Where is the Spirit leading?
September 18, 2011
Scripture: Acts 16:1-15
I don't know if anyone's counting but we've been studying the book of Acts together now for about eight months and we've covered a lot of basic Christian truth.
1. We’ve learned about MISSIONS
o How the very first Christians obeyed our Lord's command and shared the Gospel, "in Jerusalem/Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the world." (Acts 1:8)
2. We've studied THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
• Looked @ events surrounding Pentecost Sunday.
• God gave His Spirit to Christians/empowered them to turn the world upside down.
3. We've looked/lives/SPIRITUAL GIANTS
• Christians like Peter and Stephen, Philip and Barnabas.
4. We even studied the GREATEST CONVERSION STORY OF ALL
• Saul, the persecutor of Christians who was turned into Paul, the world's greatest Christian missionary.
5. We have seen how GOD'S GRACE-FILLED LOVE EXTENDS TO ALL PEOPLE-Jew and Gentile alike.
6. We've studied THE POWER OF PRAYER
• When the whole church prayed for Peter in jail!
7. Last week we studied the importance of HOW TO DEAL WITH CONFLICT between Christians.
One more very important truth we have covered in our study of the book of Acts and it is this:
• God GUIDES and directs His people.
In fact, many scholars refer to the Book of Acts as "The Book of Guidance"
• Because there are so many examples of God's specific guidance recorded within its pages.
• the book begins with the apostles being GUIDED to go to Jerusalem and wait until they were empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Twice when apostles were imprisoned, God sent an angel to GUIDE them out of jail.
• In Acts 6, before appointing the first deacons, the apostles sought and received God's GUIDANCE.
• Philip was GUIDED by the Lord to a specific road where he met and ministered to an Ethiopian official.
• Because of that GUIDANCE the Gospel was taken to the African continent.
• Afterwards Philip was instantly transported/GUIDED to another place of ministry in Azotus.
• Ananias was GUIDED by God to go and pray for the persecutor Saul.
• God even gave him the exact address where Saul was.
• Peter was GUIDED to the house of that Roman Centurion, named Cornelius.
We could go on and on because, as I said, the book of Acts shows us over and over how God does indeed GUIDE His people through life.
It is just as Isaiah 28:29 proclaims,"The Lord of hosts is WONDERFUL IN COUNSEL and EXCELLENT IN GUIDANCE."
And the fact that God does guide and direct His people-
• Well, this should make our ears perk up because we all want and need guidance in life.
• I mean, life is full of decisions.
• Often our days feel like a"fork in the road" don’t they?
• we all need help in knowing which way we should go.
When we're younger, we want to know where to go to college and what to major in when we get there.
• We want to know what career is best for us.
• We want guidance as to marry.
• We want direction when it comes to raising children.
I could go on and on but you know what I mean-we all need guidance in life.
In fact, God's guidance is especially important to us since we live in a fallen world where morals are blurred
• This makes it harder/harder to know what is right/ is wrong.
So, the fact that God LEADS and DIRECTS His people down the road of life is good news for us.
I mean, in so many ways, we are ALL lost sheep in need of a Shepherd.
1. Well, the question is, how do we access the omniscient guidance that our Good Shepherd offers?
2. How do we discern God's will when it comes to life's decisions?
These are the questions I want us to answer this morning.
God gives us some guidance as we look at Apostle Paul on his 2nd missionary journey.
But before we get to it let's review a bit.
When we last left Paul/Barnabas had parted company.
• Sharp disagreement over Jon Mark.
• Couldn’t come to terms/missionary dream team parted ways
Barnabas took Jon Mark and went on mission to Cyprus.
And Paul chose Silas and headed toward his hometown of Tarsus-stopping along the way to visit and encourage each of the churches he'd founded on his first missionary journey.
• As he journeyed/Paul must have thought about disagreement.
• I mean, these guys had been close friends.
• How could he NOT think about it?!
