Finding The Will Of God
“And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.” —Acts 15:36
Finding God’s Will is Imperative
Finding the will of God for every circumstance of life should be the premier goal of every born-again believer. Having said that, I must also state that finding the will of God is not always simple or easy. The two most significant helps that we have available to aid us in our search for God’s will are the written Word of God and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. If we approach any situation contrary to God’s Word, then I can guarantee that we are outside of God’s will. His Spirit indwells every believer and is there to lead us into all truth. I am convinced that the Spirit desires to lead us and that the Word can appropriately guide us into and through every circumstance of life. Yet, at times, the will of God is not easily found.
When the Answer is Withheld
Some might argue and say that the failure to discern the will of God is the fault of the believer. Perhaps we have not prayed as we should have. Perhaps we have not sought God as incessantly as we should. And certainly, we should always be sure that we are spending time in God’s Word and that we are attempting to be sensitive to the leading of the Spirit. Even when we have established these as the proper criteria, it has been my experience that the will of God is not always easily located. This is true even when we participate as we ought to in the process of discovering it. What then? How shall we move forward? In our text we find the apostle Paul struggling to find the mind of God while on his second missionary journey. Let’s take a look at his experience and see if we can glean some insight as to how to approach life when the will of God is not easily discerned.
Acts 15:36-Acts 16:10
In this narrative we find the apostle Paul making several significant decisions—decisions that required knowing the will of God.
First, we find a decision to reinforce the churches that had been the beneficiaries of Paul’s first missionary journey. Second, there was a decision regarding who should travel with the ministry team. Third was the question of “who is to go where” in this ministry effort. Barnabas took Mark with him to Cyprus. Paul chose Silas, and they ministered in the areas of Cilicia and southern Galatia. Fourth, we find that Paul made the decision to add Timothy to his ministry entourage. And finally, Paul made the decision to have Timothy circumcised in order for Timothy to be able to access Jewish synagogues during their missionary endeavors.
All of these were major decisions in regard to the will of God. They seemed to take very little time for the apostle Paul to discern. I take it for granted that Paul consistently and incessantly sought for the will of God in each of these circumstances. However, after Paul and Silas had ministered to the churches established by his first missionary journey, Paul felt the need to move on into regions where he had not yet preached the gospel. This is where Paul seems to have experienced confusion when attempting to determine the mind of the Lord.
Searching, Seeking, Moving
Apparently, Paul had finished encouraging the previously established churches while in the area of Iconium, as we read that Paul now thought it good to head toward Asia. Many scholars believe this indicated the direction of Ephesus, but as he moved in that direction, the Holy Spirit forbid him to go there. So, re-evaluating the mind of God, Paul began to move north toward Bithynia.
After heading toward that area, Paul and his team were once again stopped by the Holy Spirit. Finally, Paul and his entourage passed by Mysia and came to Troas. Troas itself would have been a great area in which to plant a church, and, perhaps, Paul intended to do just that; but at Troas, God’s will was revealed to the apostle Paul in a vision. Western civilization is what it is today because of this vision, which is known as the Macedonian call. Paul obeyed the vision immediately and travelled to Philippi in Macedonia, where a new church was planted.
Is Delay Normal?
Why didn’t God tell Paul to go to Macedonia in the first place? What was the purpose of stopping and starting this missionary endeavor? To find the final answers to these questions, we will have to wait patiently until we make heaven our home; but I notice several things about the apostle Paul.
Paul did not just sit still and wait for God to tell him where to go. He must have been confident that he was doing well by heading in the different directions that he chose. He knew God had called him as a missionary and a church planter. He knew God had called him to the gentile nations of the world. This he understood and attempted to do. To Paul’s credit, when the Holy Spirit said “no” to an improper choice, he heard and obeyed. There may be a time when it is best to stand still and wait on the direction from the Lord; but in this case, Paul kept moving.
We know that spiritual forces may cause a delay in our reception of God’s will. The prophet Daniel prayed and fasted for three weeks when he was desiring to know the mind of God regarding Israel. God answered him immediately, but spiritual forces hindered Daniel for three weeks from receiving the message. Was this the case with the apostle Paul? Again, I cannot say for sure, but I find that Paul continued to do what he knew he was called to do. I know that Paul endeavored to obey God and consistently sought to perform His will. I also see that God ultimately answered him.
If you find yourself in a position where you are uncertain of how to proceed with the ministry that you have been given, continue to do what you know God has called you to do. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and obey Him, especially if He adjusts a chosen direction. You can trust God to make known His perfect and complete will in the process of time. Be patient and move forward, always remaining sensitive to the Holy Spirit! Lord, thy will be done!