There will be times when we need to bring in others to help us clarify God's leading.
I want to pick back up our series called Sustain. If you are new here, you may not be aware of that. We’ve been sitting with this idea of how to keep faith moving and going. When it gets tough in life, how to keep moving in a vibrant way with the Lord. We’ve been using the apostle Paul and what is known in the scriptures as his second missionary journey, as a template for enhancing our understanding. I’m not going to go back and revisit the complete setup we’ve covered in the last three weeks. We’ve talked a lot about the geography of what we’re reading. I do want to put up a map. This is helpful for us because it’s good to see where we’re actually reading about. I’m not going to go back into the entire geography, but you can see where the Aegean and Greece are. Where the majority of the action is taking place is in what we call modern-day Turkey.
We’ll pick back up with Acts 16:6. This is a remarkable and significant chapter. One of the key chapters in the New Testament is Acts 16 because of what happens for the first time. If you have your Bible or Bible app, you can follow along. It’s in the handout as well. It says, “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.” The Asia he’s referring to is Asia Minor. Specifically, Paul had it in his mind when he left Antioch of Syria, that God wanted them to go to Ephesus. You can see where Ephesus is. It is in Turkey. He thought that was the place where it would be the most fertile opportunity for people to receive the message of Jesus.
He knew that there was a significant synagogue in Ephesus and there was a tremendous opportunity. The population itself seemed tailor-made for what he could bring to the table on behalf of the Lord. Remember, it was his goal to not only revisit the churches that they had planted but also to take the message of Jesus to places where it had never gone. They were only focused on that region of Asia Minor. What we call modern-day Turkey. Let’s look at verse seven. It says they tried, but the Lord said no. We talked about how that might’ve been and how Paul may have felt that. Was it a word, or an impression? No matter what, we were not given specific details on how he felt that God told him no. All we know here is that the Lord impressed upon him deeply that he was not to go in the direction that he had planned.
Paul makes up his mind then. God wants us to go northward. In verse 7 it says that they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. First, they try to go to Ephesus and the Lord impresses, no, don’t go that way. ‘Well, that was our plan. I thought that’s where you wanted us to go, God. No. Okay. Then God must want us to go towards the Black Sea and the people of that region.’ They start to head that way. No, the Spirit of Jesus forbids them. There’s only one other option. That is to keep going straight ahead. That’s exactly what they do. They go all the way to the city on the edge of the Aegean sea, called Troas. Troas is near the ancient city of Troy. Troas is still there today. They get to Troas and Paul still doesn’t understand. In verse eight, it says, “Passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas and a vision appeared to Paul in the night.”
Paul doesn’t understand why he’s there. He doesn’t understand why the doors have closed. He had his plan to do something for Jesus. It was made clear to him that he shouldn’t do it, but he wasn’t given a sense of what he was supposed to do. So we talked about how not knowing exactly where to go, he just started moving forward. In the end, they ended up coming to the end of the road if you will. They end up at a port city. Paul’s wondering what God wants them to do here. As he goes to bed that night, we’re told that he has a vision, a dream. It says, “A vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man from Macedonia stood and pleaded with him saying, come over to Macedonia and help us.”
Paul has this dream. In this dream, when it says man of Macedonia, he would have seen a man who was dressed in the clothing of the Greek Macedonians. You can see where Macedonia is across the Aegean. In his dream, he sees this man saying, come and help us. Paul wakes up and says, “I think I know what God wants. I had this dream of a man calling. I think God wants us to take this message across the waters into the Greek land and people. And we need to go to Macedonia.”
It goes on to say, “Now, after he had seen the vision, immediately, we sought to go, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.” I was fascinated by the implications of Paul’s experience. Few people, if ever, would have been more familiar with the Spirit’s leading than the great apostle. Yet I watch him try to figure out how to discern God’s will. It’s a reminder of something, isn’t it? It’s a reminder that sustainment is going to require continual adjustments in our life, flexibility, and humility. The road ahead is not always clear for us. The way is not always easy to discern. Again, Paul thought he knew, he didn’t. When he gets to Troas, he ends up seeing a couple of things. He gets there, he’s not clear, just like sometimes in our life, we might think we know, but we’re not really sure what God wants us to do.
