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The Right Direction

This morning we are going to continue working our way through the book of Acts. After taking a break for Christmas, last week we picked up where we had left off in November – which was in Acts chapter 16.

This chapter in Acts kicks off Paul’s second missionary journey – a journey that he took primarily because he wanted to revisit the churches that he had planted on his first missionary journey. He wanted to make sure that the believers in each of those cities were actually growing in their faith and becoming the kind of disciples of Jesus that go on to make more disciples of Jesus – which is really God’s call for all of us!

As Jesus stated in Mathew 28:18, one of our primary tasks in this life is to…

…Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”  Matthew 18b-19a

This command is for every generation of believers since the time of Christ. We are to make disciples who will then go on to obey His commands and make more disciples. 

And this is precisely what Paul was doing throughout his missionary journeys. In fact, one of the disciples that he had made on his first missionary journey was a young man named Timothy. Timothy had accepted Christ as his Savior and had since grown and matured in his faith – so much so that Paul wanted to take Timothy along on this second missionary journey. And of course, as we talked about last week, Timothy agreed – and together, Paul and Silas and Timothy revisited all those churches that Paul had earlier planted, and encouraged them to continue growing in the Lord.

We concluded last week with this verse: 

“So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day.” Acts 16:5

In other words, the believers in those cities were encouraged and spurred on to trust God more and more – and they continued to tell others about Christ – and more and more people came to know and follow Him.

So with that phase of the journey complete, Paul, Silas, and Timothy then went on to visit some brand new cities – cities that had never heard the Good News about Jesus. And that’s what we’re going to read about today.

Acts chapter 16 – verse 6 – begins like this:

6 Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia {Fridgy-ah} and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. 7 Then coming to the borders of Mysia, {Missy-ah} they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. 8 So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas.

Acts 16:6-8

Now we’re going to stop here for a moment, because this is rather interesting. Twice in these three verses, we read that Paul & Silas were wanting to go and preach the Word of God in a certain place, but for some reason unknown to us, God did not allow them to do that.

And this might strike us as being rather odd. Why would God prevent Paul & Silas from going to preach the Word of God to people who had never heard the Gospel? Didn’t Jesus command us to be his witnesses, telling people about him everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”? Doesn’t God want everyone to know the Good News of Jesus Christ? Doesn’t He want everyone to be saved?

Well, yes, yes, and yes!

Jesus did command us to go and make disciples of all the nations – which would include the people in the provinces of Asia and the province of Bithynia. We’re also told in 2 Peter 3:9 that God is…

“…not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9b NIV

So clearly this isn’t an issue of God not wanting the people of Bithynia and Asia to hear and believe the Good News of Jesus Christ! The Scriptures are clear that God wants everyone to hear the Gospel, repent of their sins, and be saved!

But yet our passage in Acts makes it very clear that it was not the will of God for Paul & Silas & Timothy to go to these particular places at this particular time. God had another plan in mind – which we read in the very next verses! Verse 9 says..

9 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!” 10 So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.

Acts 16:9-10

Even though preaching the Good News in the provinces of Bithynia and Asia would have been a good and important thing to do, it was clear that God had prepared a different path for them at this time. They were to go to Macedonia to preach the Good News to the people there. They would just have to trust that God would arrange for the Gospel to get to the provinces of Bithynia and Asia either later or through some other means. (Which of course, God did! In fact, as we read later on in Acts, we’ll see that Paul later did visit these areas and share the Gospel with them.)

But I think this is a good place to make a few comments on following the will of God in our own lives. And I say this with a little bit of caution because I don’t want to be misunderstood. So hopefully I can say this clearly. Just because something is morally good or aligned with the principles of Scripture – does not always mean that it is God’s will for our lives in that particular moment.

That is not to say that God’s will is ever for us to do what is morally wrong or contrary to Scriptures (That’s not what I’m saying at all!) But sometimes there are multiple good things that we could do. In this case, Paul could preach the Gospel in Bithynia or he could preach the Gospel in Macedonia. Both were good and important things – but only one was God’s will for Paul at that particular time!

