The story of the New Testament church is a story of the Spirit’s power and guidance. And yet, the apparent drama and pervasiveness of this divine activity can easily lead us to wonder: Are we missing something? Why doesn’t the Spirit act now in the way He did then?
Take, for example, today’s New Testament lesson from Acts 16. Paul and his companions are on a missionary journey and are traveling through the region of Galatia — because, the Bible says, they were “kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia” (v.6). Moving on, they try to enter a region called Bithynia, “but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to” (v. 7).
So, how exactly did the Spirit offer this guidance? Was there a bright light and an audible voice from heaven? Were Paul and his companions seized by spiritual ecstasy, from which they emerged with a clear understanding of what the Spirit wanted? Or is what’s going on here far more mundane? Could it be that they were “kept from preaching the word in Asia” — not by a direct heavenly message — but by the lack of transportation? When the Spirit “would not allow them” to enter Bithynia, did He block their way with a flaming sword, or with a cantankerous border guard?
Please understand; I am not trying to “make light” of the Spirit’s guidance. But I wonder sometimes if our assumptions about the work of the Spirit inadvertently deprive us of access to the Spirit’s power, because they remove the Spirit from the flow of our “normal” experience. Could it be that the Spirit is at work within and around us far more than we appreciate, but we miss it because we’re looking for Him in the extraordinary rather than the ordinary?
In a book about the Spirit, pastor J. D. Greear reflects on this episode in Acts and writes:
Paul thought of his whole ministry as led by the Spirit. Evidently, however, Paul’s means for following the Spirit did not entail getting up each day and waiting on a message to spell itself out in the foam of his cappuccino.
The disciples had clear, general commands given by Jesus in the Great Commission to obey. But as they did so, they had no choice but to look to the Spirit for power and guidance in pursuing those commands.
Yet, even in this extreme dependence, they never reduced the Spirit’s activity in their lives to some formula. They grounded themselves in the Word, obeyed Jesus’ general commands, and looked to the Spirit to lead them — watching for him, but assuming he was leading even if they couldn’t see or feel him.
Jesus, Continued… by J. D. Greear
Let’s trust that the Spirit will be active in our lives today — not necessarily because we see (or don’t see) spectacular signs and wonders — but because Jesus has promised that He will be. And trusting that the Spirit is at work, let’s look for Him and join Him; so that through us, God’s Kingdom may come a little closer to those who need it most.