I was telling a group of men at the men’s retreat that we just had that there are times in our lives when we don’t know which way to go. We come to these fork in the road moments. We’re going into a future that’s unclear for us. Sometimes what I’ve found is the Lord won’t necessarily show us the whole way. He just shows us the next step. There are times in our lives where we say, ‘God, show me the way, show me the whole way, and then I’ll obey you.’ God sometimes says ‘no, I’m showing you the next step, that this season of your life will be the season of the next step, not the whole way.’
Keeping that in mind, what happens when Paul gets to Troas? One, he sees a vision of this man from Macedonia. The other thing that happens is less significant, but it’s just as real. His team actually grows. Not only does Paul get a vision, but he also has an addition to his team. Up to this point, his team consists of Timothy, who’s a younger leader, and Silas who’s a ministry partner. It’s a group of three. But we know that something happens here and it’s less noticeable. It says in verse 10, “Now after he had seen the vision, immediately…” Notice the word, “we.” If you contrast that with verse eight, which says ‘they came down to Troas,’ what we know is this is the place where Dr. Luke, who becomes the writer of the Book of Luke and the recorder of the Book of Acts, joins that team.
It goes from “they” in verse eight, to “we” in verse 10. It continues that way all the way through. Luke has become part of this group that is trying to figure out what God is up to. It’s worth noting that one of the other things that stands out here is that even after Paul has this vision, and it’s going to teach us something about sustainment, it says, “We sought to go to Macedonia,” verse 10, “Concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.” It’s subtle, but it’s important. We concluded the Lord had called us.
Paul gets this vision, but it’s not like he says, “I absolutely know.” He had the impression that God was calling them to get on a ship and go across the Aegean to Macedonia. It’s clear here that Paul, even as a leader, brings this to the group and they decide together. It’s almost like the team is sitting with the vision and setting things together to clarify and solidify what they thought the spirit was saying. I find that wonderfully practical. It’s the kind of thing that will keep us from making big mistakes in our lives. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone say, “well, God told me to do this.” I think, “I’ve seen a lot of damage done to the name of God.”
When it comes to sustainment, it’s really important that we bring others in to further, as they were doing, clarify God’s leading. It falls under that principle, measure twice, cut once. It’s very important. There is a humility about it that before Paul even embarks on a course, even though he has this deep impression and vision, he brings it before the others. I’m assuming he was shaken and stirred by the vision. But he brings in Timothy, Luke, and Silas. They talk the matter over to clarify what he believes God is saying to them. Do you see the humility in that? Do you see the wisdom in that, to think it through?
We may find ourselves on the verge of significant life choices. We come to them inevitably. When we get there, we try to do what we think God wants us to do. What would be the best? I hope that’s a priority for us. Otherwise, we’re just on our own. When we are trying to figure out, is this what God’s doing? Is this door something God’s opening up? It’s really important to bring others into that conversation, who love God and know us. Do you know why? They become travelers on our journey with us. The Bible says that in a multitude of counsel, there is safety. Many mistakes in life could have been averted by having quality counsel, prayer, and humble discussion to clarify and discern. As I said, I’ve seen a lot of people come into the church wounded because somebody in the name of God told me and I did something pretty reckless and unthinking. I’m not even talking about the bad, bad stuff. I’m talking about life decisions in the name of faith.
There is time to have faith and there’s a time to step out. I’m going to talk about that in a moment. But there’s also a place for wisdom, understanding, and factoring in our own capacity to get things wrong. We must always suspect our own righteousness. Never should we ever get so confident. I said, the word reckless comes to mind because I’ve watched a lot of collateral damage of people who’ve been injured. Sometimes it took years before they’d even walked through the doors of a church again. Because somebody in the name of God said, this is what we must do. Or a family member got out there and in the desire to honor God, did something pretty reckless. They weren’t exercising wisdom or bringing others into that conversation, being prayerful and humble. If Paul gets a vision from the Lord and still feels the need to conclude together, then if this is what God is indeed saying, how much more does that mean for you and me? I think it means a lot. The flip side of the coin is once we discern that God is opening up a door, then once we’re clear and unified around a sense of God’s purpose, we should act without delay and buy the ticket. It says immediately, once they’ve decided together, the Lord is in this, they immediately leave. They bought the ticket.