And we face those type of decisions in our lives all the time! We want to follow God’s will and obey his leading – but sometimes we are faced with two or more good options…  And we don’t often have the luxury of receiving a vision from God to tell us which option is God’s will for us at this time.

Decisions like: Who does God want me to marry? What does God want me to do with my life? Which college should I attend? What job should I take? What house should we buy? What church should we attend? How many kids should we have?

And chances are, for those type of questions, there many be lots of good options! So how do we determine God’s will for our lives?

Well, that’s a loaded question and unfortunately, we can’t take the time to fully explore that topic today. However, there are a couple of principles that we see in these verses that can help us our in our own decision making process.

First of all, there are a few things going on behind the scene that we aren’t specifically told about, but because of what we know about Paul & Silas & Timothy, we can safely assume these things were taking place.

I think we can safely assume that they were praying for God’s guidance, they were looking to be obedient to the Scriptures and to the commands of Jesus, and they were using their God-given collective wisdom to determine the best path for them to take.

That’s kinda the standard procedures for any Christian looking to follow God’s leading.

  1. You pray about it! You ask God to lead and guide you. You submit your will to His. You determine to do what He says no matter what.
  2. You make sure that what you are considering is aligned with Scripture. God has already told us much of his general will in the Bible – things like doing good to others, sharing the Gospel, making disciples, honouring one another, caring for the weak and needy – things like that… So you make sure what you are considering isn’t contrary to what the Bible has already said.

3.You use the brain that God gave you and the good advice of other wise believers to come up with a logical direction. (Now of course, God doesn’t always lead us to do things that are ‘logical’.  Sometimes God’s will for us is do things totally against human logic.) But generally speaking, God leads us to do things that make sense! He is a God of order and sensibility and rationality – and so he expects us to use our brains and the wisdom of others to help us make good decisions.

And so I fully expect that Paul & Silas & Timothy were doing all of those things. I’m sure they were praying about it, they were seeking to carry out God’s commands to go and make disciples, and I’m sure, as they were talking through all of their options, they determined that the next logical stop for their preaching tour should be in.. Bithynia.

Now wait a second! After doing all the standard procedures for determining God’s will, they started off going in the wrong direction!

OR did they?

Actually, when you think about it, they weren’t going in the wrong direction. They had the wrong destination in mind, but the direction was right! Let’s read through those verses again…

6 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. 7 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. 8 So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas.

9 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 16:6-9

Now I know we’re probably not too familiar with the geography of that time and area, but if you look at this map…

[ map of Paul’s Second Missionary Journey ]

Notice on the far right where Timothy joins Paul and Silas in the dark green province of Galatia. From there, they headed towards Asia, but God said “No don’t go preaching in Asia.”

So they headed north to Bithynia, but again God said “No don’t go into Bithyia.” So they kept on going until they reached Troas, which as you can see on this map, was just a short boat ride away from Macedonia!

You see, although they had the wrong destinations in mind, all along, God had been leading them in the right direction.

And that leads me to the two other principles in these verses that can help us as we determine God’s will for our lives.

#1. Sometimes God directs us only after we take the first steps.

There’s a saying that you may have heard before: “You can’t steer a parked car.”

That’s very true. I mean, you can spin that steering wheel all around as you sit there, but as long as the vehicle is parked, the car will not change direction. It’s only after the vehicle begins to move forward that you can actual begin to change the direction of the car.

And God quite often works that same way. He often waits to give us directions until we start moving forward. God didn’t tell Paul & Silas to go directly to Macedonia right off the bat – No, he just guided them along basically by telling them where not to go as they traveled down the road.

And from my own experience and from many of the stories in the the Bible, very rarely does God lay out His entire plan for us before we begin. It’s usually one step at a time. And sometimes, as we begin going in a certain direction, we think we’ll end up in one place, but God knows that he’s going to redirect our paths a little way down the road and we’ll end up in another place entirely. It’s not that we were wrong or mistaken to go in that direction, but God wanted us to go down that path so that He could get us to where we needed to be.

