Acts 16 gives us an account of an incident on Paul’s second missionary journey. The intent had been to reach further in to Asia Minor, but God had another plan. The vision given to Paul of a man of Macedonia calling out to them to “come over to help us”, is a constant challenge as we seek God’s direction in our personal lives and in the life of the Church.
Here are four thoughts for us as we think about where God might be leading us:
Be Open to New Possibilities
Paul and his team set out on this mission shortly after the Council of Jerusalem, where it had been agreed that Gentiles could be followers of Christ without first becoming Jews. There had been some opposition to this; some were demanding fulfilment of the ritual requirements. The Council however decided that new followers needed to simply follow the moral law rather than ritual law. The outcome was that the church was encouraged to flourish in cultural contexts other than Judaism.
What event have we experienced which has created new possibilities for us? Perhaps it was a move to another place, or a new job. When these things happen we need to be open to the possibilities.
We are in the process of restructuring the Synod and Presbytery, and the final touches will take place at the Presbytery meeting on November. It came about because we had agreed in September 2015 for the Regional Committee of Congress to become a Presbytery. That transition is not going to happen just yet, but it caused us the review our structures and to see the benefits of the change required to have a second Presbytery. The door was open to new possibilities.
Be Ready to Change
In preparing for the second missionary journey it was intended that Paul and Barnabas, his partner on the first journey, would lead this second expedition. But Paul didn’t want to take John Mark along because he had deserted early in the first expedition. There was a disagreement and Paul and Barnabas parted ways.
Paul took Timothy with him instead. And what an advantage that was. His mother was Jewish and his father was Greek – he understood the contrast of Jewish/Gentile culture, and how they could co-exist far better than could Paul with his ultra conservative Jewish background.
We don’t need to always do things the same way. The experience of new possibilities opens the door for new opportunities. The falling out between Paul and Barnabas created the opportunity for two teams to lead the thrust of the gospel message. John Mark continued to be encouraged and later, in writing to Timothy, Paul asks him to bring Mark to come to help him.
Sometimes our vision becomes so focussed that we begin to exclude some people. Paul fell into this trap and saw John Mark as a hindrance to the mission. But he was not without grace. As the mission expanded, by God’s, rather than Paul’s, direction, John Mark was in the field, trained by Barnabas and able to help. Paul changed his attitude as he began to see God’s vision.
Be Obedient to God’s Leading
So Paul’s team, with Timothy, set out for Asia Minor. Despite the fact that the Jerusalem Council had given them an open door to engage freely with other cultures they did not even realise that they were keeping themselves confined to the same (Mid Eastern) culture. Oh yes, they had branched out from Judaism to the Gentiles but apart from religious ritual, the culture was pretty much the same.
But, it seems, God did not want the gospel contained within a culture and so He closed the door to Bithynia and opened the door to Europe.
It is not always easy to change our ways. As I have said, sometimes our vision becomes so focussed that we begin to exclude people, but sometimes we also exclude God.
It is said that the words on the tombstone of the church will be “we never did it that way before.” We do need to be ready to change and to recognise the leading which God gives us.
Finally, we need to be optimistic – to trust that God’s intention for His church will prevail in every situation.
It must have been challenging to enter into a new culture with the gospel, where the religious direction was vastly different. But trusting in God, Paul and his team crossed the sea.
They found a Jewish woman – Lydia from Thyatira – and she became the first convert. They cast a demon out of a young slave girl – the second convert, and her owners turned the town against them. Paul and his team were imprisoned. An earthquake had opened the door and loosened their shackles but they did not escape. They stayed until it was right to go and the surprised jailer and his family became the next converts.
Without hope, life can easily devolve into pessimism. But Christ offers us hope – we can be optimistic and hopeful of His leading.
In 2 Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat is threatened by a vast army. He prays to God” “Lord, we have no power, we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” He marches out with his small army and finds the Moabite army already defeated.
We can trust God’s leading.
Rev David de Kock
General Secretary, Uniting Church WA