The Next Step

post date: February 13, 2012

“When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to” (Acts 16:7).

Acts 16:6-10 contains several mysteries and much useful information concerning God’s will. The mysteries revolve around two divine refusals experienced by the apostle Paul and his company. At two definite points early in his second missionary journey, God specifically redirected his steps.

The first refusal came as Paul attempted to enter the province of Asia, due west of Lystra and Derbe. But he was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to go west (v. 6). So he and his companions headed north, passing along the border between Galatia and Phrygia. What happened? How did the Holy Spirit “forbid” Paul to go to Asia? The answer is that no one knows. It might have been through a dream or by means of voice from God or perhaps by the word of a prophet. It’s also possible that certain natural circumstances—a washed out road, military disturbances, etc.—led Paul to conclude that the Holy Spirit was directly blocking his way.

So Paul and his companions moved north, always intent on preaching the Gospel wherever they went. As they moved beyond Galatia, they attempted to go east into Bithynia. Again they were refused, this time by the “Spirit of Jesus.”

Having been twice refused entrance into a particular province by the Spirit of the Lord, Paul’s group now turned west, arriving at the port city of Troas. While there, Paul received a vision of the man from Macedonia (in Greece) saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). Verse 10 ties it all together with this crucial comment: “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.” The word translated “concluding” means to use all the facts at our disposal to arrive at a settled conclusion. It means that Paul and his associates carefully noted how the Holy Spirit had directed them step by step exactly where he wanted them to be. Then came the miraculous vision of the man from Macedonia.

It all fit. God wanted Paul to preach the Gospel in Greece. But that meant crossing the Aegean Sea. It also meant taking the Gospel from one continent to another, which represented a major westward shift in the expansion of Christianity.

All of us struggle with knowing God’s will sooner or later. Should I take the new job or stay with the one I have? Should I get married? If so, who’s going to be the lucky person? Does God want me on the mission field? Should I move to Greenville or to Portland or should I stay in Trenton? The questions are endless.

This paragraph offers a useful guide to discovering God’s will in the nitty-gritty of life. First, we need to make sure we are obeying God in what he wants us to do right now. Second, we must be flexible in light of changing circumstances. Third, we are to ask God to give us specific directions through whatever means he chooses. Fourth, we can trust the Holy Spirit to make God’s will known to us at just the right time. Fifth, we are to use all the information at our disposal to make wise decisions.

Will this remove all doubt? No. In this life most of our decisions will be tinged with some doubt. But we must ask ourselves, whose responsibility is it—ours or God’s? The answer is, God takes responsibility to show us his will. Our part is to obey, to take one step of faith at a time, and to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.

God doesn’t want to hide his will from us. Sometimes we want to know the big picture when God says, “Trust me for the next step.”

It worked for Paul. It will work for us.


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Ray Pritchard
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