You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him. Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.
Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
Things don’t always happen the same way twice; and we need always to be open to that in our life of faith.. Paul the great apostle and teacher is off on another missionary journey, bringing good news to people in need, hungry to make disciples for Jesus and to found new churches. He has experience and wisdom, he’s done this before and knows the pattern… but this time something different happens. The actual words of the account in Acts are frustratingly vague to us, we want to know just how the spirit kept him from preaching in Asia; how did he know that it was Jesus who was guiding and restraining him from doing what he had always done before? But the effect was to drive Paul and his companions right to the edge of Asia, where at last they received a clear and direct call to ‘come over’ into Macedonia, into the European continent, to preach the good news.
Do you, like me, find yourself rather envious of this account? How good it must be to have such absolute conviction about God’s leading in one’s situation – this strong constraint, followed by a vision, not even just a hint or an inclination but a person standing there saying, “come!” Many of the characters whose stories are preserved for us in the bible have experiences of being led in dramatic ways, by dreams and direct messages from God, and yet for many of us, nothing like this ever seems to happen and the whole business of guidance can become a real testing-ground of faith as we wait and ask, and ponder and ask, and wait again…. how long can one wait?
Life can’t be put on hold, decisions and plans must be made about future commitments and current responsibilities. While we live day to day in God’s providence, we have to make plans for the future as a basis for decisions now. How do we do that when there is a sense of total uncertainty about what lies ahead? At some point, choices must be made, and a path taken or not taken, which will have implications for us and other people.
I believe the Lord knows this, and that in these small immediate decisions, we must trust him to be at work directing us even when we are uncertain about the big picture. As our hearts seek to serve him, will he not honour that desire in us and straighten the path out before us as we take the small steps right in front of us? We do need to be aware that God may call us in unexpected directions – are we open to the possibility that our previous experience and expectations are to be overturned as God restrains our effort to go in the ‘sensible and likely’ path? Paul was not wrong in desiring to preach in Asia, it was sensible and good, and fitted his own expectations. But God had bigger plans, which required Paul to be humble enough to set his own expectations aside and to refrain from good works in order to do the best work at that time, which was to go to Macedonia.
Father God, thank you that you have given me a desire to serve you. Thank you that I can know you have prepared good works for me to do for you. Thank you that you understand my longing for clear direction, and how difficult it is to live with uncertainty. Let my waiting on you not be a fruitless thing. Let me wait in confidence, give me wisdom to use the opportunities you give me now. Have mercy on my weakness and straighten the path under my feet, so that I might walk according to your will and glorify you in my life. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.