“And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately
we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding
that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
One evening recently, I went to visit at a new friend’s home in an unfamiliar part of town. Normally, I use my phone’s GPS for those kinds of trips. This time was no exception. It guided me right to his home. I know the city well, but I will admit that I’m somewhat “directionally challenged” which makes me very thankful for a voice that will tell me “where I should go from here.”
As I left my new friend’s house later that evening, I found that the GPS was no longer able to pick up a signal. I wound up circling the large neighborhood several times before I finally found the exit point of the subdivision. I was quite frustrated at the time because I knew I was not lost, just misdirected. The Christian life is sometimes that way. Our desire to follow Jesus rarely takes a straight path. It’s critical to stay close to the One who knows the end from the beginning and can tell us how to navigate the twists and turns we face in life.
Our passage today in Acts 16 continues the powerful account of the gospel’s unhindered movement to Asia Minor (12.25-16.5), and now on into the city of Philippi in Macedonia. I find it rather interesting to follow the directions and decisions which led Paul’s little band in their call to bring the gospel to new places.
Howard Marshall writes concerning this in chapter 16:
“This section makes it overwhelmingly clear that Paul’s progress
was directed by God in a variety of ways so that the missionaries
were led into new areas of work. The whole account is related at
breath-taking speed, to convey some impression of the irresistible
sweep of events that took Paul to Macedonia.”
Though Paul had a clear goal in mind to deliver the truth about the crucified Jesus wherever he goes, it seems that he is not always clear about the itinerary. More than once, we read that the Holy Spirit stops him in his tracks as he tries to pursue what he perceives to be God’s will (vv.6-7). We are not told why. Paul also, may not have been given a reason why. The Spirit, in verse 7 is called, “the Spirit of Jesus,” a unique designation that highlights how Jesus himself through the Spirit was guiding the progress of the gospel movement, and so also Paul.
Having tried to go up into the mountains, he abruptly changes direction and heads instead, down to the seaport town of Troas. From there, Paul might have sailed in several directions. Yet, that very night, when the questions and (possibly) frustrations filled his mind about his next steps, God is faithful to bring light to his path. By means of a night-time vision, Paul “sees” in the dark the people God has prepared. It is obvious that the vision “turns the light on,” since he and his team leave “immediately” (v.10) with no doubt about where they’re to go. They are thus compelled confidently to turn north to Macedonia.
As followers of Christ, we need not think God will do less for us when we lack direction. When every door has been closed, when all of our attempts to move forward have been thwarted, we must in faith keep our eyes on Jesus, looking for where he is at work. His ways are mysterious and often make no sense to us, but he will certainly point us to our next destination if we are active and listening. Notably, Paul never stays “parked” anywhere very long.
He is always attempting to move forward, trusting that God will steer him in the right direction. God will use often use a myriad of signposts to suggest to us “this is the way, walk in it” (cf. Isa. 30.1), including our own human logic. Paul comes to a conclusion about where he is to go, based on the fact it now “just makes sense.” The word in verse 10, “concluding” means ‘to cause to come together.’ And for Paul and his team, the pieces of the puzzle all fell into place, and he could see it clearly.
Have you lost your sense of direction lately? God’s purpose and plan for your life may involve going “a few times around the neighborhood” before you move on. Lean on him by faith, learn the lessons he wants to teach you, and continue to pursue what you do for him and he will surely reveal your next steps.