Many of us have experienced a change of plans for 2020. In Serve Asia, our short-term mission program, we cancelled most of our trips and brought home folks who were supposed to stay in Asia much longer. We are all grieving the loss of what was, or what could have been, and searching for answers as to what God has for us instead.
Despite our perception otherwise, God is in the business of messing up our plans. We are not the first people to move forward with what we thought God was leading us toward, only to find that path cut off and rerouted.
In fact, the apostle Paul, arguably the greatest missionary ever, faced an unexpected roadblock on his second missionary journey, or if I may, his second mission trip.
In the beginning of Acts 16 we find Paul having great success. “Churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers,” Luke wrote in verse 4. But all of a sudden in verses 5 and 6 we find a different situation. “Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” Despite their strong desire to serve God in Asia, the Holy Spirit prevented them. God cancelled their Serve Asia trip.
What would you do in that situation? How would you respond? Would you know it’s the Holy Spirit that’s changing your plans? How would you adjust to these unmet expectations?
Paul and his crew ended up following God’s call to go to Macedonia, and specifically, they landed in Philippi. Do you know where Philippi is? Greece. Do you know where Greece is? Europe. Somehow God turned Paul’s Serve Asia trip into a Serve Europe trip. (Shhh…don’t tell the supporting churches!).
But that’s not the craziest part. Look at what happens next. Acts 16:13-14 says “On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” Praise God! Another person joined the family of God!
Hold up, though. Wait a minute. Who was that woman, Lydia? Luke takes great care to mention that she was from Thyatira. Do you know where Thyatira is? No, it can’t be. Really? Yes. Thyatira is in ASIA!
So all this time God had placed a desire in Paul’s heart to go to Asia, but then he prevented him from going. And not only did God prevent him from going to Asia, but he also sent him the other direction and put him in Europe. All of that so he would happen to find a prayer meeting where he could share the good news about Jesus with a businesswoman from Asia, who ended up hosting the church of Philippi at her house (see verse 40).
What a crazy story, but it’s not the only one. God has always been in the business of messing up our plans to fulfil his own greater plans. Ever read the story of Abraham? Joseph? Moses? Naomi and Ruth? Mary the mother of Jesus?
What kind of “messed up” story is God writing in your life right now? Maybe (read: probably) you had some plans change this year. The people you thought you were going to reach are not in your path anymore. But who is? Who is God leading you to encourage and draw close to him right now? Trust God, and ask him to open your eyes to new opportunities around you.