By: James Green
We have choices to make everyday; some weighty and significant, others of the “fries or onion rings” variety (which, of course, can turn out to be pretty weighty…). Christ followers have the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide us towards obedience and God’s best plan for each of us, still, sometimes the best choices just aren’t crystal clear. Sometimes, people make decision based on emotions, finances, desires and preferences or some other external factor and then need hindsight to see where we got off track in following God’s plan; but what about situations where we make a decision and God says “No” – even though we totally thought we were following Him?
This is what happened to the Apostle Paul during his 2nd missionary journey. In Acts 16:6-7, Paul (who was faithfully following the Lord and bearing fruit on the way!) was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to go to the place where he really wanted to go: Asia. This passage serves as a great reminder for each of us that sometimes “No” from God is a “No” of guidance. The way we are wired, most of us only seem to like affirmative guidance – but clearly, Scripture points us to three important things to remember when God tells us “No”:
1) God knows the future – we don’t! Paul had no idea that he was going to receive a call to Macedonia, where he would pick up a pretty important traveling companion (Dr. Luke – the man that God used to record the inspired writings in Luke and Acts that make up, by volume, almost one half of the New Testament!). When God tells us “No”, we need to remember that He is sovereign over all things and we often can’t remember what we had for breakfast, let alone know what tomorrow will bring (if we receive another day as a gift from God!).
2) God has plans to use other people too! Take a look at 1 Peter 1:1 and we see that Peter’s letter is addressed to many, including believers in both Asia and Bithynia (the two places Paul was forbidden to go). Clearly, God hadn’t ignored the people in these regions, He just desired to use Peter and his disciples to reach them. I remember when God called me to leave my position with Young Life and come on staff at the Chapel. I had prideful thoughts that the ministry of Young Life would probably really struggle without all of my incredible skills! Well, Southeast Missouri Young Life is doing just fine and had an outreach club with 102 kids in attendance just a couple weeks ago – all without any help from me (other than praying!).
3) The God who tells us “No” is the same God who has called us into a relationship with Him! Paul was certainly willing to follow Jesus when He appeared to him on the Damascus Road in Acts 9. However, in Acts 16, Paul appears distraught when the Spirit of Jesus guides him away from something. God, who fearfully and wonderfully made each one of us, has a plan to prosper each one of us. He doesn’t mind the fact that we prepare for things (as a matter of fact, He discourages idleness – He doesn’t want us to sit around twiddling our thumbs and waiting on Him; just read 2 Thessalonians as a reminder!), He simply wants us to remember that when we make plans, He is the one who guides our steps (Proverbs 16:9).
How are we doing with allowing God to guide our steps as we engage in the disciplemaking process? Is God saying “no” to our pursuits and leading us towards following Him; dying to ourselves and investing in others to make disciples who make disciples? I can guarantee that’s one area God won’t say “no”!