When God says “no” it can be even more marvelous than when He says “yes.”
The apostle Paul, in Acts 16, begins his second missionary journey, carefully planning to revisit the cities in his first missionary journey and then go on to western Asia to preach the gospel.
His plans were good. God had given the church the Great Commission and had told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the power of the Holy Spirit came upon them. God wanted the Great Commission to be led by the Holy Spirit, which He gave to believers preceding Jesus’ instruction in Acts 1:8: “… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Paul was being obedient to those commands. This second missionary journey started well.
Paul and Silas headed north out of Antioch of Syria and visited Paul’s hometown of Tarsus. They then went on to Derbe, Lystra, Iconium and Antioch of Pisidia where they had been on first missionary journey. They delivered the decision from the Jerusalem conference found in Acts 15 and greatly encouraged the churches.
Paul’s plan was to turn west at Antioch of Pisidia and evangelize the area known today as Asia Minor. However, they were led by God to go toward Asia to the north all the way to Mysia in modern-day Turkey. In a bewildering way, God forbad them to preach the Gospel in Asia and when they came to Mysia, on the border of Bithynia, they were forbidden to go into Bithynia to preach.
Why did God say “no” to their plan to preach in Asia and Bithynia? Were there no needs for the Gospel there? Were they not included in the Great Commission?
The reason is clear. God had a better plan – a perfect plan – one that would reach Europe and the West, and all of Asia and Bithynia.
Bypassing Bithynia they came to Troas and on to Neapolis where Paul would go into Macedonia. In Philippi they met Lydia and others worshipping down by the river and led Lydia and her companions to faith in Christ.
Several decades later, Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia, wrote to Emperor Trajan in 112 A.D. that Christianity had spread to the cities, villages and rural areas of Bithynia. That letter is the first pagan account of the spread of Christianity.
How did this all happen? Lydia was from Thyatira in Asia. It was not a great city but it was the center of trade guilds for workers in various industries, including linens, garments, dye, wool, leather, pottery and bronze. It was famous for its dyeing facilities and purple cloth. Those products from Thyatira saturated Asia.
Lydia was probably one of the founding members of the church in Thyatira, and from there the gospel spread through the sales force that went out from Thyatira. God used a traveling saleswoman from an apparently insignificant town to spread the gospel to the areas where Paul had been forbidden to go. Amazing! The gospel spread in Asia and on to Bithynia through Lydia.
Later Paul would be led back to Asia and he reported that “All the inhabitants of the province of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the Word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10). He shared in the preaching in Asia and Bithynia but only after God had introduced the Gospel through Lydia.
God had better plans for Paul. Paul was obedient, but God gave him a new call as he was aggressively following God’s will. Paul’s obedience took the gospel to Europe and the West. Because of that, we heard the gospel. Each step of Paul’s journey was led by God.
It is His desire to lead each of us in our witness. God did not give us the Great Commission and then leave us alone to determine how to do it. His method was to have disciples who walk so closely to Him that they can walk in obedience to His presence and guidance.
Obedience is preparation to each of us to hear God’s call. God gives vision to those who are obedient. Too often we make our plans and ask God to bless them. God desires to lead us to accomplish His plans which are infinitely better.
As contemporary author Francis Chan noted, “The church becomes irrelevant when it becomes purely a human creation. We are not all we were made to be when everything in our lives and churches can be explained apart from the work and presence of the Spirit of God.”
The real issue is whether we live in such close relationship with God that we can follow His plan. No attack of Satan can defeat us if we begin each day by surrendering it to God and walk through the day aware of His leadership and power. God desires to join each of us every moment of our ministry and life. Our obedience makes it possible for Him to lead us every step of our journey. When God says “no” to our plans, it is always because He has a better plan!