In Acts 16 we see how Paul and his traveling companions like Timothy and Silas were eager to travel throughout the Roman Empire sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. They seemed to be keen on making sure no region was overlooked. Then something curious happens in verses 6 and 7. The Holy Ghost stopped them from going to Asia, including Mysia and Bithynia (western and northwestern regions of Asia Minor). Why would the Holy Ghost stop the gospel from being preached in a certain area after Jesus Christ clearly commanded them to go into all the world preaching the gospel (Mark 16:15)?
To meditate on the message the Holy Ghost is teaching us in this passage, we should probably take into consideration the following things:
- It was important, especially during these early years of gospel ministry, for the Lord Jesus Christ to make clear within his church that he was still in charge and could direct his church’s accomplishments from his throne in heaven. Hence, he did things like direct Peter and John to heal the lame man or told the church in Antioch to set aside Paul and Barnabas for missionary work. These were markers of the Lord’s close watch over his church that are for the servants of Christ in all time periods, everywhere.
- The Lord reserves the right at times to interrupt our plans if he determines that our resources and time would be more fruitful if focused elsewhere for a certain time. It’s great when we’re available to be “instant in season, out of season” for the Lord by making plans to minister certain places at certain times without knowing if the outcome will bear fruit or render zero results. But sometimes God informs us when we need to drop such plans to take our efforts toward a more pressing concern that he knows for sure will give a fruitful outcome. This means…
- God directs the steps of those who listen to him by either calling us to do something or ordering us NOT to do something, using some method of his that unfolds from his Divine procedure. He can enlighten us or expand our knowledge even when we aren’t conscious of his influence, but we have a strong hunch about the right course to pursue. Sometimes we may have promptings that we know undoubtedly are directly from the Lord. There could also be situations where he is obviously keeping us cut off from a certain path or has confined us into taking a specific path. It’s our responsibility to have our spiritual GPS in order for us to hear God’s directions for us, then lovingly obey his wishes when they’re revealed.
- God’s answer to a plea from man could redirect us. This becomes apparent in Acts 16:9 after Paul and his companions dropped their plans to tour Asia. The Lord sent Paul a vision of urgency from Macedonia where a man was requesting on behalf of his community to have the gospel preached there. We find out just how serious the situation turned out to be when Paul and company ended up in the “chief city” of Philippi and all the intense spiritual battles that unfolded there which led to a large number of souls being saved. When God redirects us to mercifully and graciously fulfill the request of someone, we may not encounter a situation as intense as Paul’s, but the outcome that lays ahead of us in such a circumstance may be just as important.
- The Holy Ghost’s redirection may only be a temporary detour from our original intent. Paul and his friends originally intended to go to Asia (whose main city was Ephesus), and Mysia (where Pergamos was), and Bithynia. But the Holy Ghost stopped them at that time. Nevertheless, in Acts 18, Paul finally made it to Asia and stayed in Ephesus for a short while. Ephesus proved to be a huge strategic church for Christianity. Only Jerusalem and Rome are cities mentioned more than Ephesus in the New Testament. After Paul left Ephesus the first time (he returned later), Priscilla and Aquila remained there and were able to teach Apollos “the way of God more perfectly.” At some point we know the gospel was preached in Pergamos because they received a church letter in Revelation and a church was established in Bithynia, mentioned by Peter in his first epistle. It’s possible the Holy Spirit may put up a road block to stop us from pursuing a ministry opportunity at a specific time only to allow us to pursue it somewhere down the line when he determines the circumstances are better.