• I think Paul's thinking eventually led to his repenting
• he followed Jesus' command in Matthew 18
• Took responsibility for his contribution to their quarrel.
I think he eventually prayed and asked for God's forgiveness.
Maybe Barnabas was right-Jon Mark deserved a second chance-the same second chance that God had given Paul.
• I say this/cause Paul did change his opinion of Jon Mark.
• 2 Timothy 4:11 he wrote, "[Jon Mark] is helpful to me in my ministry."
• Paul even asked Timothy to bring Jon Mark with him to Rome where Paul was imprisoned.
Paul may have repented/attitude toward Barnabas
2 Cor. 9:6 he wrote approvingly of Barnabas' ministry.
We can RE-DISCOVER and re-align ourselves with God's will in our repentance.
We know God wouldn't have wanted Paul/Barnabas/part angrily.
• It is never God's will for us to argue to the point that our Christian fellowship is destroyed.
• When Paul and Barnabas realized their sin and repented, they were able to once again join God in His will and work.
Good eventually came from this "split"
• Things that God would have willed to happen.
• AFTER this dispute, the mission’s effort was doubled.
Instead of One Team going out-TWO departed:
• Paul/Silas and Barnabas/Jon Mark.
• Plus, Jon Mark was able to prove himself-and he did.
He was an indispensable helper to Paul in the years to come.
He also wrote/first gospel, apparently with Peter's firsthand experience.
• Another good thing that came from all this
• Paul met and enlisted two new mission team members.
• First, there was Timothy-a young believer who would also play a vital part in the missions movement.
He's mentioned for the first time in our text for this morning.
• Paul led to Timothy to Christ
• Timothy became a pastor
• Now Timothy/gifted by God/shepherd/churches Paul started.
And-second, when they came to Troas, Paul met and enlisted a doctor named Luke.
• Note in verse 10 when referring to Paul and his companions it no longer says "They" but "We."
• This is because Luke, the man God used to author the book of Acts, has now joined the team.
This all shows that when we stubbornly disobey God
• In those times when we willfully disregard His will
• If we repent we can rediscover His guidance and rejoin Him in His work.
Okay, with that in mind, let's literally LOOK at the text by using The Visual Bible. Acts 16:1-15
Let’s use this BOOK of GUIDANCE-to answer our question of the day, namely:
• "How does a person find God's will?
• How do we access His much-needed guidance in life?"
1. Well, first off the Bible teaches that to do so you must be a CHRISTIAN.
Romans 8:14 says,"...those who are LED by the Spirit of God, are the SONS of God."
You see, when you accept Christ/God adopts you as His child and when that happens His Holy Spirit comes to dwell within you.
• One of the Holy Spirit's purposes is to reveal the will of God to you.
• Jesus promised that when the Holy Spirit came He would speak in ways that would, "...guide us into all truth."
• So, only Christians, have the Spirit's presence within,
• We must have this "inside help" if we are going to be able to hear God's guidance clearly.
Remember Jesus did not say, "I will SHOW you the way"...He said, "I AM the Way."
Well, Jesus is the path to the will of God.
• There is no other way to access it.
• take full advantage of God's wisdom in life
Now, if you're a Christian you may be wondering exactly how God speaks through the Holy Spirit.
• Basically this inner guidance is a product of spiritual growth.
• the longer we walk with Jesus
• the deeper our relationship with Him becomes
• the more we are able to recognize His guidance.
Think of it this way: The longer two people are married, or work together, or are friends, the more they get to know each other-to the point that they can almost read each other's minds.
They sense what the other may say or do or want in certain situations.
For example, I know Joy’s likes and dislike’s. 20 years of marriage has taught me this so she no longer has to ask.
In our years together, I've learned this and other things about her and she's learned the same kinds of things about me.
We know the way each other thinks.
Well, that's how it is when you are attuned to the Spirit of God.
• The longer you walk with Him,
• The more you develop a sense of what He wants you to do and not to do.
