The main thing God highlighted to me as I read this passage was to embrace the change.
First we see that Paul’s plans kept being stopped. He tried to go to Asia but the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let them so they went through Phrygia and Galatia. Then they tried to go to Bithynia but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn’t let them go there either so they went down to Troas.
I don’t know about you but I get quite frustrated at times when my plans change (I am a lot better now than used to be!) For example things like a closed road or traffic jam can really frustrate us as we are delayed or re-routed – or bigger things like how my life now does not look anything like I would have expected it to 10 years ago. There are definite things I wanted to happen that I am still waiting on and trusting God for and it is hard and incredibly frustrating at times.
But what if we could change our perspective on these changes in OUR plans, whether the small things like a diversion on a journey or the bigger things in life, and see them as divine opportunities rather than a frustration and problem?
As we choose to follow God and allow Him to lead and guide us through life with HIS plans, as Paul did, then what opportunities may there be that would have been totally missed had we gone our way, insisting on following our own plans?
In verse 9 it says ‘And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
Paul hears from God and so ‘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.’
Paul hears God and acts straight away. He doesn’t try to argue with God or dither wondering if he really heard God. He’s not worried that it wasn’t what he had planned to do. He hears and immediately they act and go God’s way to Macedonia.
As they obediently go, we hear of 2 great things that have happened – definite divine opportunities – that wouldn’t have happened had they have gone their own way. Firstly, when they get to Phillipi (in Macedonia) Paul and his team went to a place of prayer where some women had gathered. There they met Lydia (a business woman) who was a God-fearing woman but hadn’t heard the Gospel. As Paul shared the gospel Lydia encountered God through what Paul was saying ‘The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul’ (v14) and she and her household were baptised. Lydia went on to support Paul in his work of sharing the Gospel and was part of the church planted in Philippi.
The second encounter we see is after Paul and Silas have been thrown into prison, by the angry owners of the demon-possessed slave girl that Paul sets free. They were praising and worshipping God throughout the night. Through this they were both encouraging themselves in the Lord but also witnessing to others as the other prisoners were listening to them. Then there is an earthquake and all the chains fall off so the jailer is about to kill himself (so the Romans don’t do it for him!) when Paul calls to him – “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” This leads to Paul being able to share the gospel and the jailer and his family are saved.
The multiple changes of destination and imprisonment could have resulted in Paul feeling frustrated and angry. But because Paul embraced them as the divine opportunities that they were and amazing things happened as a result! Lives were totally transformed!
This is a real challenge to me! But maybe today we (definitely speaking to myself here!) can look at changes, apparent setbacks and delays to our plans with a different perspective. What if we look for what God is doing in these moments rather than what we think is not happening? What if we live asking God the way to go with our ears listening closely to the Holy Spirit whispering to us about which way to go and what we should do. It often won’t be what we would have chosen but why not see what God does as a result of our obedience to Him. Wouldn’t we all love testimonies like Paul’s of how God worked through what would have looked like setbacks to many of us?
As we move forward as a church, we are going to face many changes to the way we used to do things. There are many things we simply can’t do at the moment. But what if God is actually using this time for divine opportunities to change us and those around us? What will we see happen if we embrace God’s changes in this season that we would have otherwise missed? I’m excited to see!