And that leads us to the other principle that we see in these verses and that is:

#2. We need to continually listen and look for the leading of the Lord

It’s pretty obvious, as Paul & Silas were attempting to go preach in the province of Asia or Bithynia, that they were paying attending and looking the leading of the Lord.

We don’t know exactly how God communicated to them that they were not to preach in those places – maybe there was some sort of physical roadblock or circumstances that prevented them from going there, maybe it was just a clear sense from the Holy Spirit that this is not what they were supposed to do, or maybe it was a vision or even an audible voice to that spoke to them – we don’t know. We’re not given that information. But however God chose to communicate to them, it’s obvious that they were continually listening and looking for God’s leading.

And that needs to be our continual attitude as well. We always need to be looking and listening for God’s leading. God doesn’t just speak to us at church or when we do our devotions – although it might seem like that because those are the times when we actually listen and pay attention to what God is saying to us! But we need to continually do that – throughout the day everyday. Proverbs 3:5 says..

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.

6 Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take.

Proverbs 3:5-6

As we constantly seek God’s will – seeking his direction and guidance for our lives – God will show us which path to take. And of course, He may communicate his will to us in a variety of ways!

When a significant roadblock threatens to derail our plans – that may be God moving us in a different direction.

When we have a sense of uneasiness and lack of peace in our hearts about a decision we need to make, that may be God telling us to hold off on that decision and wait.

There are several different ways that God may direct our paths, but we can be sure, that if we trust in the Lord with all our heart and seek His will in all we do – every moment of every day –  He will show us which path to take.

After all, don’t you think God wants us to know His will? Don’t you think God wants us to take the path that He knows is best for us? Of course He does. God is eager to reveal his will to us.

He doesn’t purposely keep it hidden from us or make it hard for us to discern. That’s why he’s given us his written Word – the Bible! So much of his will is revealed right there in the pages of Scripture! But WE have to make the effort and take the time to listen to his voice. 

That means that we take time to pray – regularly and often – not only to speak to God but to hear from Him as well. It’s probably a good practice in your prayer times to have some time when you’re not talking! Just be silent before God and give Him the opportunity to speak to you in the quietness of your heart.

That also means you need to spend time in His Word. And don’t just read it – work to understand it – meditate on it (that is, think about it – mull it over in your mind). The whole point of us reading the Bible isn’t just to check it off our todo list as good Christians – the point is to get to know God and understand who He is and to hear what He is saying to you. So be intentional about your Bible time.

And of course, as you get to know God through His Word and through prayer, God will guide your mind and thoughts so that you can make those decisions that are inline with His will. Romans 12:2 speaks about this. It says..

2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2

We talked earlier about how God has given us a brain to think logically and to make those good decisions in conjunction with the wisdom of other wise believers. But we need to remember that our brain needs to be informed by the Word of God and by prayer so that it can make those good and godly decisions. Without having mind full of the Bible and prayer – we simply don’t have the right information we need to make those decisions.

But as we saturate our minds with Bible and prayer, God changes the way we think so that we can know God’s will for us – which by the way, as this verse says, is good and pleasing and perfect.

And perhaps that’s the point that I’ll end on for this morning. God’s will for your life is good and pleasing and perfect. He is a good God and He wants good for you.

I’m reminded of the passage in Jeremiah 29:11.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

Now this doesn’t mean that God has plans to make you healthy, wealthy, and comfortable for the rest of your life here on earth. That may not be part of God’s plan for your life. But what God does desire is to give you a future and a hope! He wants you to experience His joy and His peace and His goodness for all eternity. And we can have that through a relationship with Him. And all we have to do is to believe and trust in His Son Jesus! John 3:16 tells us:

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17 NIV

Jesus Christ, the birth of whom we celebrated last month – came into the world to save us from our sins and to give us the hope of eternal life with our Creator.

And so I would encourage you, as we read in Proverbs 3:5 – to trust in the Lord with all your heart – do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. 


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