Prevented/Stopped/Forbidden…

Yesterday was a weird day.

Here’s a sum up, with a little bit of background.

Acts 16 tells of the (continuing) story of the Apostle Paul & his missionary travels with his band of merry men. (Ok – I’m just assuming that the guys were merry; they WERE, however, for sure, his traveling companions in sharing the Gospel Good News throughout {mostly} the Greek/non-Jewish world.)  And yet… This passage reveals that at least twice on this particular journey, Paul & his team were prevented/stopped/forbidden from doing the very thing that Jesus Himself had told Paul he was to devote his life to doing. No sharing the gospel. No declaring the Good News. No even entering entire geographic regions.

The provinces of Asia. Mysia.  Bithynia. Forbidden by the Holy Spirit.

And then Paul has a dream, a dream of a Macedonian man begging him to come to Macedonia. Paul determines, “I guess we’re supposed to go to Macedonia…” So they did, & as a result, we have the Philippian incident, a strong & influential 1st century church, & Paul’s letter to the Philippians.


I’ve read this passage in Acts many, many times, & I always wonder:

  1. WHY would the Holy Spirit keep Paul & his team from doing something good like sharing the message of the Gospel Good News in a place that had never heard it before?”  
  2. What was it like to be prevented/stopped/& yes, even forbidden by the Holy Spirit? How did Paul KNOW the opposition they were experiencing was God & not the enemy, his own flesh, or something else? (THIS is the bigger question for me.)

The answers I’d probably give to those questions (if someone else was asking me,) are these:

  1. God knows. :) Maybe it has to do with His timing – & it wasn’t time for the Gospel Good News in those places. Maybe it wasn’t Paul’s mission from God to go to Asia, Mysia, & Bithynia, but rather someone elses mission for the future. (Kinda like when you think about the lame man at the Beautiful Gate. He’d been there, unable to walk, for as long as anyone could remember. Jesus would have had to walk by him EVERY single time Jesus went to the Temple for prayer & worship. Jesus DIDN’T heal the man… but Peter & John DID, & it was an incredible sign that led to thousands of people being added to the Church.
  2. Good question. From my own experiences at seeking God’s will & direction, & also from what we see in the Scriptures, there is no ONE way that God speaks to people. There is no ONE way, a litmus test if you will, that, after it’s performed, will give a definitive answer, a clear indication of God’s purposes.
    1. Was it that Paul & the guys tried to make plans & they kept falling through? Maybe their preparations kept coming to naught & eventually they figured, “If this door isn’t opening up, let’s try something new, a new destination & see if THAT door opens.
    2. It doesn’t say that Paul had a “NO” vision or clear sign NOT to go to these places; it says he tried & was stopped, so he tried a couple other places & was stopped. And then he had the dream about the Macedonian man, from which he deduced, “I guess we’re supposed to go there.” Not scientific. Not a declarative & booming from heaven James Earl Jones voice.
    3. It really speaks to the fact that Paul & the team were used to letting God direct their steps; they prepared, got moving, & then were very easily redirected with the (often) subtle nudges given by the Holy Spirit to those He trusts. Paul knew his mission was to declare & share the Gospel Good News; this story shows that he also knew to not try to do it in his own strength with his own giftings. He learned to go & do what God told him to & where He told him to do it. (Kinda reminds me of what Jesus said about only doing what He saw His Father in Heaven doing.”

Here’s a time when I believe this happened to me:

Years ago, I  was offered a ‘side gig’ as an American History teacher at a local private school. I jumped at the chance… after all, my ‘dream’ job for years was teaching High School/College history. I can remember thinking to myself, “What an incredible opportunity! I’m so  thankful to God for Him giving me the chance to teach history AND continue to pastor.” The euphoria about teaching history lasted about 45 minutes, after which I was hit with a really strong heaviness… it wasn’t oppressive, wasn’t strongly negative, & it didn’t ‘feel’ like spiritual opposition (hard to explain or put words to.)  it was just heavy, almost to the point of incapacitating, esp. when I began the task  of putting together a calendar of events & happenings for the year.

I couldn’t do  it. Not even a little. Imagine the worst writers block you’ve ever had & multiply it by 1000. I was stuck before I even got out of the gate. I can remember asking God, “Lord, please, will you please help me please? I’ve got  to prepare this so I can submit it to the administration so I can teach. Please?” 

