On March 19, 2020, the state of Texas issued stay-at-home orders that closed indoor seating at restaurants, movie theatres, schools, and limited in-person gatherings to no more than 10 people.
We were not used to any of that. I don’t think any of us had ever been told where we could go and what we could do. It was a wake-up call. Things have started to loosen up a bit, but we have been learning through all of this so many lessons. We’ve been learning about what is most important.
We’ve been learning about how resilient we are. As a church, we’ve seen that even though our strategies have had to change, our mission never changes. And in so many ways, we have seen God do things through us that we didn’t even know were possible.
One of the things that I have been learning is that I am not in nearly as much control of my life as I thought I was. But, God is much more in control of our lives than I ever gave Him credit for. I’ve always said, “God is in control.” But really, I always thought of God’s control as being in control of all the big stuff, but not necessarily the little parts of our lives. Now, I’m seeing that God is in a lot more control than I realized. So, instead of planning months in advance, I’m learning what it means to say what James said in James 4:13,
Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15
We talk like that a lot. We say, “this is what I’m going to do next week, or next month, or next year.” Now, I’m asking the question, like James did, “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow?”
He says that our lives are like a vapor, like when you go out in the morning on a cold day, and you can see your breath in the air, and after a few moments, it disappears. That’s how brief he says our life really is compared with eternity. So, instead, we should say, “If this is what God wants for me, then here’s what I plan to do.”
It’s not wrong to plan, but what do you do when God changes your plans? None of us could have planned for this summer, but it didn’t surprise God. And it didn’t change God’s purpose for your life.
Even though we have had to stay still, that doesn’t mean God has put a stay on His purpose for your life.
Stay doesn’t mean stuck, static, or even stop. So today, I want us to look at a story from the Apostle Paul’s life in Acts:16. Here, Paul is in the middle of his second missionary journey.
The STAY Strategy!
Stop when God says Stop.
Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. Acts 16:6-7
Even Paul didn’t get to go wherever he wanted or do whatever he wanted to do.
He didn’t experience just one lockdown, “don’t go to Asia.” Got it. Let’s go this way, north. “Nope!” There where two consecutive lockdowns! We think of the Holy Spirit as One who opens doors, but sometimes He closes doors for us, too. I’m sure Paul and his team were super frustrated and even confused.
All that Paul and Silas wanted to do was be missionaries so they could preach the Bible and tell people about Jesus. That sounds like a good thing to me.
God wouldn’t allow them to go to Asia, to Bithynia, because God wanted them to do something different. He had another plan for them.
Sometimes, God puts divine roadblocks in our path to protect us from stepping out of His will or doing things at the wrong time. If you’re facing a roadblock, you can pray and ask God to remove it, but you can also try and see what else he might want you to do instead. Barriers can be opportunities for new ideas and new directions God wants to lead you to instead of the same old things. Paul thought he was going to revisit some of the places he went the last time. The things we’re familiar with can become ruts. And a rut is just a grave with the ends kicked out. So, when there’s a roadblock in your path, instead of getting mad at God, thank God that’s he’s got something new to do in your life!
When an opportunity you thought was going to come through ends up becoming a disappointment or when a relationship ends, you may feel hurt and discouraged. Maybe you didn’t get the job you applied for. But perhaps, God is doing something even better that He has planned for you!
Those roadblocks can be a test to see if we are really going to listen, or we’re going to trust God.
One of the most important choices is what you choose not to do. You can’t do everything. It’s not just what you do, it’s some things that you don’t do. Places you don’t go. We need to really listen to God and see what He wants us to do.
Seek God’s Will.
How can we know if God doesn’t want us to do what we planned on doing? This is all about finding God’s will for our lives. Everyone wants to know how they can know God’s will. God may speak to us through a trusted Christian friend who actually knows what they’re talking about. God may direct us through our experiences. You can always find God’s Will in God’s word, the Bible. Whatever challenge or problem you’re dealing with, God’s word has something to say about it, because it’s alive and fresh and relevant and timeless. There are a lot of decisions that you don’t have to wonder about whether or not you’re making the right decision because God says here’s what you do. If God said it, that settles it. The case is closed and the matter is settled as far as I’m concerned.
God speaks through His Spirit. He speaks in that still small voice that speaks to your heart and mind. If you’re a Christ-follower, then God’s Spirit lives in your life. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Galatians 5:25
As you’re asking God for help, you can know that God is leading you.
The question you should ask is, “Am I really willing to be led by God’s Spirit?”
