It can be difficult for some Christians to know what to do with Acts 16:9-15. Too many of us like our faith nailed down and predictable. In our sanctuaries we bolt the pews to the floor, we have a printed order of worship on Sunday from which we never deviate, and we expect a new ministry to unfold in exactly the way it was planned; and when it doesn't people point fingers at the leadership saying something to the effect of, "but you said such and such was going to happen, not this!"
Yes, we like our faith to move along smoothly in the direction we want it to go-- no unexpected detours and nothing new that we did not plan for. A predictable faith makes for a comfortable faith, and we much prefer the God of All Comfort to the God of Earthquake, Wind, and Fire.
In this portion of the book of Acts, the author of the book, Luke is obviously traveling with Paul for the time being, since he uses the first person plural pronoun, "we." When one reads Acts it is clear that often the Spirit is not very predicable. Paul has a vision of a man pleading for him to come to Macedonia. Paul does not hesitate; he does not question. He doesn't even ponder what the vision might mean-- he knows-- God is calling him to go there to proclaim the good news of Jesus.
Luke states that immediately after the vision, Paul and his companions begin to make their way to the region in order to be obedient to God. During Jesus' ministry people sometimes used what appeared to be excuses to delay following Jesus-- delaying for the crops to be harvested, waiting for a father to die and be buried-- but Jesus rejects these reasons as sufficient for hesitation (Luke 9:57-62).
It was no doubt true that Paul had his schedule planned on what he was going to do before his vision-- go here, preach there, teach the sisters and brothers in such and such a place-- but then the Spirit came to Paul with a new plan, and Paul did not hesitate to change his plans to be obedient to the divine initiative.
When Paul and his traveling companions get to Macedonia, they stop in Philippi. On the Sabbath, they go to the river to pray since that was where they might find a gathering of Jews for prayer. There they meet some women, who may be gathered for their own time of prayer, including a woman named Lydia. She is a Gentile, for Luke tells us that she was "a worshiper of God," (the God of Israel), a phrase that would not have been used for a Jew. And like Paul, who was open to the Spirit's leading, Lydia listened to the traveling evangelists and the Lord "opened her heart." She becomes a believer and Lydia and her household were baptized. Households in that day were usually identified by the male of the house. Is Lydia and widow? Is she divorced? We do not know, but what we can say is that the Spirit changed her life that day and she became a follower of Jesus.
It is no doubt true that often God calls and works in the midst of the routine of life. We need the routine. We need the predictable. Human beings cannot survive without it. But we must never forget that the Spirit also leads in unexpected ways, and we must be ready for the vision, for the word, for the event that shakes up the routine, that takes our predictable and comfortable ways and casts them to the side for the work of God in this world.
Yes indeed-- our God is the God of All Comfort, the God who has been with us throughout all the generations-- but God is also the God who comes to us in the earthquake, the wind, and the fire-- and when God comes to us in the unexpected, we should not resist. We should let the wind of the Spirit take us wherever it will.
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)