6 Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. 7 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. 8 So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.
There are some very interesting points in this passage of Scripture regarding how God’s will comes about in our lives. As we learn to live the Spirit-led life, more and more, we cease from making decisions in the natural, based on what we see and think, and instead make decisions based on what the Holy Spirit is telling us.
Let’s look closer at these encounters that Paul was having with the Holy Spirit. First, the Holy Spirit forbid him to go into Asia and preach the word. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea to Paul to go into Asia, but it was not the right time in God’s plan. There are good ideas and then there are God ideas! The original word translated “forbidden” in verse 6 is the Greek word kolyo and it means “to prevent by word or act.” There are times that God will prevent something in our lives by some act – making it impossible to go in a certain direction. In other words, God closes the door. The promotion at work falls through… the scholarship to school gets denied… the relationship that you thought was from Him ends abruptly, etc. In these times, God will give you a peace in your spirit that this is from Him. It meets with discouragement initially, but as time passes, you begin to understand that is was not God’s will. And then, there are times when the Spirit of God prevents something in our life by speaking to us in the inward man. He gives us a “check” in our spirit that something is not from Him at this time, or gives us peace and a “green light” to move forward. In this instance, Paul got the check in his spirit – a red light – “don’t go!” If we want to be effective messengers for Christ, it is important that we not only have the right message, but also the right audience – at the right time.
Next, Paul and his team tried to go into Bithynia, but again, the Holy Spirit did not permit them. One may think that as long as you are doing what God has called you to do, that you can do it just anywhere. While there may be a measure of blessing in this approach, the fullness of the blessing will only come from being in God’s perfect will. Kenneth Hagin used to have a saying about doing the right thing in the wrong place or at the wrong time; he said that it was like washing your feet with your socks on. If we want God’s full blessing in our lives, we must be willing to go where He wants us. We cannot pursue God’s will with built-in conditions. “God, I will do what You want me to do, but only if…” There is also danger in relying solely on outward signs and confirmations to determine God’s will. While God will often confirm what He is saying in your inward man with outward signs, to base decisions solely upon these external factors is to deny the presence of the Holy Spirit within you. God’s highest order of guidance is through direct communion with you.
I once moved across the country and accepted the pastorate of a church because all of the external factors lined up. I felt that I was finished where I was… this congregation contacted me and wanted me… my house sold on the first day I put it on the market… But all the while, I was miserable in my spirit. I kept ignoring His voice and it got weaker and weaker. I let the outward things overrule what the Holy Spirit was telling me… warning me. It ended up being one of the worst experiences in my life. It is certainly acceptable to pray for God to open doors that He wants you to go through and to close doors that He does not want you to go through; however, we must understand that we have an adversary who seeks to deceive us with a counterfeit. The antidote for that is the discernment that the Holy Spirit gives us in our spirit to know what is from God and what is from the enemy. The word translated “discern” in the New Testament is the Greek word diakrino and it means “to separate, to distinguish one from another.” When two things look the same on the outside, the Holy Spirit is able to show us which one is from God. I have had God tell me that something was from Him and it appeared in the natural that there was no way that it could happen. In fact, everything that God has truly blessed me with has looked impossible at one point or another. If I was basing everything off of opened and closed doors, I would have walked away from God’s blessing many times. If God speaks to you that something is His will, stand in faith, no matter what it looks like in the natural. God has a plan and a purpose in how He is doing things. It’s great when everything falls into place and you have the peace of God to move forward, the green light. But sometimes, God gives us His peace but allows the devil to test us in order to make us battle-tested.
Back to our passage: Paul finally got God’s direction. He saw a vision from God of a man from Macedonia asking him to come over and help. After prayer, it says that Paul “concluded” that this was from God. Once you get God’s direction, make a conclusion! The time for being wishy-washy is over. Don’t be double-minded. James warns us that if we are double-minded that we won’t receive anything from the Lord (James 1:6-8). In our next installment, we are going to see why it was so important that Paul made a firm conclusion in this matter. Stay tuned.