Sovereign Father, go before me today to show me the way; go behind me to press me forward.
Read Acts 15:36-16:15
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All rights reserved throughout the world. Used by permission of International Bible Society.
We have been given a compass, not a road map. The Holy Spirit leads us through difficult times and helps us to live by faith.
The conclusion reached by the Jerusalem meeting provided tremendous encouragement to Paul and Barnabas to take the Gospel into new areas. However, the progress of the apostolic mission is far from predictable and orderly! The missionaries fall out with each other (15:37-41); Paul circumcises Timothy, despite the fact that the Jerusalem meeting had concluded that this was not necessary (16:1-3); and a vision takes the evangelists in a completely different direction from the one they had planned (16:6-10). There is another surprise: the vision from Macedonia revealed a man pleading for help, but when Paul and his companions reach Philippi there are no men in sight, and the evangelization of Europe begins among a group of women!
The progress of the kingdom is not straightforward. From the human perspective, mission is often messy; it is a story of great advances, certainly, but these are often accompanied by sharp disagreements and divisions, frustrated strategies and unexpected closed doors! It also involves complex and difficult decisions. Paul’s action in having Timothy circumcised illustrates the fact that Christians sometimes find themselves in problematic situations where they must make what seems to be, on balance, the best choice.
When we look back on these twists and turns it becomes clear that the Spirit was at work. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said we can never be sure whether Christ is “building or pulling down.” Times of difficulty and disappointment may be when Christ begins building the kingdom afresh. “It is a great comfort which Christ gives his church: ‘You confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province'” (Bonhoeffer).
Reflect on your experience of closed doors and apparent dead ends. Ask for grace to trust God and to be open to his unexpected openings.
Loving Father, sometimes I’m bewildered by what is happening in my life. I place myself anew in Your hands, trusting You to accomplish Your will through me.
Click here to sign up to receive the EXTRAs via email each quarter.
© 2023 Scripture Union U.S.A. All rights reserved. Reproduction of the whole or any part of the contents without written permission is prohibited.
Encounter with God is published in the USA under license from Scripture Union England and Wales, Trinity House, Opal Court, Opal Drive, Fox Milne, Milton Keynes, MK15 0DF.