There is a time when we don’t want to delay. It is God’s impression on your heart. Maybe you have a yearning to give, to serve, to reorder something in our life, or maybe there’s an adjustment you sense coming. Sometimes out of a service that you’re sensing, God’s wanting you to address something in your life. God’s wanting me to open something up. God’s wanting me to take a step in a direction. There is a time to buy the ticket. Do it. Immediately, they bought the ticket. They got on the boat and started to sail.
You’ll read in the scripture that there’s an interesting part of the life and ministry of Jesus. I don’t even know how to fully process it in a logical sense. It says there are certain times where Jesus would say that the Spirit of the Lord was present to heal. It was implying that not all time is the same. There are certain moments where God’s presence is available in certain ways and not in other ways. There are healing moments that are accessible. There are times where God is moving in your life and there’s a window to respond. It’s as if we’ve gotten to a point where we understand or have a pretty good idea, and we need to act on it. We need to buy the ticket. The Quakers have this concept. They talk about how a person has to respond to God when God’s moving.
The Quakers talk about how a person will be restless and uneasy until they, the phrase they use is, clear themselves of their burden. Interestingly enough, the phrase, ‘clear themselves with their burden,’ what they mean by that is there will be some areas where we will not have peace until we respond in our life to what God really is prompting us to respond to. I am not going to have peace until I release that until I respond to that burden. Until I clear myself of this burden. I’m saying, there’s a time where God will work miracles because what we’re about to see happen is phenomenal. It literally will change the world. They didn’t know it at the time and had no clue. They couldn’t see it. But what Paul’s group was about to do is bring the message to Europe for the first time. When that message hits the shores of Europe, it is destined to turn the Roman empire upside down and change the world as we know it.
A group of four, crossed the waters from Troas over to the rim of Greece, stopping along the way in Samothrace. They go from Troas they decide, okay, God must want us to cross over to Macedonia. We’ll head towards Philippi. Before they got to Philippi, they would stop at three little islands on the way to Samothrace. In verse Acts 16:11 it says, “We boarded a boat at Troas. Sailed straight across to the island of Samothrace.” That island is halfway between Asia Minor and Europe. It now separates Turkey and Greece. It says that they stopped halfway because they didn’t want to take the chance of sailing at night. There were more hazards in night sailing than there were in sailing in the day. They decided to stop at a prudent midway point. It says, “the next day we landed in Neapolis,” which implied the wind was with them.
If you could see in our mind’s eye, the sparkling turquoise beauty of the Aegean sea with the light breeze and sun dancing. They have a sense of adventure for God in their minds as they feel the breeze and await the moment that they cannot see but sense because God has given them a sign. A sign of a man in a dream from Macedonia, calling us to come and help. They’re on their way. It got me thinking because that journey ends up taking them to Samothrace and the following day they land in Neapolis. On the way back, that same journey is going to take them five days because the wind was against them. As I sat there, I thought, “Lord, I thank you for the times in my life where the wind is with me. I don’t want to take them for granted.” Let’s not take for granted the seasons when the wind is at our back.
We are always talking about when things go wrong and they do at times, you’re just sailing along. It’s going great. Things are smooth. The next thing you know, a storm hits out of nowhere. Sometimes when a storm hits us in our life, it can come in wave after wave, after wave. All of a sudden we’re wondering, what is going on? It could be relational. It could be about health. It could be our job. It’s amazing. It could be stuff that happens in our nation, things that can disturb our peace. There’s a lot of things there.
