Acts 16:6-10 is, for me, a challenging and (dare I say it?!) infuriating portion of Scripture. It challenges me because it shows me a level of guidance which does not always make sense to my rational mind and leaves me dangling (which infuriates me, as I’m the kind of person who likes neat endings, with all the loose ends tied up!) I don’t know how the Spirit of God prevented Paul and his companions from preaching the word in the province of Asia and how the Spirit of Jesus prevented them from going to Bithynia, nor do I know why He did this. And, more often than not, I don’t know why God prevents me from doing certain things in life and I find it difficult at times to judge whether He wants me to press on in faith or draw back. Circumstances which slot nicely together are a useful way of following God, but what do we do when those circumstances seem unfavourable or we just don’t know which way to turn?
The combination of prevention and a vision which offers a new direction ultimately clarified the position for Paul and his companions. They ‘concluded’ or ‘became convinced’ that this was what God wanted them to do. They weighed up all the facts and decided to go to Macedonia; they used inference from all the facts they had to reach a positive conclusion. ‘All the pieces had come together. We knew now for sure that God had called us to preach the good news to the Europeans.’ (The Message) I often think the Israelites had it easy in the wilderness, with a cloud or pillar of fire to guide them; they had the luxury of a visible sign of God’s presence! It can be much harder for us, even with God’s Spirit guiding us, to be sure that we are doing the right thing, but this is where faith and trust are proved. We are called to live and walk by faith and not by sight. (2 Cor 5:7) At times, that will feel very uncomfortable and even frightening, but we have to learn to let go of our obstinate need for control and surrender to God’s leading.