You have probably heard of the famous quote from the Scottish poet Robbie Burns that “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.” The evens in Acts 16:9-15 are a good example of this saying. The apostle Paul wanted to preach the Gospel in the Roman province of Asia, which extended to the coast of Greece. Paul was convinced that this was the next step in the strategy for reaching the Gentiles.
The Holy Spirit prevented Paul and his companions from going there. Paul was sensitive enough to the Spirit of God that he could tell the difference between no and yes when it came to discerning God’s will-and he was obedient enough to respond to both. This time, God directed Paul to leave Asia Minor and go into Europe. Paul set a good example for us to follow when he obeyed the words from this song:
Children go where I send you
How shall I send you
I’m gonna send you one by one
One for the little bitty baby
Born in Bethlehem
Paul’s love for God allowed him to hear God’s voice when it spoke to him, and his obedience allowed the gospel to spread in a powerful way. When we listen to the Holy Spirit He will tell us if our direction or decision is right or wrong. When our purpose and long-range goals are clear and in agreement with God’s plans for our lives, we can trust our thinking and responses of our emotions. The Holy Spirit trusts us more than we trust Him at times.
When the door to Paul’s plans was shut, Paul simply continued moving on to other centres in Galatia following his purpose of preaching Christ and his basic plan of reaching the Gentiles. He did not sit still. In Troas God used another method of communicating His guidance to Paul. A Macedonian man appeared to Paul in a dream with the urgent plea to come to Macedonia. God can get us to our Troas by whatever means He decides to use.
Not doing something left Paul free to do what God had in mind for him. He was ready to respond when he received the vision to go into Macedonia. The doing is always more complicated than it first appears. Are there things we’re not supposed to do, or do we just not feel like it? Is it too intimidating or boring or “beneath us?” Even after the vision, Paul still had to figure out what he was supposed to do. Saying yes to God’s invitations won’t always be easy, and we may still face hardships along our way. Even when we are pursuing God’s plan for our lives, problems will happen and we will have to continue to learn to depend on God as our deliverer.
In addition, we are all too busy. There are many ways we can spend our days, our energies, our efforts. In the midst of the abundance of choices, what would it mean if we simply wondered how God is speaking to us?
- We might find ourselves called to our own Macedonia.
- What might happen if we simply “set sail” and went?
- What sorts of surprises might be waiting for us?
- Who might we meet by the river outside of town who would change the course of mission for the church and for each of us?
- Where and with whom might we discover and receive unexpected hospitality?
Paul’s first stop in Macedonia was in the city of Philippi. Philippi was a Roman colony, taking its name in 356 BC from Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. Philippi was a favoured city of Rome, and its citizens were exempt from provincial Roman taxes. Since Paul seemed to prefer to establish ministry beachheads in key regional cities, it should be no surprise that he picked Philippi.
Philippi didn’t have a synagogue because of the Mosaic law’s requirement for ten men. That’s why Lydia and her friends met by the river. When the church is more concerned with getting the so-called “right” people than in saving souls, we need to remember that although the man from Macedonia called for help, it was Lydia who started the church. Paul prayed for it and its partnership in spreading the Gospel.
Paul’s dream is a good example of the fact that when we are called by God, we have to be fully dependent on God to deliver us even if He sends an angel to our doorstep. Even when we are doing everything right, life happens, and we need to be standing close to Him when it does.
God will direct us to people whose hearts have cried out for answers and help. It is likely that we won’t have to go too far to find them. No one will respond to the Gospel message unless God goes before us and sends His Spirit to do work in human hands. This is what happened to Lydia. Lydia was a Jewish proselyte or “God-fearer” like Cornelius in Acts 10:2. She was also a seller of dyed cloth. Purple was the color of royalty and nobility so Lydia was probably a very successful businesswoman. She also had a home large enough to host Paul and his team. Paul’s encounter with Lydia and her friends opened the way for ministry in that region.
