Acts 16. 11-34
Please break this bread Lord, Please break this bread, bread of your Body, risen in us.
“Bread” is our word to keep us focussed on Mission…
B is for … Blessing. During May we have been looking at how we can “be good news”, blessing others and living generously among people.
We now move to R: relying on, receiving and releasing the Holy Spirit. Today, relying on the Spirit.
This Holy Spirit thing was part of the culture!
Paul and Silas know what they want to do. They have this letter in their pockets, from the “Elders” at Jerusalem. (v. 5) This was evidence of the back story of the Holy Spirit at work.
• The Holy Spirit and the birth Gentile mission: (Acts 13. 1-4)
• The Holy Spirit and the success of the gentile mission (Acts 13. 9)
• The Holy Spirit and the acceptance of the gentile mission: the letter to gentile churches … Acts 15. 24-29: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”
So Paul and Silas, now with Timothy had to get around all the churches Paul had planted first time around, and read out this letter. And then they had done that, there was a whole area that the Greeks called Asia – we would call it Western Turkey – where there were big cities: Ephesus, Philadelphia, Smyrna. That’s where Paul wanted to go next and tell people about Jesus. (v. 6) Good plan? Maybe. But the same Holy Spirit had other plans. So he stopped Paul and his team from going into the province of Asia. How? I don’t know. Maybe they couldn’t agree which way to go. Maybe they had prophetic words or an inner feeling telling them not to go there. Maybe they got stopped by the authorities? Or bad weather or landslides or ill health? But they knew the Holy Spirit was not letting them go into Asia. So instead of going home, they headed North, and tried to enter Bythinia – Northern Turkey, on the Black Sea Coast – but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn’t let them. Same thing again. We don’t know how; but something was stopping them. It wasn’t fear. It wasn’t just circumstances. It was the Holy Spirit. They were being herded by an “irresistible sweep of events” into the area called Mysia, on what we would now call the Dardanelles… and while they were staying in the area called Troas, on the far north-western corner of Turkey, Paul had a dream or a vision. In the dream he saw a poor savage – a European! – begging him to “come over here and help us.” (“A certain man from Macedonia” Paul may have recognised the man in the dream!)
Who was doing that? The Holy Spirit. That’s what Paul concluded. So they went over to Macedonia, and there they did what Paul always did when he arrived in town. They looked for the Synagogue. In Philippi they heard about a “place of prayer” not a proper synagogue, probably because there weren’t enough men. It was a quiet spot beside a river. They found a few women who were “people of peace”, welcoming, interested in the Good news. One of them, a businesswoman called Lydia, was ready to put her trust in Jesus. Who was doing that? The Holy Spirit. “The Lord opened her heart.” Philippi was where God wanted a new church planted.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t stop us from engaging in mission so we can have a good time being Believers together. He may stop us from engaging in mission so we can engage in a better mission!
The point: Three main implications
A sense of Command. Obedience.
The Spirit is in charge. The early Church recognised this. And from the very first day of the Church, the Church had this sense of the irresistible outward driving force. Like plants can’t help but grow upwards towards the light so the Holy Spirit, and any life in which the Holy Spirit has found a home, will be drawn outwards in mission. We can plan. It’s OK to plan. But we need to listen for the voice of the Spirit. I like the idea of “Thy Kingdom Come”. But our praying has to be more than asking God to touch the people we want to see come to Jesus or asking God to bless our efforts, our ambitions. We need to ask God to show us where our efforts and ambitions should be directed. And then be ready to follow.
A sense of Confidence. A sense of Trust.
We don’t know. The Holy Spirit does. He knows who are ready to hear something about the Good News. He knows who needs our blessing and encouragement. He knows about the needs, the inner heartache of every person who walks along our streets. He sees and knows people’s hearts. Listening for his promptings, letting him lead us to people we can bless, to people we can share something of the Good News with, is a matter of trust.
A sense of Collaboration. Partnership.
“Don’t ask God to guide your footsteps – if you’re not willing to move your feet.” I’m not sure who said it, but I believe it’s true! Mission isn’t all about us – getting the right strategy, plucking up the courage to tell people about Jesus, knowing exactly what to say… and it isn’t all about the Holy Spirit either, as though we didn’t have any responsibility or calling. it’s a true collaboration.
The Holy Spirit takes, fills up and uses what God has already made us to be. We walk in obedience and trust, receiving and using whatever the Holy Spirit gives us. What an adventure.
In four words. “We are not there.” or maybe in five: “We are not there, yet!” Obedience to the Command by the Spirit; confidence in the Spirit and collaboration with him. We are not there – yet. We are often a bit more like the experience of shipwreck (like we were hearing about last week). We don’t even know where we are; we don’t like where we are; and we don’t really know how to survive where we are. We’re gong round in circles.
So I suggest a very simple habit. Ask!
Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you to the right people at the right time. And take time to let the Holy Spirit answer quietly in your heart. Make that a regular, daily habit. A habit, of prayer, that expresses reliance on the Spirit, by giving him space to speak…
Here’s how I recommend doing that.
1. Get alone with God: settle yourself, away from distractions.
2. Give yourself time: Try five minutes every day. And take twenty minutes once a week.
3. Ask: Pray in a way that centres your mind on God and invites God to speak. Use your own words or
◦ Speak Lord, your servant is listening (Samuel’s prayer)
◦ You Kingdom come…
◦ Lord speak to me that I may speak in living echoes of your tone. (F R Havergal)
◦ “What are you doing today Lord? And can I join in?” (I heard Andrew quote that prayer.)
5. Consult: if you’re in any doubt about what you think God is saying, talk to someone more experienced.
© Gilmour Lilly, June 2019