You can’t know ahead of time how long you’ll have to wait in the waiting room. I wish as your pastor, I had some answer about how long this is going to last or when things will change. I don’t know, and as far as I can tell, nobody knows for sure. But I know that during those frustrating times of waiting for what’s next, until we know what God’s plan is, we need to do the things we already know we should do. As we are faithful in that, we know that eventually, God is doing to do something even greater than we ever thought.
Paul couldn’t go north or south, and he had already been east, so that only left one direction for him to go, farther west. Go west young man!
So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas. That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” Acts 16:8-9
I haven’t seen the new Will Ferrell movie called Eurovision, but Paul was having the original Euro Vision, literally a vision of going with the good news of Jesus for the first time to the people in Europe! It was a whole new mission field!
Paul was called to Europe by a vision of man from Macedonia, an area full of people who needed Jesus.
This was the first mission trip to Europe. In Paul’s mind, he wanted to reach a few cities in his area. But God wanted to give Paul a continent to win for Jesus Christ.
Now we know in hindsight why Paul wasn’t allowed to do a very good thing, because God had an even bigger better thing for him to do. We have to decide if we are willing to let go of the good thing so we can do the God thing that God wants us to do.
Will you let go of the good in grab onto the great?
We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. Proverbs 16:9
We need to prayerfully make our plans but give God the freedom to change our plans to do something even better every day. He will show you what’s next.
One way to know God’s will for your life is to stay the course. To keep doing what God has already told you to do. As you are doing that, God can then direct you to what he has for you next. Why would God give you something else to do, if you’re not already doing what He told you to do last? If you want what next, do what God said before. Don’t just completely stop. Keep going. Because someone is out there needing you to be obedient to God.
God is not calling you to do it on your own. If it’s something that you can do by yourself, it’s not big enough. If your dream is small enough for you to accomplish it on your own, it’s too small of a dream.
Big Dreams require Big Teams!
So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there. Acts 16:10
Who is this “we?” Paul, is this you and the mouse in your pocket? No. The book of Acts was written by Luke the Doctor. He was right there with Paul watching and being a part of what was happening and he was writing down what was actually happening.
God didn’t just call Me or just call you. God called “us.” It was Paul and Luke and Silas. They were a team.
Before you were ever born, God made some big plans for your life and He wired you in a certain way to do those things. Some people say, “I can do whatever I want.” But you really can’t, can you? You are good at certain things, and you stink at other things. That means I don’t get to be whatever I want to be. But I do get to be exactly who God made me to be. So you need some other people who are great at the things you’re not so great in.
If you’re worn out all the time, you’re probably trying to do too much. But you’re probably also trying to do it by yourself.
When we started The Connection Church, there was just me and my family. And very quickly, we realized we needed to expand the team. As the team has expanded, we’ve been able to reach more people and be more effective at what God has called to do, connecting people with God and with each other. If we were all just doing our own thing, we could do some things, but nothing like what we can do together. As we work together with people who want to accomplish the same purpose that we do, God can do some amazing incredible, unbelievable things through us.
One is too small a number to achieve greatness. Sometimes we get a Messiah complex and think, “I’m the man! I’ve got it going on!” But, most things in our world that look like a one-man show are really because there’s a great team at work behind the scenes. The great things in this world that are accomplished are done with a team.
Stay on mission.
How fast did Paul obey God’s call? Right then.
We boarded a boat at Troas and sailed straight across to the island of Samothrace, and the next day we landed at Neapolis. Acts 16:11
They were immediately obedient to do what God wanted them to do.
The Spirit’s order to stay away for Macedonia was God’s “no” to Paul in Asia so that He could say “yes” to what He is leading Paul to do in Europe. This area is still known as the gateway to Europe. Up to that point in history, the Gospel had been limited to Asia. Because Paul heard the Macedonian Call and did what God told him to do, the Good News of Jesus went with him into Europe and the Western world. The history of the church and the world changed because of the God-given dream known as the Macedonian Call.
Because the church has gone online in such a major way, we’re getting to impact people who we never could have reached any other way. Week after week, I see that God is using this time to take the good news of Jesus to people who we wouldn’t have connected with any other way.
God’s “no”s can lead to God’s “yes”es if we trust in Him and do what He wants us to do. God is not trying to take good things from you, but to get better things for you. My commitment is this: I will go to the hardest places with God by my side instead of going to the easiest places on my own. This time we are in is not easy, but if God is with you, it’s a good place to be. God is going to lead you to an even better place as you commit to follow Him.