Frenetic, meet confusion and chaos. Speed dating? No! Rather, the afternoon rush hour on the lower East Side of Manhattan – New York City. I’m walking around trying to find an apartment building – for I had an appointment to meet a Jewish man in order to share the gospel of Messiah Jesus. For 6 1/2 years (2003-2009) this was a core ministry as a missionary to my Jewish people – one on one visitation with Jewish men, sharing the gospel with seekers and discipling new Jewish believers.
This initial meeting was not going well. Well, to be honest, it wasn’t going at all! You see, the lower east side of Manhattan is primarily made up of immigrants. I couldn’t find anyone on the street to speak English with and ask directions of, nor would cab drivers stop! I had an address and a phone number, but the man I was scheduled to meet with couldn’t give me proper directions, as I was a bit disoriented as to my exact location and more than a bit frustrated.
After perhaps thirty minutes of wandering, I called off the search. Most of Manhattan is on a grid – simple to navigate. But the lower east side isn’t quite so simple to navigate – and on this day was kind of like the Bermuda Triangle – and I was its’ latest victim!
I never made it to that appointment. In fact, that initial visit with this Jewish man never happened!
Could there have been more to this incident than meets the eye? Is it possible there was some kind of Divine intervention in this bizarre and singular experience I encountered? Could it have been that the Lord was actually forbidding me to go?
We find in Acts 16 a very interesting passage where the Lord says, in essence – ‘No, don’t go!’ Moreover, He actually forbids Paul and Timothy from going and ministering as they had desired. As we seek understanding, perhaps there’s a lesson for you and me!
Earlier in Acts 16, as Paul begins his second missionary journey, he meets Timothy for the first time while in Lystra. Timothy then joins Paul and Silas in the work of the gospel. In Acts 16:5 we see God blessing the ministry as ‘churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.’
As they continue their journey, they are now forbidden by God to minister in Asia!
“Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia” (Acts 16:6).
Why does God forbid them? And more so, how does He forbid them? We don’t know. Luke doesn’t tell us. At this point I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words form 2 Corinthians 5:7, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” Walking with the Lord is a faith journey. And the Lord, in His providence and sovereignty, has the prerogative to guide, lead, and even forbid without explanation.
As Paul, Silas and Timothy continue, they are once again stonewalled by the Lord:
“After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them” (Acts 16:7).
Here we get a bit more information about the team’s intention as ‘they tried to go into Bithynia.’ Again, questions. I’m wondering how they they ‘tried,’ how the Spirit stopped them, and why. And again, Luke doesn’t divulge an explanation.
Proverbs 16:9 is one of my life verses, which I find applicable to this situation and perhaps to that strange afternoon years ago on the lower east side of Manhattan – “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”
Paul’s team had felt compelled to go into Bithynia and tried to go, yet were not permitted. I’m beginning to wonder that in spite of my desire to visit that Jewish man years ago, if it was the Holy Spirit who did not permit me. I don’t know for sure, but I suppose Paul, Silas, and Timothy didn’t get lost along the way and simply give up! “Can anyone tell me how to get to Bithynia?” – was probably not part of the conversation.
Ministry, like life, has a way of moving along. And that’s precisely what Paul’s team does. And as they do, we again see the hand of God intervening and orchestrating events:
“So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:8-10).
Some doors close. Others open. And it is God who is Lord over all! In fact, history is His story. And the Lord orchestrates all the events of history in order to accomplish His perfect will. You see, what may appear to be chaos and pandemonium to us is not to God – for He has it all under control.
When it appears to not be working, remember – God is always working. In fact, the will of God always works!
“Remember this, and show yourselves men; Recall to mind, O you transgressors. Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure’” (Isaiah 46:8-10).
It was God’s pleasure to move Paul, Silas and Timothy to Macedonia, where they had an appointment, a divine appointment – with Lydia. For she and her household come to faith!
You see, what may appear to be interruptions or disruptions may actually be the Lord’s way of redirecting our paths in order to accomplish His will. I don’t know how Paul and team reacted when they were stonewalled by the Spirit, but I can tell you I was not happy at all with the events of that surreal afternoon years ago on the lower east side – the day I got lost.
Saying ‘yes’ to God’s ‘no’ takes faith. And what this looks like in our lives may be different in application, yet is the same in principle. As you strive to reach others with the gospel, be flexible, seeking God’s best, allowing Him to close doors and redirect your paths, to the Glory of God and for the building of His Kingdom. Amen.