facebook note or in casual conversation over dinner.) It’s where their passion and desires lie. Paul was just seeking opportunities to do what God had placed on his heart. A start to whatever ministry endeavor the Lord has in store must start with us looking for those opportunities to exercise our gifts and live out our yearnings.

However, as Paul heads West, he hits a road block. It’s like coming up over a hill in your car to see the orange cones laid out in front of the entire roadway. You’re not going any further in that direction! Here is a clear example of Proverbs 16:9. Man makes plans but God determines the outcome. The group are described as passing through the region of Phrygia and Galatia because they were not able to preach in Asia. We don’t know what really happened to prevent this. Luke attributes it to an act of God by describing the Holy Spirit as the One forbidding them to proceed. He does not give us the specifics. It might have been the inner leading of the Spirit simply telling them no. A prophet, as they were still some at this time, might have uttered such. God may have sovereignly orchestrated certain events to occur to prevent Paul from going there. Regardless of how, God clearly said “no” to Paul’s plan to bring the gospel to the people in Asia, at least at this time. Later God does send him to Ephesus in Asia. It was just not in God’s plan and design for Paul to go at this specific moment.

Paul could have stopped and went back to Antioch or “thrown in the towel” in heading to these uncharted territories to proclaim the gospel. Instead, he continues to search for other opportunities, this time heading North to Bithynia. A “closed door” does not necessarily mean that God wants you to give up the ministry He has called you to. It might just mean that He doesn’t want you to do that ministry at the place you are seeking. God wasn’t saying no to Paul preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. Only no to doing this in Asia. God had another place He desired for Paul to go. For those whose plans have not worked out, it could be that that place is not where the Lord has for you to serve currently. He may have somewhere else planned for you or some work to do both in and through you before you go. The same may be said for the one whose finances are not where they need to be to participate in a certain ministry that is starting.

Upon Paul’s change in direction towards Bithynia, he again faces another road block. Luke informs us that the Holy Spirit again redirects Paul. He somehow does not permit him to this area as well to proclaim the gospel. We find out what God is up to here shortly. There is a reason for the constant redirection. There is always a reason for any door or doors that God closes. Usually its a sign that God has another purpose in mind. This is what Luke shows us occurs with Paul.

Paul still does not give up and now goes west again to Troas. He continues to seek opportunities to do the work God has called him to. Here, while he is seeking, God reveals to him where his next area of service will be. Paul receives a vision of a man from Macedonia who holds out his hands and asks the apostle for help. After two shut doors, now God has both provided the reason for them. He had planned to send Paul and the group to minister to the people of Macedonia, not Asia or Bithynia. Luke tells us that there was no doubt this was where the Lord was leading them. The group “concluded” that God called them to bring the gospel to the Macedonians based on this vision and they left “immediately.”

Notice that the vision came while Paul was seeking the opportunities God may have provided for him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Many times God does not provide us with the specifics of where He wants us to go until after we have begun to seek the opportunities ourselves or follow the limited instructions He gives. Abraham is a clear example of this. God simply told Abraham to move without the details of where he was to go. It was not until God led him to the promised land of Canaan that he pointed out that this was the land He had promised him (For a further exposition of this narrative, see Paul had no specifics pertaining to Macedonia before this. He was just aiming to glorify God by fulfilling the calling He had for him. In God’s timing, he was directed away from where he was not supposed to go and shown where he was. Too often we are so busy seeking and waiting for our clear specific call that we fail to focus on the steps that God calls us to walk today. Not only does God determine the end of where He would have us to serve but also the means for us to get there. We need to "be faithful today in order to be where God will have us tomorrow."

We don’t know how long it took for Paul to receive this “Macedonian Call.” It might have been days or months. Much of these journeys would have been done on foot so it was probably a few months. You may be waiting for a little while before God gives you a clear call to wherever He would have you to go. Just don’t quit seeking. You may not get a vision since Scripture seems to indicate that God primarily speaks through His Word to us today (Hebrews 1:1-2). But He will make it clear in His timing where He wants you to go.

God will direct you just as He did Paul. Pay attention to those “closed doors” and keep moving ahead seeking the opportunities that are available for you. Maybe while you are seeking, you will get the answer to where it is the Lord will have you to go. Maybe you will get your “wherever” call while you are seeking or find the opportunity that God has planned for you all along. Praise God that He guides us through both the open and closed doors as to where He would have us to serve Him for His glory!

In Christ,