All of us at one time or another have probably asked the question of God, “What do you want from me?” It’s interesting that a few times in the Bible He gives a point blank answer:
- The Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
- For this is the will of God, your sanctification… (1 Thessalonians 4:3)
- Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)
Acts 16 brings us to a passage where the Spirit of Jesus prevented our missionaries from going a certain direction. The immediate question would be, “Does God still operate this way?” Can we know for sure the direction we ought to go? No matter how close we are to God, life can bring on twists and turns; which are from the Lord and which are obstacles set up by the enemy?
The Christian life is not just about meeting the Lord and seeing Him one day; it ids about walking with Him every day on a winding road. One day Paul and his group intended to preach the gospel throughout the region of Galatia and beyond, but the Spirit kept them from going into Asia (Acts 16:6). Also in this chapter, we have an addition to the missionary team (Acts 16:10). Notice the writing moves from third person to first person (“they” to “we”). Since Luke is the writer of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, it is likely here that he joins Paul, Timothy and Silas.
Paul describes Luke as a dear friend and a doctor (Colossians 4:14). There are verses in the Bible that indicate that Paul may have had a physical illness of some sort; perhaps poor eyesight (Galatians 6:11) or maybe a physical or spiritual “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7, 8, 9).
Sometimes the most noble plans of anointed servants differ from the plans of God. They wanted to spread the gospel in another area but the Spirit of Jesus prevented them from going in that direction (Acts 16:7). One reason may have been timing because God eventually opened a door of great opportunity in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:9). Another reason may have been that God wanted Peter to go to Bithynia, who had some level of access to that area (1 Peter 1:1).
How could they have misread the direction God had for them? As with Paul, it takes a lot of courage to admit that we have made a mistake in discerning God’s direction in our lives. Once the direction is more clear, we must make sure to pursue it just as passionately as before. How did Paul know? Perhaps it was an inner tugging of the Spirit, rather than just personal feelings or instincts (Jude 1:10). Since the Spirit resides in each believer (Romans 8:9) what can we do practically to better understand God’s will or direction?
- Study God’s Word: He will never lead us contrary to His revealed Word.
- Yield to the Spirit’s control: This will keep us flexible, pliable and available when there is a change of plans.
- Pray for clear leadership: David’s approach is a good example (Psalm 27:11). He asked God to teach him His ways and to lead him in a straight path.
- Pray for wisdom and discernment: God desires to give these to us (Ephesians 1:17).
- Make plans, but hold them loosely: They were not supposed to just wander around the countryside, but they made plans. Paul was a smart guy, he probably had an itinerary all charted out but God had a different idea.
- Learn to recognize God’s peace: This is a tricky one. We like to believe that peace is a good indicator of following God’s direction and being in His will, but not always. It is not always safe to be in God’s will (I interviewed and approved many missionaries going into places around the world that we not safe). Consider this: Jonah was totally at peace in the bottom of the boat, running from God, totally out of God’s will (Jonah 1:4, 5, 6); while Jesus was totally in God’s will yet in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:41, 42, 43-44).
Application: Let’s be willing to change our plans if we sense the Spirit leading in another direction. The key to missionary work overseas was always flexibility. Paul and the team did not have to wait long for redirection, but sometimes we feel like we are in a deep, dark hole waiting for God to show us His way. Paul received a vision, a dream, about where to go next, Macedonia (Acts 16:9, 10) and the first person he finds is Lydia whom the Lord had prepared to hear the message (Acts 16:14). She was the first convert in Europe.
So, how familiar are you with the Bible? How is your prayer life? In what ways do you seek guidance from God? How do you evaluate your walk with Christ? Do you have a set time each day to seek His direction, read His Word, or ask Him for opportunities where you can be a servant of Christ each day? How does your knowledge of Christ affect your marriage and relationships? One great thing about the church, the “church” is all of us; we are in this together. That is a strength that we can use in our favor.