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Which Road?

May 9, 2022

They traveled through the region of Phrygia and Galatia because the Holy Spirit did not let them preach the message in the province of Asia. When they reached the border of Mysia, they tried to go into the province of Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So they traveled right on through Mysia and went to Troas” (Acts 16: 6-8).

Thank goodness for Google Maps!  When I am driving in an unfamiliar area, I switch on the sound for Google Maps.  Ms. Google tells me to “stay to the left at the fork” and warns me ahead of time to watch for exits or streets, so that I always know what’s coming up.  But Ms. Google can’t guide us to the road that God wants us to take—and finding our way is sometimes tricky.  Much like the roads we take in life, the road described by John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress, was not a direct road.  It was filled with so many obstacles, turns and switchbacks that the pilgrim despaired of ever arriving at his destination.  Paul McCartney’s words, “Lead me to your door, let me know the way”[1] also describe our plea to God to lead us to his door.   We plead for guidance using words similar to McCartney’s:  “Don’t leave me waiting here, lead me to your door.”

Fortunately, God provides some guidance.  While we can’t hear an audible voice, the Holy Spirit is with us to lead and guide us. Next Sunday’s Scripture texts not only confirm that, but also give us an example, and show us what we can expect to find when we reach our final destination.[2]

In John, Chapter 16, Jesus continues teaching his disciples and preparing them for what it to come.  He is hours away from being arrested and crucified, and he is urgently preparing the disciples.  He warns them, “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home . . . I have told you these things, so that you will have peace. In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16: 32-33).  He gave them many tools to cope with the coming chaos and agony that would befall them and tear their world apart.  Earlier, he had told them they would not be alone, that the Counselor will come, the Holy Spirit, who will “guide you in all truth” (John 16: 12). 

In Sunday’s gospel lesson, John records that Jesus taught them that when he is no longer with them they can go directly to the Father, using his name, without using a priest as an intermediary: “When that day comes, you will not ask me for anything. I am telling you the truth: the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your happiness may be complete .  . . When that day comes, you will ask him in my name; and I do not say that I will ask him on your behalf, for the Father himself loves you. He loves you because you love me and have believed that I came from God. I did come from the Father, and I came into the world; and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father” (John 16: 23, 24; 26-28 Good News Translation).  

Paul gives us an example of how that works.  He started his second missionary journey on land instead of sea, and brought Silas with him. They set out in Syria, following the Roman road through the Taurus Mountains, then headed northwest toward Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium.  But they discerned that the Holy Spirit did not want them to go into Asia, so they turned north. Following the further guidance of the Spirit, they turned west and traveled to Troas, on the Aegean Sea.  It was in Troas where Paul met Dr. Luke.  Paul was probably seeking his help with his chronic ailment, which some scholars believe was an eye problem precipitated by the blinding light that he encountered on the road to Damascus. Once in Troas, Paul had a dream or a vision that led them across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia, in Greece.  Luke joined the group at that juncture in AD 50, and stayed with Paul until the end of his life, 18 years later.  

We don’t know the details of how Paul and his companions knew which road God wanted them to take, but the text gives us some clues that we can apply to our own lives.  

First, there was the double negative against going to Asia and Bithynia, leading them to Troas: “They traveled through the region of Phrygia and Galatia because the Holy Spirit did not let them preach the message in the province of Asia. When they reached the border of Mysia, they tried to go into the province of Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So they traveled right on through Mysia and went to Troas” (Acts 16: 6-8).  The Holy Spirit’s guidance may have been expressed to them through strong inward convictions or by outward circumstances (illness, legal bans, Jewish opposition, etc.[3]).   The Spirit may be warning you away from situations that are not in your best interests. 

 Second, they received positive guidance.   Paul had a night vision that seemed to be leading them to Macedonia: “That night Paul had a vision in which he saw a Macedonian standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us!’” (Acts 16: 9).  The Spirit may guide you through doors that have opened for you and through people and circumstances placed in your path.

The third and final piece of the puzzle was put into place when the three of them discussed it: “ . . . because we decided that God had called us to preach the Good News to the people there” (Acts 16:10).  The Greek word translated as “decided” or “convinced” literally means to “bring together.”  They discussed the circumstances and vision that God had put in their path and concluded that it was God’s will for them to go to Macedonia.  Discuss your options with trusted people of faith who have your best interests at heart.  You may receive guidance from them that supports or dissuades you from a contemplated route. 

God gives us ideas, opens and closes doors in our path, and provides us with Christian brothers and sisters with whom to discuss where God is leading us.  We need to pay attention to the doors that are opening and closing, and not forget to discuss these events, as well as the ideas that may be implanted in us by the Holy Spirit. We need to look at all of the available data before forging ahead with plans on our own. 

Finally, in the 21st chapter of Revelation, John gives us a glimpse of heaven—our final destination.  In his guided tour, he explains that it is a place where there are no tears, death, mourning, crying, or pain: “God himself will be with them, and he will be their God. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. The old things have disappeared”  (Revelation 21: 3-4).  

Moreover, there are no churches and no sun or moon in heaven—yet God is everywhere, and his light is everywhere: “I did not see a temple in the city, because its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb.  The city has no need of the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God shines on it, and the Lamb is its lamp. The peoples of the world will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their wealth into it. The gates of the city will stand open all day; they will never be closed, because there will be no night there” (Revelation 21: 22-25).  Who wouldn’t want to spend eternity in a pain-free place of light and beauty? 

Eben Alexander, M.D., a neurosurgeon, summarizes his near death experience in heaven, during his seven-day coma, as being completely enveloped in unconditional love.[4]  Dr. Alexander posits that we can all experience God’s love during our lifetimes: “Communicating with God is the most extraordinary experience imaginable, yet at the same time it’s the most natural one of all because God is present in us at all times.  Omniscient, omnipotent, personal—and loving us without conditions.  We are connected as One through our divine link with God.”[5]

Jesus confirmed that God is always with us, and we pray when we simply call on his name.  Listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as ideas occur to you and circumstances and opportunities avail themselves to you.  If you feel like you are pounding on a door that never opens, maybe you should re-think whether God wants you to go through that door.  It is almost never a good idea to want something so much that you fail to listen to God’s voice and where he is leading you.  And don’t forget to discuss these facts and circumstances with trusted Christian brothers and sisters as you make your way through life—always keeping in mind your final destination—the city of light and love.

Prayer: “May the flames of thy love ever blaze upon the altar of my heart.” Charles Devanesan.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] “A Long and Winding Road,” Beatles

[2] The Scripture texts for Sunday, May 22, 2022, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, are Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27; John 16:23-33 or John 13: 31-35.

[3] See John Stott, The Message of Acts (1990) InterVarsity Press, pp. 258-260.

[4] Eben Alexander, M.D, Proof of Heaven (2012), Simon & Schuster, p. 71.

[5] Id, p. 160.

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