When we have those seasons, we can say, “Lord, when I have the season and the wind is at my back, help me not to take it for granted.” That’s true for all people. We focus on what’s wrong. Often, we focus on what’s going wrong, what is not going well, relationally. I don’t know if we put the same energy in as being grateful. It’s one of the beauties of Thanksgiving. I think that season actually invites us to be thankful and grateful people. When the wind is at our back and we’re in a good season in life, pause to thank God. Just enjoy that. Be open to just being grateful to the Lord. Once in a while, we need to say, “thank you, Lord, for the people that you’ve given me in my life, who mean so much.” We take things for granted until we start to lose them. verse 12 it says. “From there”, okay, watch what happens. So Paul’s group landed in Neapolis, the port city of Philippi. The first time the gospel ever lands in Europe. The world was about to be changed forever, although, no one realized it at the time. Verse 12, “From there”, and Luke’s writing this, “We reached Philippi.” Philippi would have been about 10 miles from Neapolis. Philippi was, as we’re told in the scriptures, a major city of the district of Macedonia. In fact, it was designated as a Roman colony, which gave it special rights and privileges.
Paul says, “We stayed there for several days.” Several days is interesting because it was optimism that had gripped them. We may assume the optimism started to wane because they had gone there believing that God sent them. We see this vision of this man from Macedonia. Where’s the man from Macedonia? Where is this conversation we’re supposed to have? That was the vision. Surely God had a plan. They felt confident about that and were deeply impressed to cross the sea, buy the ticket, get there, and come to the land. But there was no man from Macedonia.
Paul and his group started asking the question, did we miss this again? Maybe Paul’s thinking that way. They had found their way to the city. They’d traveled 10 miles by foot into Philippi. Philippi was clearly a city that had its own kind of impressiveness. It was the end of the road. It was the terminus of a road that led from Rome, called the Ignatian way. They thought this is exactly where God wants us to be. But more than a few days have passed. We’re told here, several days had passed and nothing seemed to be happening. The other problem they encountered was that they didn’t envision because they wouldn’t have known it.
Paul’s strategy, whenever he would go into a city to take the message of Jesus, would be to go to people who were familiar with the scriptures as a starting point. The first thing he would look for is a synagogue. He would go to a synagogue where, as a former Pharisee, was very comfortable. He would begin to talk about how Jesus was the promised Messiah. Maybe even share his own story about how he was a Pharisee and how God had radically altered his life when he was confronted by Jesus.
Paul had three groups in mind when he came into a city. He would go to a synagogue. He knew that in a synagogue, in a Gentile city like Philippi, Ephesus, or places where there would have been a synagogue, he wasn’t a hundred percent sure that there was one until he got there. There are three people. There are Jewish men and women, but the Jewish men who would have had familiarity with his understanding of the scripture, could talk to them about Jesus. There was another group, we call them proselytes. They were Gentile, non-Jewish people who had completely embraced the faith of Abraham and the teachings of the older Testament. They had embraced the scriptures and the God of Israel as their own. They made a cultural jump to become Jewish themselves. That meant, as a man, they were circumcised. They were no longer actually viewed in the synagogue as being Gentiles. They were viewed fully as Jewish.
There was a third group Paul knew would be there. They were called God-fearers. They were Gentiles, non-Jewish people who had embraced the faith of the Jewish people and the God of Israel. They had not made a cultural leap to become Jewish. Paul, based on his experiences, started to understand the people that he had the most access and seemed to be most receptive. They were the Gentiles who had attached themselves to the synagogue but had not wanted to leave their culture behind. The message of Jesus was a message that would translate very easily for them. It was something that they could be able to still hold to their culture. At the same time fully embraced the idea of Jesus, the Messiah.
Paul has in his mind that the first place he was going to look for was a synagogue to talk about Jesus. The problem was, they got to Philippi wondering where’s the synagogue? They can’t find one. It doesn’t exist. The reason is that in his day, it required 10 believing Jewish males to establish a synagogue. It was a patriarchal culture. What that tells us is, Phillip did not have that. They have no idea what to do. They hear a rumor. There is a gathering. It actually has more women in it. There are some men there. They don’t have enough for a synagogue, but they gather by the river and have a prayer gathering on Saturdays, the Sabbath. If you want to talk to somebody who might be open, go check that out. There’s no synagogue. Let’s see what happens.
