Summary: God Guides Our Gospel Outreach: Not always where we expect but always where his work awaits.
I love travelling. There’s nothing like getting out to explore the world God has created. Before I head out on any trip, however, I like to consult a guidebook or two. Written by someone who knows the area, a guidebook will point you to things that you won’t want to miss and steer you from those sights and activities which really aren’t that great. A good guidebook can save a traveller time and money, and generally make any trip more enjoyable.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a guidebook for doing ministry? Wouldn’t it be so much easier if God told us exactly where and how he wants us to carry out our gospel outreach? We’re going to learn this morning that God does guide our gospel outreach – not always where we expect, but always where his work awaits.
On his second missionary journey Paul learned first hand how God was guiding his gospel outreach. After returning to the congregations he had started in Asia Minor on his first missionary journey, Paul looked for new territory in which to share God’s Word. The logical place to go was due west to the province of Asia. There lay some big cities like Ephesus and Smyrna. The Holy Spirit, however, prevented Paul and his companions from going into that province so Paul turned his attention north to Bythinia. But again the Holy Spirit prevented Paul from going where he thought he should go.
While we don’t know how the Holy Spirit made his will known, we do know that he didn’t hinder Paul from entering into those territories because the souls there were unimportant. Later, churches would be established in Asia - churches in Ephesus, Colosse, Pergamum, Laodecia, Philadelphia, and other cities. By directing Paul away from that area God was simply telling him, “Not now.”
God continues to guide his gospel outreach and so although he has told us to go into all the world, there are times when he closes doors to certain areas. This congregation has experienced that before. Twice now efforts have been made to start a church in Edmonton, but both times God said, “Not now.” Most recently God has seemed to say “No” to our plans to start and sustain churches in British Columbia. This doesn’t mean that the gospel ministry there is unimportant, or that it’s not happening. The gospel continues to be shared there, just without full time pastors.
After being turned away from Asia and Bythinia, Paul and his companions ended up in Troas, an out of the way port town in the northwest corner of present-day Turkey. Paul must have wondered what God had in mind and he didn’t have to wait long to find out, for while God doesn’t always guide us to where we expect, he always lead us to where his work awaits. Paul found that out in a vision he received in Troas. In this vision Paul saw a man from Macedonia begging him to come over and serve them. God sent this vision to lead Paul to expand his ministry into Europe.
God still works that way to guide our gospel outreach. No, we may not receive visions but we do receive requests from people to serve them. That’s how our synod started its work in Brazil. A man looking for a Bible believing church found out about the Wisconsin Synod and pleaded for our synod to send him support. Keep your eyes and ears open for such calls for help and be ready to share God’s Word with those whom God has put you into contact.
When God guides us to where he wants us to work it’s not always under the circumstances that we imagined. For example when Paul arrived in Macedonia he went to the city of Philippi – the most important city in the region. Based on his vision I wonder if Paul didn’t expect to find a large group of people just waiting to hear the gospel. Paul, however, couldn’t even find a synagogue – the place he usually started his ministry. Instead, Paul found a few gentile women who regularly met down by a river to pray. He went to that group, shared God’s Word and through that ministry God opened the heart of a woman by the name Lydia. Lydia’s conversion reminds us that although God carries out his ministry through us, it’s still his ministry. He is the one that brings people to faith. We only share the message that saves.
Our work could be compared to a certain extent to that of a lifeguard’s. A good lifeguard is not just a strong swimmer but skilled at calming others down. He needs to be otherwise the person he is trying to save will keep thrashing about even after he has grabbed him and started to tow him in. This is not only tiring but dangerous to both the swimmer and the lifeguard.