This message is the first in a pair of messages about finding God’s direction for your life. The text of the message is found in Acts 16.1-10 and that story illustrates what it takes to find direction for your life. There are three keys found there that will transform your pathway to the future.
How do you know which way to go?
A long time ago I was looking for a job and I applied to an ad for an arborist’s position at Oak Hill country club. And I thought, I should give myself a tour of the country club to see what I might be getting myself into. So one afternoon after my job at the time, I walked onto the course. It was off season, so there weren’t any golfers there. I started to walk. And after the club house was out of sight, everything started to look the same. I didn’t realize it until later, but there are two golf courses back to back there, so there’s acres and acres of golf course to get lost in. And I did. I didn’t have a map, I was too embarrassed to knock on some door somewhere. And it was getting darker. No cell phone, no map and I’m picturing Robin planning my funeral, because that’s what she did when I was way late home from work.
Whether you need it on the spot or in a longer term scenario, we all look for direction. Where should I go? What should I do with my life? Who should I marry, where should I live? And when you’re a Christian, you’ve got some ideas of what you would like to do, but the larger question is: What does God want me to do? What’s His will for me?
We’re going to find out the way God reveals His Will and the way to find out where you ought to be, the path you ought to be on. And you can know it!
Because you can go in the wrong direction.
Our text for the day is Acts 16.1-10
Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek. 4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.
6 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. 7 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. 8 So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 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.” 10 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.
I don’t know about you, but I’m encouraged that the Apostle Paul didn’t know where he was supposed to go. That means that we have a chance of finding God’s direction even if we don’t know what to do right now. So what does this section of Scripture teach us about that?
God mixes days of the “extraordinary” within many more days of “ordinary”, so be faithful in the ordinary.
Paul went and visited already established churches in an area of modern Turkey with a small team. He was in a church fellowship in Derbe and Lystra and he was introduced to a young man named Timothy. As you know, Timothy became Paul’s son in the ministry, did a great deal for God, went to amazing places for God. But it started with the matrix of the ordinary.
Paul was doing just what he did in other places; he encouraged, he read the letter everybody got from the leadership in Jerusalem and he preached and taught. That was pretty routine for Paul.
Timothy was also doing the routine. But there was something extraordinary about that day. Leaders were talking him up to Paul. We think he’s meant for more in the Kingdom. Paul asked some others about him. And then he talked with Timothy himself and found out that he was especially suited for the ministry. And Paul asked him to travel with them.
Timothy was being faithful, even if he never saw the world outside Lystra. He had relationships and served the Lord where he was and worked on his relationship with the Lord Himself all the time. And when the extraordinary came along, he was ready for it. How did you get that promotion? You had some great reviews of your faithful work and you demonstrated you had a higher calling.
Taking first steps into new direction takes faith and courage every time; be prepared for it.
It must have been exciting for Timothy to think about getting out of town, traveling with Paul and the team, but it quickly turned to facing fears when he thought about the reactions to Paul’s preaching in the past. It was Lystra where Paul was dragged outside the city and stoned and left for dead. And then raised from the dead and healed, sure, but that left an impression on Timothy’s mind. To say nothing about the recommended circumcision that he had to look forward to.
People live ordinary because they’re not sure they are intended for anything wonderful and they’re really not sure about what’s going to happen so they stay where it’s safe. Only problem being that they never see the direction God is bringing because they’re too afraid.
My first trip to China was like that. I had travelled extensively… in Upstate New York. I had even gone to Canada a couple of times. But yikes(!), now I was leaving my young family, with a brand new passport, crossing the Pacific, landing in Hong Kong and smuggling Bibles into China. China. The plane trip was nerve wracking, getting used to Asia and China and then smuggling my first load of Bibles through the border. But I am ever so grateful to the Lord that He did that with me. My life has never been the same since, in every good way.
Abiding in relationship to God is essential.
You may choose to do a hundred things in your life that you don’t pray about or hardly even think about, but it’s only the ones that are birthed out of a real relationship with God that are significant. Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” Really Lord, nothing, not grocery shopping or laundry or anything?” No, just nothing significant.
I’ve been reading an old book by a long departed author, E.M.Bounds. It’s called “Purpose in Prayer” and it’s been challenging my roots. Here’s a little section of it:
“Prayer is not a meaningless function or duty to be crowded into the busy or the weary ends of the day, and we are not obeying our Lord’s command when we content ourselves with a few minutes upon our knees in the morning rush or late at night when the faculties, tired with the tasks of the day, call out for rest. God is always within call, it is true; His ear is ever attentive to the cry of HIs child, but we can never get to know him if we use the vehicle of prayer as we use the telephone- for a few words of hurried conversation. Intimacy requires development. We can never know God as it is our privilege to know Him , by brief and fragmentary and unconsidered repetitions of intercessions that are requests for personal favors and nothing more. That is not the way in which we can come into communication with Heaven’s King. The goal of prayer is the ear of God, a goal that can only be reached by patient and continued and continuous waiting upon Him, pouring out our heart to Him and permitting Him to speak to us. Only by so doing can we expect to know Him, and as we come to know Him better we shall spend more time in HIs presence and find that presence a constant and ever increasing delight.”
That challenges me! Because my life is busy and hurried and full, my prayer life, which is really my abiding with Christ, so often gets my briefest and most distracted attention. But not Paul.
Here’s verse 6 and following.
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. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them. 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.
What is the most critical part of finding direction? The familiarity with and the abiding with God. Otherwise how would Paul know that the Spirit forbid them, said no to another direction and then was in the Spirit enough to get a vision of where they should g
God has direction for you!
He loves it when you say, “Not my will but Yours be done!” and really mean it.
So here I am, out on a golf course, turned around and unable to easily figure out my way home. So I prayed. And when I finished praying I saw some cars going by off in the distance. So I went that way. Eventually I came to the main road and finally found my car, which I had parked on the side of the road hours earlier. It was pretty well dark when I reached it. I was so relieved. And so was Robin when I got home.
God will answer your cry for help if you need direction in the moment. But He’s also really good at directing your life in the larger, longer term sense. It does require being faithful in the ordinary days until the extraordinary days come. It requires that we prepare ourselves with the faith and courage needed in order to take the step when it comes. And most of all, we need to change our abiding/prayer life to deepen our life in the Spirit so that we can be able to understand what opportunities are from the Lord or not from the Lord. Preaching in Turkey sounds good and godly unless God Himself tells you no.
If you aren’t a devoted Christian yet, you need to listen to God’s direction. “Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”