When God Leads
The book of Acts is a historical account of the beginning of the Church. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell of the life of Jesus and all that He began to do with and in His apostles. The author of Acts tells us that after Jesus rose from the dead, He appeared to these apostles over a period of 40 days, speaking to them about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)
These men witnessed the ministry and work of Jesus. They saw the lame walk, the blind see and the dead raised to life.
They witnessed the resurrection.
Therefore, when Jesus met with them after the resurrection, they wanted to know what was next. They asked, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6, ESV)[ii]
This shows they wanted to know what His plans were. They participated in three years of ministry, and now seemed the time for Jesus to complete what he had begun.
To their question, Jesus replied:
“It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8, ESV)
According to this reply, Jesus was not finished.
He entrusted these men with the task of taking His story to the ends of the earth. How they went about this task is the story told by Acts. This was the “what comes next” that they were looking for.
Jesus told them they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. This statement forms the outline for the story told by the book of Acts. Thus, the early chapters of Acts record the spread of the good news about Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.
Next, chapters 13 through 15 tell the important story of the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas. This marks the beginning of the “to the ends of the earth” part of the story.
Below is a picture I found through Google that shows the locations Paul covered in His first missionary journey.
This journey took place between A.D. 46 and 48,[iv] in other words, approximately 13 years after the resurrection.
After this first missionary journey was completed, Paul set out on a second missionary journey. Chapter 16 records the early part of this second missionary journey. This second journey took place between A.D. 49 and 52.[v] Below is a map showing the route taken on this particular journey.
Acts chapter 16 verse 6 finds Paul and his companions traveling through Phrygia and Galatia.
Verses 6 and 7 of chapter 16 tell us:
Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there.
Here, in these two verses, the Holy Spirit prevented them twice from going the direction they intended to go.
Apparently, they had made the best plans they could for the spread of the gospel, but God had other plans. Their plans were not bad. Others took the gospel to those areas later. However, God had different plans for them at that time.
As we look at this passage, it is important to remember that God is sovereign. In other words, He rules everything. There is nothing outside the authority of His rule. Ultimately, He is in control and nothing that happens is outside of His control. Because of this, the book of Acts is both the account of the works of the Apostles and the story of the working of the Holy Spirit.
While God is Sovereign, we are not robots.
We have choices and decisions that we exercise freely. Sometimes our choices and decisions have tragic results, and yet God’s purposes are accomplished. For example, in relation to the crucifixion of Jesus, Peter said, “This man was handed over to you by God's deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) In this case, what evil men intended for their own evil purposes, God used for our good and salvation.
As believers seeking to do the will of God, we can take great comfort in knowing God is sovereign. If it is our desire and prayer that God’s will be done, He will lead us.
Sometimes God leads by preventing.
God prevented Paul and his companions from going in the direction that was not His will. They were not given a reason. They were prevented. Therefore, they were forced to take a different direction. Their task was to take the story of Jesus to the ends of the earth. Their plan was to take it to the east into Asia, but God's plan was to the North and West into Macedonia.
It is not always a failure when our plans do not work out. If we are praying for the will of God to be done, we can trust that in all things, God's will will be done.
The task that Jesus gave his apostles is the task that we, the church, are still working at. It is not complete. Individually, we are not all called to make missionary journeys like Paul, Silas, Timothy, Barnabas and John Mark, but we are all called to be witnesses for Jesus Christ. Matthew 28:19-20 tells us we are to make disciples “as we are going.” Acts 1:8 tells us we are His witnesses wherever we go. We can and should make a plan for how we are going to witness. Whatever plan we make, we can trust God to direct us. Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” (ESV)
Let's go back to the story of Paul and his companions, and how the Lord directed them.
We pick up the story in verse 8. Acts 16:8 says, “So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas.”
The Spirit of Jesus had not allowed them to go where they planned. So instead, they went to the seaport of Troas. Next, we are told, "That night Paul had a vision: a man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us!’” (Acts 16:9)
Here, we see another truth about God's leading.
Sometimes God leads with impressions, visions or insights.
Knowing the Lord's will is not magical or mystical. It can be as simple as common sense, and as mysterious as a vision in the middle of the night.
A good principle to follow in all of our life and in all things is found in Ephesians 5:10. It says, “Carefully determine what pleases the Lord.”
Another statement of this principle is found in 2 Timothy 2:15. This familiar passage says, “Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.”
This principle points to growing in our faith and in our walk with the Lord. It is part of maturing in Christ. By daily feeding on the Word of God, our hearts are trained to discern the will of God. There are no shortcuts to maturity. Hard work is implied in the words "Carefully determine what pleases the Lord." 2 Timothy 2:15 uses the words “Work hard.” To me, it no longer seems like hard work to get up and spend time alone in the Word of God. It is a joy. It is a comfort. However, there are times when it just does not happen. My bed is too comfortable, or I am just too tired. These times cost me, and I end up regretting them. It is not that God punishes me. It is that they are lost opportunities. Times alone with God are pictured in the words of the hymn "In the Garden." This hymn ends with the words, "And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known."
By spending time alone with God, we train ourselves to know or understand the will of God. Hebrews 5:14 says, “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:14, ESV)
My assumption is that Paul had his senses trained to distinguish good from evil. Therefore, he was ready to discern the will of God as revealed in the vision.
As we return to the story of Acts chapter 16, we see the immediate obedience of Paul. Once God had revealed His will, Paul did not hesitate to change his plans. Paul and his companions boarded a boat at Troas, and set out for Macedonia. In just a few days, they found themselves at Philippi, a major city in that district.
On the Sabbath, they went to a likely place where Jews would gather to worship the Lord, as would be their custom. Acts chapter 16 tells us they went to the river. This simple fact shows us that there were less than 10 Jewish men in that community. If there had been 10 Jewish men, there would have been a synagogue. In a new community, Paul always started by going to the gathering place of the Jews. He did this because the Jews were the natural audience for his message. They already knew about God. They already knew the Scriptures. Furthermore, they were his people. He knew their culture. He knew their language. He would have had much in common with them.
By going to the gathering place of the Jews in Philippi, Paul found a group of women who had gathered to pray. There he met Lydia. The Lord opened her heart to receive Paul's message, and she opened her home as a base of operations for Paul.
This seeming insignificant beginning grew the church at Philippi. Later in his life, Paul wrote a letter to the church at Philippi. This letter is known for the joy and affection that it expresses. In following God's will, great things were accomplished.
This leads to our conclusion.
When we are engaged in doing the will of God, He works in all of our circumstances to accomplish his work.
The principle here is that expressed by Jesus when he was teaching his disciples not to worry. He was telling them that God would take care of everything that concerned them, and He said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33, ESV)
The book of Acts is not yet finished.
You are part of the story.
Your story is part of His story as he works in your life to accomplish His work and His will. He has given you His Holy Spirit so that you can have the power to be His witness as you live in your part of the ends of the earth.
Jesus will come back soon, and I hope that you will hear the words “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[ii] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[iv] NIV Study Bible. Copyright 2002, by the Zondervan Corporation. pg 1709.
[v] Ibid, pg 1717.