9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district[a] of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us. (Acts 16:9-15 NRSV)
Imagine Paul and Silas and Timothy, perhaps even Luke, relaxing after a long day’s journey. They discuss the events of the day. One thing leads to another and they begin reminiscing.
“Remember when we attended the Jerusalem Council?”
“Boy, that was some debate, wasn’t it? Thank God the right decision was made to attend to the Gentiles and not require circumcision.”
“And then we decided to journey through Asia Minor. We had such a grand plan, didn’t we?”
“If memory serves me, we planned to first visit the new churches in the south and then travel north and plant new churches up there.”
“That’s when we met you, Timothy. You joined with us for the church planting. And we kept running into dead ends.”
“I remember it well. I couldn’t figure out what kept stopping us from entering those towns and attending the synagogues. You helped me understand that God moves in mysterious ways.”
“And then Paul had that dream. A man from Macedonia was calling to Paul to come spread the word in Europe. That was strange!”
“Remember when Paul got us up in the middle of the night? He hustled us out the door and on to that boat before our first coffee! We knew this had to be God’s call, though, when we arrived on Samothrace a day later instead of three or four.”
And that’s how the three men arrived in Philippi. They had tried to spread the word in new parts of Asia Minor, but the Holy Spirit kept saying, “No. Not there.” Philippi became the first new church plant in Europe.
They stayed in Phillipi a few days becoming familiar with it. One of the things they discovered was that there was no synagogue. No problem, they’ll go outside the city gates by the river. They’d be sure to find some Jews worshiping there.
This had been a strange journey and it continued in that vein. They don’t find any men praying by the river as they had anticipated. Instead, they discover a group of women praying.
Paul and Silas and Timothy joined them. Then Paul sat down to teach them.
The leader of the group was Lydia. A businesswoman, she was a dealer in rich purple cloth only available to the wealthy. She was her own woman in a patriarchal society; strong and astute. She was a successful businesswoman with a home and servants of her own.
Lydia wasn’t Jewish, but she was a gentile God worshiper. Paul’s words fell on a hungry heart and she gave her heart to Christ. She and her whole household were baptized.
Then she insisted that they stay with her. Did I mention she was a strong woman? Lydia would continue to support the Philippian church.
When have you looked back and seen the hand of God at work? Did that journey take many twists and turns? Did you have false starts and road blocks and closed doors? Yet, looking back, doesn’t the road appear straight. God made straight with a crooked line.
Life is like that. We have a well-thought-out plan. We’ve gathered the resources we’ll need and we’re out the door, so to speak. It falls flat and we wonder, “what happened?”
It’s disorientating. Isn’t that what God wanted us to do?, we ask. It was a good plan! A perfect plan! Do we need to work harder? Pray harder? Plan better?
Probably not. The plan could have been perfect, and God may put it to use some day. But not today. Today God has a vision that needs your attention. Right now.
But we have no resources to do that! We have no money. Not enough people. The energy will run out.
That’s God’s problem. Just move forward.
But, we’ve never been there. It means crossing boundaries. As much as I want to be a Christ-like presence for people, how can speak to people who aren’t like me? How can I relate.
Let go and allow God’s words to be your words. Just move forward.
Yes, you’ll feel as if you’re out on a limb. That’s where God does his best work. When we’re not so sure about the outcome or the roadmap is a bit vague, we tend to look up and out. We listen better to the Holy Spirit’s whispers when we feeling our most vulnerable.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”
When have stepped out and made a difference? Was it that time you paused in the produce section to visit with a stranger and you spoke words that seemed to feed her hungry heart?”
Maybe it was the time when you felt a compunction to shop at a store you hadn’t been to before. Outside the door of the shop you ran into an old friend you hadn’t seen in years. Thirty minutes later, you walked to the parking lot together and your friend admitted that he, too, had felt the same compunction to come to this place. As you drove away you realized that you had received a word of encouragement that only God new you needed.
That delay in traffic that sent you to a new place; that answered prayer that turned out vastly different from your expectations; the risk you took to use scripture to comfort someone. Each time you acted, you crossed a boundary.
The Holy Spirit lives, moves and has its being, not by our wants and desires, but its own vision. We try, God says, “No, not there.” Then we receive a message and the world of ministry opens up to us. It’s scary. it’s exhilarating. It’s exciting.
That’s how God’s kingdom works.
All glory and honor be to God.