It was at that point I got the sense of God saying, “But you never asked Me if this was for you to do.” And I knew. All the heaviness, all the difficulty, all the stuck-ness… that was what it felt like to try to do something (that I loved & aspired to do!) in my own strength, without the grace of God to empower or strengthen or equip me to do.

And so I prayed. Asked God for direction, asked Him “If not this, then WHAT am I to give this extra energy & attention to?” Couldn’t have been more than a minute when i got an idea for something I’d not given much thought to before… but that now seemed to be exactly what would come next for me. I pursued it & it flowed. It wasn’t easy – but it was simple. I could better differentiate between doing something in my own strength vs. doing something with the grace of God.

Which leads to my weird yesterday.


I’ve been working on & prepping for a project for church for the last 3 months; it’s been tough going, but I thought as we got closer things would  come together & get simpler.

Nope.

(In case you’re wondering, without going into specifics, it’s a project I love & a project I believe in.)

Finally, yesterday around 11 a.m., I realized I’d been wrestling for almost 3 hours with the same question & had a total of 3 words (not even a complete sentence) on my notepad. My head felt foggy, I had no ideas, no motivation, no insights, nothing. It felt like I couldn’t progress in this if my life depended on it. I was desperate.

I prayed. Talked with theBean. Interacted with my staff. And then I prayed some more, for wisdom & insight into what I was dealing with. All of the sudden, I had the thought, “What if we DON’T do this project? What if we just pull the plug on it today?” 

“Yes.” I heard it in my spirit. “Yes. Pull the plug.”

And so I did.


Immediately, my brain cleared.

I had ideas for 10 things that  I/we could do  instead of the project we’d been working on.

I felt normal. Better than normal. Like I’d just woken up after a long, wonderful nap. Couldn’t believe HOW MUCH different I felt in just a moment of time.

As I processed through it with theBean last night, I  wondered WHAT had been going on & what had lifted (& WHY) when I said “No” to the project. I’d never felt this way before, except… the history teaching gig. Ahh. Is that what this was? Me going out in my own strength & abilities to try to make something happen, (something GOOD I’ll have you know,) something that was not on God’s agenda for now/the near future? I tried to remember: “Did I ask God if I was supposed to continue with this project even though it wasn’t progressing, even though we’d done a version of it before & found it to be incredibly helpful & GOOD!?” I don’t know.

I’m still not 100% sure, but are we EVER 100% sure? As I have continued to think about it today, I process how many times we’re led to act because it “seems good to me/us & the Holy Spirit.” No direct words from on high. No ringing prophetic words. Nothing. Just a big, hard, seemingly impenetrable wall in one direction & clear skies & clear sailing in another one.

Still processing… And thankful for the grace of God in & ON my life.

Who shut the door? musings from Acts 16…

Acts 16:6-10 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.

The call to spread the gospel and to make disciples is at the core of what it means to live out the life of the Christ-follower. So it seems ironic in this passage that it was the Holy Spirit, the very Spirit Who empowers us to be witnesses, that told the missionary team, “No, don’t do that here,” and not just one time, but twice.

Every time I read this it catches me a bit off guard; Paul, Silas, and Timothy want to preach the gospel, but the Spirit of Jesus shuts the door. When I think of ministry frustrations and difficulties, the first thing that comes to mind is the opposition of our enemy, and I want to pray (and have prayed) for God to make a way for the gospel to be heard and to take root.

Reading that the Spirit of God sometimes says “No,” causes me to examine my own heart and life, and even to wonder if some of my own “banging on closed doors” was due to functioning on my own agenda, versus the agenda that the LORD is working from.

The rest of Acts 16 reveals that the LORD knew what He was doing by telling the team “No” to Asia and Bithynia; He instead opened a significant door in the city of Philippi, and with signs and wonders, and a well-timed earthquake, used the missionary team to bring about a great, city-changing salvation that shook the spiritual (and physical) world to its core.

I’m reminded that Jesus said He only did what He saw His Father in heaven doing (John 5:19 et al), and that some of the greatest miracles in the book of Acts (Peter and John heal the lame man in Acts 3,) happened specifically as a result of something that Jesus DIDN’T do for whatever reason.

I want to submit my agenda to the LORD, and exchange my good ideas and opportunities for the ones that God would put in front of me. God’s timing matters; His Spirit is at work, and I want to be led by the Spirit of Jesus so I can partner with His God ideas.