"They went to Phrygia, and then on through the region of Galatia. Their plan was to turn west into Asia Province, but the Holy Spirit blocked that route. So they went to Mysia and tried to go north to Bythinia, but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn't let them go there either. Proceeding on through Mysia, they went down to the seaport of Troas.
"That night Paul had a dream. A Macedonian stood on the far shore and called across the sea, "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" The dream gave Paul his map. We went to work at once getting things ready to cross over to Macedonia. All the pieces had come together. We knew now for sure that God had called us to preach the good news to the Europeans." Acts 16:6-10 (The Message).
What a lovely lesson on guidance! The Spirit of Jesus had a plan for them and He corralled them into going where He wanted them to go; no Google map of their lives but a step-by-step unfolding of the way as they obeyed the previous pointers.
Don't you love God's way of doing things? He didn't guide them like robots, mindlessly following verbal instructions, but having intelligently to discern the mind of the Spirit and following His directives in a partnership that involved trust, submission and obedience in every step they took.
Luke did not elaborate on the way the Holy Spirit blocked their way. We can only surmise that Paul interpreted whatever obstacles He put in the way as from God and not from the devil! That's not easy to do. How do we know when God is showing us to change direction and when Satan is hindering the work of God through us?
In Paul's case, whatever was in the way of their going in the direction he had planned must have been insurmountable. Twice he was prevented from following his own plan. When he had got the message, "Not that way!" he was open to a positive call, "Come here and help us!" His immediate response was relief and assurance that God was opening the door to a whole new field of ministry in Europe.
Not only do we see in Paul's response a spontaneous and willing obedience to the Holy Spirit's leading, but also his ability to discern the mind of the Spirit. This tells us that God has both Paul's mind and his heart. There was no self-will involved in this man's commitment to doing the will of God. Paul called himself the "slave" of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it was in circumstances like these that he showed just how much of a "slave" he was.
However, Paul's slavery was his own choice because he wholeheartedly trusted Jesus to do the best for him and through him. This is our highest calling in life - to be one with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, just as they are one in a functional unity of essence, heart and purpose. There is no greater freedom than being a slave of Jesus because His way is secure and certain and takes us unerringly to the Father.
Paul had no idea of what lay ahead for him. Had he known, he might not have been so willing to go that way. He might easily have said, "No thank you!" and gone home. But, looking back over a life of trial and suffering, he could say with absolute assurance, "I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed..." 2 Timothy 1:12 (NIV).
We can only learn the love of God when we follow His leading along uncertain paths and sometimes painful ways. Even when we stubbornly choose our own way and have to face the consequences of our own foolishness, God is there to cradle us in His arms and lovingly redirect us in the right way.
How else can we learn the depth of His love than feeling it and experiencing it in the depth of our pain? Would Paul have ever wished his life to have been different, easy, uneventful, without trials? I think not! Looking back, we can say, "As tough as it was, I would not have missed for anything in the world."
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