Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Discerning God's Will: Acts 16:9-15

When Lucy entered the wardrobe, she was looking for a place to hide, what she discovered was the magical land of Narnia. 

Sometimes God opens doors for us that lead us to people & places we would not have expected to go to. This is exactly what happened to Paul & his companions in Acts, but not before two other doors had closed to them. 

Paul was on his second missionary journey 49-52 AD, travelling with Silas & joined by Timothy in Lystra & later on Luke – who wrote the Gospel & the book of Acts.

In Acts 16:6-7 we read ‘Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.  When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.’

Sometimes God opens doors, and sometimes he closes them.

Vicar visiting parishioner – leaves note with Rev 3:20 written on it ‘Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.’ Later that day same card pushed through Vicarage door with Genesis 3:10 written on it "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

Luke doesn’t tell us how the Holy Spirit stopped Paul & his companions from entering both the province of Asia & Bithynia, or how they felt about it.  Maybe they sensed that it wasn’t the right place to go to, or maybe there was something that prevented them from going like illness or opposition, or maybe they received a word of knowledge or prophecy.    

When God closes a door, it can be hard, we can be left feeling dejected and disappointed, especially if it was something we had our heart set upon, something we felt called to, and something we’d been praying about. 

Applying for jobs – Ambleside 

But a closed door can be as much an answer to prayer as an open door. It might be God’s way of saying:

This is not the right way for you. OR
It’s not the right door to pass through right now, but maybe later. OR
There are things I want to deal with in your life first, before I allow this door to open. OR
Sometimes a closed door can be a real blessing, it can be God’s way of saying “I have something different, something better in stall for you.”

Ruth Graham (late wife of Billy Graham) once told an audience once, “God has not always answered my prayers. If He had, I would have married the wrong man—several times.”

When God close a door, it’s often to enable another door to open.  This is what happened to David Livingstone, the Scottish missionary and explorer who first tried to go to China, but prevented by outbreak of First Opium War in 1839, & was led instead to Africa.  He is known as "Africa's greatest missionary, & became an anti-slavery crusade & through his influence the East African slave trade was brought to an end. He wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Herald “if my disclosures regarding the terrible… slavery should lead to the suppression of the East Coast slave trade, I shall regard that as a greater matter by far than the discovery of all the Nile sources together.”

It’s also what happened to Paul & his companions.  During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them’.

Paul was clearly open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. How do we discern the will of God for our own lives?

1) Walk with God.

If you want to know God’s plan for your life, then you must learn to walk with God, to develop a relationship with Him. Christianity is all about relationship rather than just religion.
And so you must cultivate your relationship with God. You must seek to know Him and not just seek to know about Him. Jesus said: My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27

Spend time in His Word - many people want to know what God’s plan is for their lives, but they overlook the fact that God has already shown us what His will is, on so many issues through Scripture.

Take time for prayer. When you pray – give space for God to speak to you in the silence. Write down the question(s) you want to ask God, and listen to God’s spirit to see what comes. Write it down, and compare what you’ve written to what Scripture teaches us about God.

Seek wise Christian counsellors. Share it with other Christians who know you well, and who know & love the Lord & ask them what they think of it.  

Proverbs 11:14: Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.

Get involved in church and join a small group, go on retreat, take every opportunity you can find to nurture your relationship with God & get to know his voice. 

Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.

2) Surrender your will to God’s.

Many times when we say we are seeking God’s will, what we are really wanting to say to God is this: “OK, God, here’s what I’m planning to do. Now I need you to rubber stamp this, all right?”

If you want to know what God’s will is for your life, you must be committed to doing whatever it is that He desires for you to do.

Romans 12:1-2: Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

When we surrender to Him, that is when He really begins to direct our steps.

3) Listen to your heart.

Psalms 37:4-5
Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. (NKJV)
When we are close to God, He begins to shape our desires so that you desire the things that He has already called you to do.

4) Take a look at your circumstances.

Look out for God-incidences – appointment to Carlisle.

The closing of the door to Asia & Bithynia & the vision Paul received, were God incidences. God often uses closed doors to show us clearly what He does NOT want us to do. And He also uses open doors at times to show us what He DOES want us to do.
Sometimes the only way to know if a door is one God wants us to pass through, is to test it.

We never know what will happen when we go through a door God opens.

In the case of Paul & his companions, it resulted in the Gospel being taken to Europe for the very first time.

It resulted in the encounter with Lydia in the city of Philippi. Lydia was clearly an important & influential person in the city, a seller of purple cloth, she was also a worshipper of God, in other words a Jew.  But on hearing Paul speak, she gave her life to Jesus, and she and her household were baptised, and they became the first Christian converts in Europe.
It marked a turning point in the spread of the Gospel, spreading for the first time ever into Europe. 

This would not have happened, if God hadn’t closed certain doors to Paul, and opened another. 

Open doors are not always the easiest doors to pass through. If God opens a door, it doesn’t necessary mean it will be the easy path to take, but if God has opened it, it would foolish not to walk through it.
Think about your life at the moment. Is God closing some doors, and opening others?  What might he want to say to you about this?  If you are sitting there thinking, I have no idea if God is opening or closing doors in my life, then pray about it. Ask him to show you how he might wish to use you, and the people He is leading you to, just as He led Paul to Lydia.  Amen.

Questions to Consider:

  • Can you think of a time when God opened or closed a door in your life? 
  • Is there a door you would like to see opened, but it’s not? What might God be saying to you through this?
  • Is God opening a door for your now? How can you test whether it is from God or not?
  • We are all called to be God’s witnesses, who might God be wanting you to share your faith with? 

To Do:

  • Pray this week that God may open a new door to you - what could it be?
  • Pray that God may lay on your heart one person He’d like you to share your faith with this coming week – who might this be?

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