So what are the qualities that a godly person should possess? Let’s look at Lydia:
- She was a woman of prayer. Although there was no man to lead her and her friends, they were committed to prayer and its importance.
- She worshipped God with all the truth that had been revealed to her at that time.
- She was a woman of faith.
- She was a woman of service. She opened her house to Paul and his friends. Her home became the meeting place for the church.
She is a wonderful, faithful example for every new believer. Many times, after a person becomes a Christian there is inertia or a waning of energy. Perhaps they don’t know what to do next, or perhaps they feel intimidated by other, more seasoned Christians. Lydia didn’t let these things hinder her in her Christian commitment, and in doing so she set a good example for us to follow today. She immediately threw herself wholeheartedly into the kingdom of God, opening her home and her heart to weary and persecuted saints.
Christ’s ongoing work happens in small increments, typically one person at a time. Faithful witnesses like Paul look for opportunities to engage others in conversation about spiritual matters. whether to strengthen their faith or to explore the possibilities for sharing the Gospel. We should imitate him in this practice, so that the ongoing work of Jesus can continue in and through us.
Lydia was concerned that her life would be evaluated by God and that she would pass His test. God has never been impressed by talent, gifts, or success. The faithful life requires humility and obedience. When we have time with God, we can ask Him to open our hearts so we can receive a fresh revelation of Him. No matter how much we think we know about Him, we can long to know Him more.
No human-not even one who so faithfully preaches the Word of God as Paul did-has ever had the ability to open anyone’s heart except Jesus. God’s servants can sow the Word, but ultimately the Holy Spirit is responsible to accomplish the harvest.
So how can we pray for unsaved people to be saved? Here are four ways:
- Pray for openness and understanding. If God can open Lydia’s heart, He can open anyone’s heart.
- Pray that God will send labourers to them.
- Pray that God will visit them and reveal Himself and His will to them.
- Pray for personal direction and for personal opportunities to show God’s love.
We do not do God’s work alone. We work together with God. We plant the seed and water it, but God gives the increase. We can’t use pressure tactics on people to get them to believe and obey, but if we teach God’s Word, He will do the rest. In order to do this, we have to be in fellowship with other Christians. Fellowship helps us in our faith, and it will help other believers in their faith. Interaction with other believers won’t always be comfortable. Our “sore spots” will become visible.
Acts 16:9-15 has a lot to teach us about guidance. Guidance is found in the flow of the Holy Spirit while we are being carried along in its fast-moving currents. Consistent prayer and openness expressed in complete willingness will allow the Spirit to use our thinking, feelings, and circumstances to make His guidance clear. The Spirit has the responsibility to guide us, so we can recognize the hand of God in everything that happens. This leads to humble praise that we have been created capable of being guided rather than the arrogance to think that we have been given fortune-telling abilities.
If we received a vision like the one Paul received, what would we do? Would we obey it immediately? Would we allow God to lead us in a direction that may be different from the one we want to go? Would we ignore the dream and go on with life as usual? Being a follower of Christ means that we never know where we’re going to end up next. Following God means more than coming to church every Sunday. It’s about following God’s vision for this sin-filled, broken world. It means doing so in response to God’s love for us and His love for creation.
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- Ogilvie, L.J. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 28: Acts (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983; pp. 239-247)
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- Pastor Allen Jackson, “Relying Only on God.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
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- Bayless Conley, “Come Over and Help Us.” Retrieved from Bayless@AnswersBC.org
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- Pastor Allen Jackson, “Life Happens.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Pastor David McGee, “Stir It Up.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- Dr. Paul Chappell, “Judged Faithful.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Carolyn Dale Newel, “Lydia-A Seller of Purple.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@corsswalkmail.com
- “Day 29 Theme: Women of Faith.” Retrieved from Oneplace@crosswalkmail.com
- Rev. Janet Hunt, “On Macedonia and Being Open to God’s Vision.” Retrieved from www.dancingintheword.com
- The Rev. Sharron R. Blezard, “The Trouble with Visions.” Retrieved from www.stewardshipoflife.org