• When we are outside of His will there is a feeling of unrest
• So our hearts tell us we need to slow down and listen for God's quiet promptings.
• When we yield to these promptings we experience a sense of quiet peace.
Another thing...as Christians we must understand God's main concern-
• to grow us spiritually/conformed to the image of His Son.
• Our human tendency is to focus solely on our calling
• On where we should go and how we should get there and what we should do when we get there.
But God's main concern is the process that He is taking us through to mature us and make us more like Jesus.
2. Secondly, to access God's guidance, ...we must ADMIT that we need it.
Do you remember 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 will direct your paths."
In these familiar words God is cautioning us to be wary of prideful human reactions to complex life situations.
• We need to humble ourselves and realize God's help in ALL our decisions.
• The problem is, we tend to go to God only after we've stubbornly gone our own way and failed.
• This always causes problems because human perspective is limited
• We NEED God's input in the decision making processes of everyday life.
No matter how smart we are or how many life experiences we have under our belt we still need to realize that human judgment is always limited and sometimes wrong.
• We need God's omniscient mind on the matters of life
• But so often we ignore His inner guidance because we think we know better and would prefer to go our own way.
• We know what God's will is-
• we hear his still, small voice loud and clear,
• But we don't want to follow it.
• We stubbornly think we know what's best for us.
Well, the fact is no one knows what is better for us than God.
As Hebrews 4:13 says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to Whom we must give account."
A required character trait in getting God's guidance is humility.
We must admit that we can't find our way through life without His help.
3. The third thing we must do in order to discern God's leading is to simply use the guidance TOOLS that He has given us-and He has given us several tools.
A. First there is the Bible.
We saw the Christians in Acts 15 using this tool. Remember?
When they were trying to determine God's will when it came to the Gentiles, who were professing faith in Jesus,
• They looked to the Scriptures for guidance.
• Peter pointed out the Scriptures first.
• The Jews had not been able to keep/law/God
• This proved the law was not sufficient to save so it was wrong to require the Gentiles to do so.
James quoted the prophet Amos who said that the Gentiles would bear God's name and as a result of all this seeking guidance in the Scriptures.
• The fact is guidance from the Lord is ALWAYS in accordance with His written Word.
• He will never lead you to do something that conflicts with the perfect wisdom of the Bible.
This Scriptural wisdom if found in the form of both principles and precepts to guide us through life's decisions.
PRECEPTS are clearly marked statements like "Thou shalt not steal." That's like the signs on Ribault Road that say, "Speed Limit 35." –
• A law I imagine all of us have broken by the way!
• According to those signs speeding is anything over thirty-five miles per hour.
• That's a precept-very clear-easy to understand and apply.
There are also PRINCIPLES in Scripture.
• General guidelines to apply to various situations in life.
• Jesus said we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.
• A principle to be applied to all of our relationships/other people.
It is like the signs in my neighborhood that say, "Drive Carefully."
• This may mean 25 miles an hour when the road is clear,
• or it may mean 10 miles an hour in rain covered roads
• or when kids are playing near the street.
Well, the principles and precepts of God's Word will never steer you wrong.
Hear this: the most effective way to receive God's guidance is to study His written Word!
Now, I imagine most of us would prefer something flashier
• We want clouds to part/we want a visit from/angel or two.
• We want to hear God's booming voice in the night
• well, those things may or may not happen to you
• But the fact is the surest, most effective way to receive God's guidance is from the Bible.
As Psalm 119 says, "His written Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path!" and it is!
The simple truth is about 95% of God's will for our lives is contained within the pages of this Book
• The more you read it, the better you will know God's will for your life.
• In the Bible, God has already told us how He wants us/live,
• love, talk, take care of our bodies, handle our money,
• Pray, function as a family member or employee, and many other things.
So, many of the decisions we face in life are no-brainers,
Because the best course of action is clearly spelled out in Scripture.
