As we continue in our Boundless series on the Book of Acts, we’re going to be skipping over the five verses that would come next. It’s not that they’re unimportant, it’s just that we’re trying to get to a certain place in the text by Christmas. But I don’t want to skip over them entirely because they have tremendous value for us in navigating our occasional frustrations with the ways God reveals His will for our lives:
And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 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.” 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.
We live a lot of life on the front side of a Macedonian call. Yes, there are moments when it feels like God literally pulls back the curtain of heaven and tells us exactly what to do. But, for most of our lives, it feels like we’re stumbling around, banging into closed doors and trying to figure out what Jesus is asking us to do. Even as I write this, I can think of at least three ways Laura and I are trying to navigate that right now. In the midst of that frustrating and painful lack of clarity, this text brings three helpful reminders:
Don’t Let What Seems Illogical Distract You From What Is Certain
Imagine how disorienting all of this must have been to the Apostle Paul. He’s the great evangelist and church planter of the early church. He’s completed one missionary journey and is on the first leg of his second journey. His whole aim is to tell people about Jesus. He’s not praying through whether or not he really needs the iPhone X. He wants to pluck as many people as possible from the clutches of hell. And his biggest obstacle seems to be the Holy Spirit. What’s wrong with preaching the gospel in Asia? Does God hate the Bithynians? How can the God who has always said go now say no?
Closed doors are so frustrating because they often seem so illogical. Why is God doing this? Why won’t He open the womb, help us with the down payment, get me into grad school or accelerate our adoption process?
Paul doesn’t minimize the confusion but he also doesn’t get distracted from what he’s certain about – the mission God has given him. He’s going to preach the gospel. If not in Asia, Phrygia will be just fine. If not Bithynia, Troas works. He was so committed to that mission that when he finally has a revelation from God, his only conclusion is that God has called him to preach the gospel in Macedonia. He isn’t thinking sea side sabbatical. He’s thinking gospel mission.
You may not know what God is doing in your life right now. But you do know your purpose in life – to glorify God by making disciples. Everything else finds its place in relationship to that mission. So, don’t give up on it when life doesn’t make sense. Keep pressing forward.
Obedience, Patience and Inactivity Aren’t The Same Thing
Paul demonstrates a tremendous amount of obedience and patience in all of this. He doesn’t try to kick down any closed doors (one of my favorite ways of running afoul of God’s will for my life). Imagine how easy it would have been for him to conclude he was mishearing the Spirit of Jesus. That Spirit is always telling us to go. Now He’s saying no? I probably would have stormed into Asia demanding God’s blessing on my well-intentioned disobedience. But not Paul. He obeyed and waited.
But he didn’t stagnate. He kept moving. His bias was towards unblocked action. If God was saying no in certain ways, Paul was determined to keep moving forward in a way that God was allowing. He didn’t grind everything to a halt and linger in neutral until God told him what to do. He kept moving, trusting the Lord to make it all clear.
I know so many followers of Jesus who struggle with this. They assume the default posture of the Christian soul is passivity interrupted by the occasional Macedonian call. Not true! We are a people with a bias for action. This passage simply reminds us that action must walk down the paths of obedience and patience.
God Will Open The Right Door, The Right Way, At The Right Time
Don’t get discouraged! God is more than able to break through the fog of closed doors whenever He needs to, in whatever way He needs to? For Paul, all of the closed doors finally make sense with one vision. God has been leading Paul and his team (which now includes Luke, the author of Acts) to Macedonia the whole time. The gospel moves forward and we’re reminded that God has known what He’s doing all along.
Today, those moments are more likely to come through a study of God’s Word, wise counsel and circumstances than dreams and visions but dreams and visions are still on the table. If that’s what it takes, that’s what God is going to do.
In the midst of the uncertainty of closed doors, we can cling to the hope that God will keep us on the path He has designed for us. All of our confusion isn’t going to thwart God’s plan for our lives. Job 42:2 has been such a comfort to me over the years, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”
When the time comes, God will get you right where He wants you.
There are few things in the Christian life as disorienting as illogically closed doors. They can give rise to all kinds of fears – has God abandoned me, is He angry at me, am I being punished? Don’t fall for that kind of thinking. You might be facing many closed doors but the arms of your Savior are wide open. He’s already made what He thinks of you abundantly clear on the cross. He tasted death so you never have to. He purchased you, declared you His own and adopted you into His family. He didn’t do it to leave you helplessly floundering through life. You can trust Him, cling to Him and pray for the day the fog lifts. In the mean time, keep walking!