“And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.” (Acts 16:10, AV)
When I was in the military, I often heard the following. “There was the right way, the wrong way, and the captain’s way.” It was kind of a humorous pun when you consider that we were taught to do things the right way and not the wrong way. Moreover, anything but the right way is the wrong way. This pointed to a deeper truth. Often our ways are not the best ways and our plans are not the best plans. It behooves all of us to find the best ways and best plans in life, and especially when we are following God’s calling in ministry.
On Paul’s second missionary tour, he and the team planned to minister in the province of Asia. However, Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit forbade them from preaching there (v6). Not being able to preach in Asia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, which was north of Asia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them (v7). When all their plans seemed to have failed, Paul had a vision of a man in Macedonia, a region in the northeastern part of the Greek peninsula, asking for help (v9). Paul took this as a sign that they should go there. They immediately departed and entered Philippi, a leading city of Macedonia (v12). Here Paul preached and a woman named Lydia became the first convert in Macedonia (v14-15).
It is interesting that Paul wanted to go to Asia to preach the gospel and yet, the Lord prevented him. We do know that the Lord’s Great Commission program included preaching the gospel to the ends of the earth. So, why did the Lord not let the team go there? We really do not know the full answer to that question. We can only conclude that God had a better plan.
We also know that Paul ultimately would go to Asia as we read of his ministry in Ephesus, a prominent city in Asia. From this, we can conclude that the Lord did plan for Paul to go to Asia, but His plan was for Paul to go to Macedonia first. God is in charge of the timing of His Great Commission program.
There are several big lessons for us who are trying to join God where He is at work in life and ministry. First, the Lord is in charge of His program and He directs our steps. The most important thing is that the purpose of our heart is towards the Lord and His program, which means total commitment. It is not necessary to know perfectly where the Lord is taking us on this great journey. We need to realize that often we will experience changes in our plans and that the Lord will use these changes to join us with His sovereign purposes. Our response is not to bellyache when things do not go the way we want. It is to surrender our will to the will of God. This means being observant to see where the Lord is working and then joining Him there.
Second, we must also realize that our timing is often not the timing of God. We may have a great plan for our ministry. We may have big plans for ourselves. However, even though these plans may be morally right and will conform to the ministry endeavor, the timing of these plans is in the providence of God. We must be careful not to bust open doors that the Lord has not opened. Paul would go to Asia, but later. For the moment, God wanted him in Macedonia.
Our problem is that we constantly fight the battle of anxiety, wanting to get on with the program of God but not wanting to wait on God. We must learn to wait and to be sensitive to what God is doing, joining Him rather than launching out ahead of Him and calling in vain for Him to come join us.