If someone were to wonder if they should sell their house, take all the money, and buy lottery tickets we could tell them with absolute confidence that according to the Bible,
"God would say NO!" His written Word is clear about "get rich quick" schemes or attempting to earn our livelihood through games of chance.
• Should we tell the truth? The Bible says yes.
• Should we marry a non-Christian.
• 2 Corinthians 6:14 says that is not best for us.
• Should we consider marriage a life-time commitment?
• The Bible says YES.
The fact is, the clearest and most direct route to the guidance of God is through His revealed Word, the Bible.
We ignore it at our own peril.
B. Okay, the second tool God has given us is COMMON SENSE.
This is what Paul was doing when he circumcised Timothy.
His actions might seem inconsistent in view of his recent stand against the legalizers at the Jerusalem council, but it was not.
You see, Paul's concern was for the defense and propagation of the gospel
• He knew that in order for Timothy to have access to the synagogues where Paul went he would/circumcised.
This little bit of surgery made sense.
As a missionary Paul had enough God-given sense to know that he had to be willing to, "...become all things to all men...so that by all possible means, he might save some." (1 Cor. 9:22)
• many times to be in the center of God's will simply requires our following Paul's example and using the brains that God gave us.
This reminds me of the story of a man who lived in a very low-lying area near a river-a man who DIDN'T use the common sense God gave him.
One day a man in a jeep drove up one day and said, "This area is about to be flooded. You need to get out of here." The man replied, "I'll just stay here and trust the Lord to take care of me."
And very soon the water was swirling around his front porch as he sat in his rocking chair.
Soon after that, a man came by in a boat, saying, "You need to get out of here. The water is getting higher and higher." The man replied, "I'll be okay. I'm just going to trust the Lord."
Finally, the man ended up on his roof because of the rising water.
It had already flooded his house. Suddenly a helicopter appeared overhead and lowered a chair so he could be taken to safety. He shouted back, "It's okay. I'll stay here. I'm trusting the Lord to take care of me."
Well, the man drowned and when he got to heaven he complained to the Lord that He hadn't taken care of him.
And the Lord said, "I sent you a jeep, a boat and a helicopter. What else did you want me to do?"
You see, seeking guidance from God does not mean we are passive.
• God wants us to learn to use the brains He has given us.
• He wants us to become wise followers.
• So when we face important decisions, we must be not passive but active!
• We must pray, seek guidance, AND exercise judgement, wisdom, initiative, choice, and responsibility.
After all, we are created/God's image and God is not passive.
I think this is what Paul meant in Romans 12:1 when he referred to the Christian life as "reasonable service."
Following God involves using the reasoning powers of the wonderful minds He has given us.
C. And then, the third "guidance tool" God has given us is the WISE COUNSEL of others.
Proverbs 12:15 says, "The fool is right in his own eyes but he who heeds counsel is wise."
This is what was done at the Jerusalem counsel. As they tried to decide what to do about this issue Paul sought the input of Peter and James and the others.
• And this tool still works for us.
• God often uses other people/guide us to/center of His will.
• So, when you face a decision,
• follow the example of all those people who played "WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE?"
Use a "lifeline" and call on someone whom you know to be a mature, experienced disciple.
But be careful....every church has its share of "self-proclaimed counselors,"
those people who are unrecognized by the leaders of the church but who love to inflict their opinion on others.
• Such counsel is often worth approximately what it costs....nothing.
• The healthy approach is to talk to several people who we know are wise and godly,
• people we admire because we know they have been around the "spiritual block" so to speak and ask them for input.
Proverbs 24:6 says, "In a MULTITUDE of counselors there is safety."
• Think of the church as a smorgasbord of wise people
• Whom you can go to/get qualified counsel/given matter.
I frequently do this. Whenever I face a difficult decision, I often call on several of you, whom I respect and tap into your wisdom to help me discern God's leading.
Think of it like this. It's not necessary to learn the hard way.