It says on the Sabbath day, Acts 13, “We went a little way outside the city to a riverbank where we thought people would be meeting for prayer. We sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who was a believer in God.” Remember, what was in their vision? A man from Macedonia. They can’t find one. They go to this prayer meeting and do you know what they find? A woman named Lydia. She is a business woman. She’s wealthy and a believer. She has influence. Lydia is a seller of very exquisite garments that are made from a purple dye that comes from her region. She has gained a clear sense of capacity as a businesswoman. Even in a culture such as that, she has extensive influence. Let’s look at what the Bible says about what happens in that conversation.
It says that she was there to worship God. As they were talking and sharing, the Lord opened up her heart and she accepted what Paul was saying about Jesus. They meet, not a man from Macedonia, but a woman. Not just any woman, but a remarkable business woman. A Gentile believer named Lydia, who was a seller of purple. She’s not only wealthy, but she has a house that is large enough to give them the opportunity to stay. Now, they have a place, she invites them to stay. She also has a house that becomes large enough to host the first church in Philippi. Her house became the gathering place of the first church in Philippi.
The verse continues on to say, “One of them, Lydia, was from Thyatira. A merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. She listened to us and the Lord opened up her heart. She accepted what Paul was saying. Then,” verse 15, “She and her household were baptized. She asked us to be her guests. If you agree that I am a true believer, I sincerely mean this, would you do me the honor to come and stay at my home. She urged us until we agreed.” Lydia’s example is a reminder that wealth can be beneficial and life-giving if it’s put into play for the kingdom. I will say this, if it’s not, in the end, it’s left behind.
I had this conversation with someone recently. We were talking about someone who had died, who was well-known and had exorbitant wealth. I could not help but think about what Jesus taught, that power is fleeting and wealth must be left behind. Money can not be taken with us. If it’s only done, even for good things, which is better than bad things, that have no connection to the things of God, Jesus said they have no eternal significance or meaning. He said, “Lay up for yourselves, treasure in heaven, not on this earth.”
When I look at Lydia, I see a woman who’s investing herself. I looked at that phrase; the Lord opened up her heart. This is the last thing I’ll submit for all of us and I looked at my own heart on it. Do you want to talk about a key for sustainment? May the Lord open up our hearts to His words, promptings, and plan for us. May our guarded walls crumble at His feet. May we give Him all who we are. Just think about the good and the not so good. Do you know what happens when our heart opens up to the Lord? It’s as if we are asking, “Lord, what would you have for my life?” I want to give it to you, for you. I want to live for you.
It made me as I was processing this, think about what happens when we open up our hearts to the Lord. I said,” Lord, I don’t want my heart only to be open to you on the day that I accepted you as my savior. I want my heart to be open to you all the days of my life. I want to live for you with all of my shortcomings. And yes, even my sins. I want to give you my best.” I was thinking of Lydia and how she opened up her heart to Jesus. I just said, “I’m going to write a poem as a prayer. I put it in there for you. This is an honest word for me. I just want to share it with you.
I called it All of Me: “Contradictions and rejections. Have you ever felt rejections? Painful parts, sins reflection. Times of sorrow and watery eyes, some things live while others die. No me now, love me now, so I can be who you made me to be. Born alive, I now believe, born alive, I now receive. Given life, I give it back. All I have, I return. More of you, less of me. Once was blind, now I see. Once was bound, but now set free. All of me, my hopeful yearnings and inspiration, devotions call. And in the end, heaven’s ovation.” All of me.
Let’s pray together. Lord, I thank you for the opportunity to be able to talk about your words together and to share them. I pray that some things will hook into our hearts and come alive. Perhaps some of us are at a point where we need to buy the ticket. We need to act on good intentions, not just think about it. Act with good intention. Oftentimes, the time is now. The time to engage in the community. The time to give, the time to honor you with a life well lived. Tomorrow is not promised, life is very short. All things will be left behind, but that which is eternal, what you taught us, is how we live now, has an impact on what is yet to be. Keep our hearts soft and open. All of me, help us to sing that song as well, imperfectly, but honestly. We ask for your blessing. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.