In the many years that I’ve followed Jesus, He has yet to give me a detailed road map directing my future. Boy, that would be nice. Instead, Jesus gives us His Word and Spirit to lead, guide, and direct us. Even so, when it comes to making decisions, it proves hard to discern if something is just a good plan or if indeed it is God’s plan. I’m so thankful to have my dear friend Tonya Riggle speak into this issue today on the Redeemed Girl blog, Countless times I’ve sat and prayed with her over big life decisions and we’ve sought Jesus over this very question. I’m grateful she has brought her wisdom to share with all of us today. – Marian Jordan Ellis
If you’re like me, 2018 started fast. I felt like I was already behind by the first light of the New Year and I don’t expect it to slow down. So, what do I do with all those thoughts I had over the holidays about how to do life better… those pre-resolutions that keep nagging me to take them seriously? Making excellent choices while living at a frenetic pace is a trick. How do we pull that off?
I was thinking on these things when I ran along Acts 16. Everything I needed for the first big decision of the year was outlined right there. I just love it when God does that!
1. Is it a good thing right now?
Acts 16 catches Paul on his second journey to share the gospel with those who had not heard. It was a radical idea in his day and he had all kinds of experiences that indicated so.
Acts 6:6-7 “…they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.”
So…. isn’t sharing the gospel with people an excellent choice? Then why not?
When it comes to making decisions, there is a fine line between a good plan and an excellent one. The Lord is directing Paul to an excellent plan, albeit an inconvenient one. The difference is all about timing. We have to know there are no less than nine cities in Asia where the New Testament tells us a church was established. God was not withholding the gospel from the people of Asia; He just knew that the best time to share with them wasn’t now.
It’s a warning for us: we can become convinced that getting or accomplishing a good thing immediately is excellent.But God clearly states, “Not always.” Instead of assuming so, we have to ask ourselves, “Is it a good thing right now?”
This applies to job changes, an education plan, purchases, dating, etc. God’s excellent plan for you has a step one before a step two. And as the clumsier ones among us know, getting out of step can cause a major fall. A lesson I’ve learned the hard way!
The right timing turns something good into something excellent.
2. Is it a good thing to the Lord?
Acts 16:9-10 “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
When deciding about something that matters, discernment is important. While looking for open doors in our circumstances is legitimate, Acts 16 makes me wonder if I have limited my methods of discerning good from excellent.
- Have I asked the Lord to give me a scripture that applies to my decision (Ps 119:1)?
- Have I sought God first and godly counsel second (Matt 7:7-8, Prov 11:14)?
- Have I paid attention to my spirit and let the peace of Christ rule this decision (Col 3:15)?
- Have I asked God for a word, dream or vision lately (Matt 1:20, Acts 16:9)?
All of these are Biblical means of discerning.
What God was leading Paul to do went against conventional logic. But to a person like Paul who had been burned by conventional logic, it was clearly the excellent choice. We’ve all been there. We’ve all gone along with what people said made sense. Take a moment to accurately remember how that went – oh, the bad memories! Aren’t we ready to do what God says that may not be simply conventional, but is excellent?
Another warning for us: we can be tempted to go with conventional logic over the wisdom and leading of the Lord.Everyone might affirm it is right…except perhaps God. It teaches us to ask the question, “Is it a good thing to the Lord?” Whether we are trying to be Christ-followers or raise Christ-followers, we can listen to so many “expert” voices in how to do it. They are well meaning, but may be only conventional.
The right voice discerns between something good and something excellent.
3. Is it confirmed by the hand of the Lord and the fruit of the Spirit?
Acts 16:11-15 “So, (we set) sail…to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia…And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside… and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia…The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And…she was baptized, and her household as well.”
Now that Paul was obeying God directly, things started happening. The telltale sign of him being on course was the hand of God moving. Paul may have spoken the gospel, but the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to receive it. The fruit of the Holy Spirit in this case was openness. At that point, openness came in other forms:
Acts 16: 16b-19, 23 “…we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers…(And they) inflicted many blows upon them, (and) threw them into prison.”
You would think that this woman announcing the truth of who they were would be a good thing. This is first century free advertising! She was directing everyone’s attention to them; all they had to do was perform. And there was the problem. If you read the full account, no one is mentioned coming to Christ during these “many days”. It was a lot of attention on them without a lot of results from God. It looked like a good thing, but fell short of an excellent thing. It was the enemy at work.
Fortunately, it was not long before the Lord moved again and opened the prison doors, loosed all the prisoner’s chains and saved the jailer. Are you getting the pattern?
When the hand of the Lord is in something, it will bear the fruit of the Spirit. God was producing openness all around them. However, when the people of God threatened the enemy, he produced open warfare. When we obey God as best we know in a decision, we are looking for the fruit of the Spirit as a confirmation. Don’t be fooled – that can produce easy results as well as difficult counter-results.
A warning: when we obey God as best we know in a decision, we can look for ease as a confirmation instead of the fruit of the Spirit. We can’t let fear or discouragement stop us from persevering in the place God has us. We have to ask, “Is it backed by the hand of the Lord and the fruit of the Spirit?” If so, then He will show up as the chain-breaking, door-opening warrior King! We need to be faithful and watch what He will do!
The right confirmation keeps us from settling for something good over something excellent.
So, when faced with a decision, Paul teaches us to ask:
“Is it a good thing right now?”
“Is it a good thing to the Lord?”
“Is it backed by the hand of the Lord and the fruit of the Spirit?”
One last thing – did you notice that all this happened in Philippi? I believe this incident in Acts contributed to what Paul wrote these very people later on:
“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11
Excellent words for them… and for us!