Acts 16 accounts the story of Paul, Silas and Timothy traveling with the Gospel mission. What we find here is something I hardly find anyone speaking about. Let's proceed...
6-8 They went to Phrygia, and then on through the region of Galatia. Their plan was to turn west into Asia province, but the Holy Spirit blocked that route. So they went to Mysia and tried to go north to Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn’t let them go there either. Proceeding on through Mysia, they went down to the seaport Troas.
9-10 That night Paul had a dream: A Macedonian stood on the far shore and called across the sea, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” The dream gave Paul his map. We went to work at once getting things ready to cross over to Macedonia. All the pieces had come together. We knew now for sure that God had called us to preach the good news to the Europeans.
Let’s sum it up:
Paul, Silas and Timothy had a plan, but the Holy Spirit blocked it.
Not once, but twice.
Then, Paul had a dream, that was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and this became a map for them to follow.
This story is so important because maybe like me, you’ve had a plan. For example, you plan to finish your degree, or move to a new city, or finally pursue a God given passion. But then, the door closes, or worse, the doors shut after years of trying something. To begin with, you felt God lead you in this direction, but now it seems like a detour and you might think, “did I miss a turn?”
Yet, even some of the great disciples found themselves here too.
The apostles Paul came upon a closed door in Acts 16, and not just once but twice. God entrusted Paul with a great mission, but even he experienced the realities of learning to feel his way around. And we are no different. We are constantly learning to hear from God and follow his leading.
So what do you do when your are met by a closed door and a detour?
I’ve noticed that sometimes God sends us in a direction because heading in that direction leads us to the next thing. In other words the original “dream” leads us to the greater call.
We see this to be true for Paul in Acts 16. If you dig into the portion of scripture, we discover that the dream God gave Paul was of a Macedonia MAN telling him to come and help. However, if we read just a couple of verses later, we discover that the person Paul was destined to meet was actually a WOMAN named Lydia. It was through Lydia's ministry that gave Paul financial support to go to Philippi. If Paul had taken the dream literally, I wonder if he would have missed Lydia?
Sometimes, the dream isn’t meant to be literal but rather to lead us to something greater. There is an element of spontaneity as it can feel unplanned to us but make no mistake, it has always been planned by God.
I want to be honest and bold enough to admit that some of the greatest blessings in my life have came in the form of closed doors and detours, because what proceeded after the event of a closed door and detour was much greater than what could have been.
I want to give full disclosure that closed doors and detours often come with the pain of disappointments, grief, heartaches, and confusion - all of which are the result of a death of something. A death of an original dream. A death of an expectations. A death to what is wanted.
I’ll never forgot the summer of 2008. Wes and I were newly married. It also happened to be during the 2008 financial crisis, and our church at the time was going to have to let some staff members go. Wes and I were at youth camp and he was on the youth staff team... you get where I'm going. There was no warning for us. They sat us down in-between services and they bluntly let us know that we were being let go. We were blindsided and it was so painful. We had little room to grieve being in the middle of a camp, leading sweaty and energetic teenagers into God's presence as we ourselves were processing the impact of what just happened. Being jobless was a minor deal. The much deeper pain came because those we loved and trusted had just let us go and instantly the relationship changed, and in a way we felt rejected. We had been married all but 3 months and we had just bought a home. We were not planning on going anywhere and we certainly weren’t prepared for this. We thought we would be at this church forever, to the point that we have never dreamt or imagined or spoken of life beyond the walls of our church.
However, we were met with a closed door, shut right in our face.
But God knew all along, and he had a plan to begin with. This marked the beginning of something beautiful as we entered into a new ministry, and for the first time realizing that God had called us to lead in a greater capacity.
The results of closed doors and detours are much more productive than when everything works out the way we planned, for they mark the small and narrow path for training. It refines our spiritual nature, it smoothes down the roughness of our self-will. It bring us to need in God. It causes us to dig deeper. It's in the nature of this soil where faith has the grace to grow and thrive.
My prayer and goal is to face every closed door and detour the way the apostle Paul did. When met with a close door, Paul moved on quickly and didn’t take it personally. When I’ve experienced a closed door I naturally resort to thinking it was my fault. Either I wasn’t good enough or I did something wrong. I’ve found myself negotiating within myself, “if I had only prayed more, if I would have done x, y, z, then I would not be in this predicament.” I would tend to overthink and replay scenarios, all of which in this vein of thought isn’t always uplifting or helpful.
I know that’s not the heart of God either. He wants for us to be encouraged always. Paul knew these pitfalls and avoided them.
I love how the message sums up Paul’s response, “We went to work at once.” That’s not only in action but in the disposition of their heart. They didn’t waste time overthinking, taking it personally, having a pity party, or negotiating within themselves. They moved on quickly and didn’t even pay attention to the self within them that wants to have explanations for everything. They never questioned the character of God. They just trusted.
Just tonight I sat with a girl who was also met by a closed door recently. And for her, there was so much pain in what felt like rejection, however, it was apparent that God has only been redirecting her this whole time. She sat across the table, tears filled her eyes as she expressed the dream God gave her seemed to be slipping away. I felt for her because I knew the feeling. She's making the most of it all, but while anyone is here processing, it can be really hard to see what good can come.
It's in moments like these were we have to allow God to redirect us. It's not that the dream isn't still in motion, but it just might look different than we thought. We have to be ok with that.
We see a constant in our spiritual life that, like the apostles, we are always being challenged to trust God over the plan.
As we finish up the last post on Mystery, I want to bring up this scripture I’ve used throughout this series:
“’My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,’ says the Lord. ‘And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.’” Isaiah 55: 8-9
Sometimes, this is all you need to know when you approach a closed door; His ways are higher.
He knowns what we need and what he has designed for our lives. You are not an accident, and you are not here by coincidence. You are called.
Don't let a closed door define you, and don't supress the emotions that might follow. Walk through them by God's grace, and be bold enough to try again and trust as the plans feel like they're shifting. And may I remind you:
James 1:17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows
In a round about way, you will see, this closed door and detour will become your greatest blessing. And while you’re surrounded by shifting, know that God doesn’t change “like shifting shadows.” He is secure, steady, and strong.
God know what he is up to and he loves you!