There is a fascinating text in Acts 16:6-10 — “Now when [Paul and his travelling companions] had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.” (Acts 16:6-10 NKJV)
Now, this story isn’t full of as much “razzle-dazzle” as the story I pointed out to you yesterday, but even so it has a great deal to teach us about prayer — and the value of being “blocked” by God; the value in it when God says “no.”
Most commentaries call this pericope something like “The Macedonian Call” or “The Gospel comes to Europe”. And ever since I was a little child, I have heard Christians point to this particular text to make certain points: 1) “When you’re seeking the will of God, don’t just sit there and pray — step out in faith in a particular direction. It’s easier for God to direct a moving stone than one that just sits there.” (And this is true) 2)Give thanks to God in all things. By saying “No” to Paul when he tried to go to Asia and Bithynia, God forced Paul to go to Troas, and it is through Troas and Macedonia that the Gospel was brought to Europe, where most of us have ancestors. So most of us are Christian because God said “no” to Paul’s intention to go to Asia and Bithynia, and blocked his journey to anywhere but Troas. So give thanks to God in all situations.(And this is true, too)
What I want to call your attention to today, is that when we don’t know exactly what God would have us do in any given situation, pray for guidance, step out in faith, and ASK GOD TO BLOCK YOU if you are moving in a direction that is not the way He wants you to go.
Now, you don’t do this when you are thinking of doing something where God has already made known quite clearly in the Bible what His will is in this situation. Don’t bother asking God to reveal His will about whether or not you should murder your boss, cheat on your husband, sleep with your boyfriend, or help yourself from the cash register. On issues where God has already made his will absolutely clear in the Bible, don’t ask Him again to reveal His will for your life. It’s not going to happen. Again.
But if you are (like me) a pretty determined person who doesn’t want to give up too easily on something I think God wants me to do, yet knows that (because of my basically determined and stubborn nature) often I honestly cannot tell if I am being determined-to-be-faithful-to-God or too-stubborn-to-admit-when-I’m-wrong it’s wonderful to be reminded that I can pray that God would just block something if it is not His will. I began doing this back in my 20s because of something I read — by whom I can no longer remember.
His advice was: when you’re praying about whether or not something is what God wants you to do, there are a few “tests” you should be sure to remember to do –not because God needs to be tested but because you do: human sinfulness is very self-deceptive. First, ask yourself if the Bible has anything to say about an action like you are contemplating. Second, ask yourself if you have begun stepping out in faith (doing something to “try on” this action), so you test whether you’re using “I’m trying to be sure of the will of God” as a cloak for laziness (back to that whole self-deception thing). Third, tell God that you think this action you are contemplating is His will and that you are trying to be faithful, but human sinfulness is such that you know you could be wrong. “So please block it, as You blocked Paul when he wanted to preach the Gospel first in Asia and then in Bithynia.”
These are really good tests: 1) Does the Bible have anything to say about preaching the Word in Asia and Bithynia? Well, of course preaching the Word is a good thing. Paul certainly knew that the Bible says this is a good thing. And I know it myself: plus, every day I get mail from countless mission projects that each claim to be “Macedonian calls”. This is not to mention the “Macedonian calls” that come from members of the congregation who want to get the rest of the congregation involved in their pet mission projects. And they’re all good things. But I can’t do them all. And Holy Trinity doesn’t have the money to fund them all. So what does God want us to do?
2) Have I begun stepping out in faith? Am I personally involved in any mission projects/giving financially to mission projects since I know God wants the Word proclaimed? Paul was first en route to Asia and then en routh to Bithynia.
3) Have I asked God to block my headstrong determination if he has something else in mind? This is the one I often forget. Paul, however, had the sensitivity to the will of God and the wisdom to recognize when God was blocking him.
I can easily see why Paul would think God was sending him to Asia (this is the Roman province of Asia — not the vast continent of Asia, or even the area known as Asia minor.) This was simply the westernmost province of the Roman Empire. It was the oldest, richest, and most populous Roman province in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. Therein lay Ephesus and all the other seven cities whose churches received the letters to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation. So of course Paul started out for Asia — but he was blocked by God. So Paul journeyed northeast through ancient Phrygia to ancient Galatia and then went straight north to the border of Bithynia, where God blocked him again.
How did God block him? The short answer is “nobody knows” — but this brief text contains intriguing clues. Most intriguing of all the clues is that this text is the first of the famous “we” passages in Acts: “after [Paul] had seen the vision [of the man from Macedonia who pleaded with him to come] immediately WE sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them “ (Acts 16:10 NRSV)
Who’s “we”? “We” includes Luke, a doctor, and the author of The Gospel of Luke and The Acts of the Apostles. And there is the strong possibility that what barred Paul from journeying into Asia and Bithynia was ill-health, the consequence of that “thorn in the flesh” which probably had to do with his eyesight (which is another story I will tell you sometime.) Suddenly and without warning, a “we” passage shows up in verse 10. The story begins to be told not in the third person but in the first person: “we”. This tells us that Luke was there as an eyewitness and companion of Paul. Why should Luke suddenly appear on the scene? Perhaps because Paul needed his professional services at that point. If this is so, it is thought that Paul took even his weakness and his pain as a messenger from God, although it was a vision of a man from Macedonia which finally gave Paul his guidance where to go.
So why am I telling you all of this? Because I am encouraging you to think that the obstacles you face in your life might possibly be “blocks” sent from God because he cares about you so much that He wants your life moving in a different direction. It could be. We believe that each one of us Christians participates in God’s overarching plan for all humanity; and we believe that God will guide us in different ways to play our own small part in this much greater plan. The manner of this guidance will be different in the lives of different people — but we trust that God’s will shall be found somewhere in our interpretation of the events both in History and in our own lives. God is at work in everything that happens. “In all things, God works for good together with those who love Him” (Romans 8:28) I want you to hold open the possibility that even the obstacles you face in your life might just be blocks sent from God to move you in a different direction. And I don’t want you to be afraid of these blocks. In fact, when you are asking God to reveal His will to you in any situation, I want you to pray that if your interpretation of what God is leading you to do is not what He wants for you, that He would block you. After all, it is through blocks to Paul’s path when he wanted to spread the Gospel to Asia and Bithynia that the Gospel reached Europe, and eventually most of our ancestors, families, parents, and friends.
I pray your day is blessed!