As we get ready to send off the Kenya team on Saturday morning, I am reminded of the verse that stayed with me across all my travels in Africa. David writes in Psalm 139:9-10, "If I rise on the wings of the dawn or settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast." Travel in Africa, and indeed travel through life, requires flexibility, patience, and faith that God will indeed lead and guide no matter where we go.
Our scripture for this Sunday is full of Paul's travels. If you have a chance, read Acts 15-16 ahead of time. You will see many highs and lows and sudden turns. As I reread it this week, I was struck by one common thread throughout the journey - the ever-present guiding hand of the Lord. But the interesting thing is that the Lord almost never uses the same method to lead them. As you read these passages, look for the different ways God leads - through others, through scripture, through visions, and even through an earthquake.
Acts 15 starts with Paul and Barnabas seeking the guidance of the apostles in Jerusalem about how to treat Gentile believers. They sought the leading of the Lord through the submission to their elders.
At the end of chapter 15, though, a dispute breaks out between the two of them about John Mark. Barnabas wanted to take a chance on him and Paul did not. They ended up going their separate ways (and John Mark later became our Gospel writer for the book of Mark.) God used their conflict to lead them to reach even more people than they could have if they had stayed together.
In Chapter 16, we find Paul frustrated - he wanted to go to Bithynia, but the Lord stopped him. They took a detour through Troas, where two things happened - Paul saw a vision pointing him to Macedonia. And a subtle change in the narration happens - it goes from "they" to "we." Dr. Luke must have joined them in Troas. God led them through a detour, and then He led them through a vision.
That vision led them to Philippi and the conversion of Lydia, a prosperous woman who helped them start a church in her home. After a riot in Philippi, Paul and Silas ended up in prison. God sent an earthquake to break the prison doors wide open. But instead of leading them out of prison, this time they were supposed to stay. Because they stayed, the jailer and his whole family were converted to the faith.
How has the Lord led you in your life? Were there earthquake-sized signs? Or were some of them through gentle nudges, blocked paths, or your own mistakes? Take a little time this week to write down some of the ways God has led you to where you are today.
The key following God's leading is learning how to listen. As we spend time with the Lord, our Good Shepherd, we learn to hear His voice above all others. We learn to recognize His fingerprints as He guides our circumstances. And we learn how to trust when it seems like He is silent.
May God continue to hold you fast, whether you rise on the wings of the dawn, settle on the far side of the sea, or stay deeply rooted where He has planted you. Our God is faithful, and He will do it.