We can learn from other people's mistakes-other people's experience.
D. The final tool I want to mention is clearly seen here in Acts 16-the tool of PROVIDENCE.
And providence is simply God opening the doors for us to do His will
and closing the doors that lead to things that are NOT His will.
It's the kind of Guidance Jesus was talking about in Revelation 3 when He said, "I have placed before you an OPEN DOOR that no one can shut..." (Revelation 3:8b)
"If the Lord goes before us, He will open all doors before us and we shall not need ourselves to hammer them down."
It is never a sign of divine leading when a Christian insists on opening his or her own way and riding roughshod over all opposing things.
• If God is calling us to do something
• He will open the doors for us to do it.
• Here in Acts 16 we find a perfect example of this principle.
After adding Timothy to their team Paul and his companions traveled from town to town visiting Christians in the churches he had started.
• Verse 5 says, "The churches were being strengthened in the faith and were increasing in number daily."
• So, things were going wonderfully.
• Paul and his companions were in a pagan region where idol worship was prevalent,
• Yet people were coming to Christ and churches were being founded.
Then they moved on toward the Phrygian/Galatian regions with high hopes.
But look what happened. Verses 6-7 says, "And they passed through the Phyrgian and Galatian region having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia....and when they had come to Mysia, they were trying to go to Bithynia and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them."
• Now, remember-they had great successes up until this point: open doors, green lights.
• Things were working!
• But when they moved into the more central and southern regions, God closed the door.
They assumed then that God was leading them north so they headed for Mysia and Bithynina.
• But once again the door was closed.
And when they arrived and prayed for God's guidance Paul had a night vision of a man from Macedonia saying, "Come on over to Macedonia and help us." (Acts 16:9)
• Think of what this call would require of Paul and his companions.
• They were in Asia.
• Macedonia is all the way across the Aegean Sea on the European side.
• This is another culture, another language, another continent.
• But Paul still responded to God's providential guidance.
• He didn't force his way through closed doors.
• He humbly allowed God to guide him and went through the only door open to him.
Look again at Acts 16:10, "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."
When they arrived they met a woman named Lydia from the city of Thyatira and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.
• This led to the beginning of the church at Philippi,
• The church at Thessolonica, and the church at Corinth.
• This was the first work of evangelism in Europe recorded in the NT and God guided Paul to this wonderful ministry by providentially closing and opening doors.
Well, He guides us the same way today and if we can learn anything from the apostle Paul here,
We learn that closed doors IS guidance-negative guidance.
• It's guidance that keeps us from going where we are not called
• so that in God's time we might come to where God IS calling.
In our lives, God will sometimes shut down an exciting ministry, or allow obstacles in our paths like sickness, financial difficulties, or job failure.
• At times like these it's easy to become frustrated and disheartened.
• We can't imagine why God would shut some of the doors that He does.
• So we try to explain it, saying, "Maybe we just made a mistake...maybe we need to try harder."
• But we must remember that when our Heavenly Father closes a door,
• He merely has His sights on something better
• Something around the bend we can't see yet.
So just as the Book of Acts teaches us, God DOES guide and direct us through life: through the gentle leading of His Holy Spirit, through His written word, through the common sense He has given us, through the counsel of other disciples, and through the doors of providence.
This morning if you are at a crossroads-I encourage you to seek the Lord's will in these ways. Claim His promise in Psalm 32:8 where He says, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you." It may be that God is guiding some of you to make public decisions. Perhaps He is guiding some of you to join this church and serve Him here with us. And if you are here and are not a Christian, then I know that even now God is guiding you right now-drawing, inviting you to become a believer. I know this is God's will. After all, 2 Peter 3:9 says that God, "...is not willing for anyone to perish but for all to come to repentance." Won't you follow His leading and decide today to make Him Savior and Lord of your life? I urge you to heed God's guidance this morning and to make your decision public by walking forward as we sing and sharing that decision----whatever it is-with me.