I love my church. We have a wide range of ages, backgrounds, and cultures. It does make it interesting for me as the pastor because message preparation must be varied. Sometimes, I do some topical things. Sometimes, I preach straight from the text and follow the lectionary. Sometimes, the lectionary readings line up so well that I get to do both. Such is the case for the next 3 weeks (before I take a vacation Sunday). For the next 3 weeks, we will take a look at the Holy Spirit at work in the New Testament church.
I personally think this is a necessary topic. Very few Christians understand the Holy Spirit. We talk about him. We sing about him. But what does he do? How does he help us? There is vital information we need to understand here.
This week, we are looking at how the Holy Spirit guides us. John 16:13 tells us that the Holy Spirit will guide us into truth. He explains the Scripture to us and allows us to see clearly the message God is speaking to us. How else does he guide us?
We find ourselves today in the book of Acts, chapter 16. We are following Paul on one of his missionary journeys to preach Christ to the nations. First, the Holy Spirit stops Paul from going into Asia. Then, the Holy Spirit again directs Paul not to go to Bithynia. Twice Paul is directed away from a place. Odd, yes? However, there could be a million different reasons the Holy Spirit did not want Paul in those places. Maybe the enemy had sprung a trap for him there. Maybe the people’s hearts were not open to the gospel. We will never know. What we do know is that Paul heard clearly from the Holy Spirit not to enter those places and he obeyed.
At this point, I find myself curious as to how exactly the Holy Spirit got this across to Paul. God has always found ways to speak to people. For Abraham, he spoke directly to him. For Joseph, it was dreams, For Moses, it was a burning bush. My favorite time is when God used a donkey to tell off Balaam. Then God sent his son Jesus to talk directly to the disciples. So I wonder how the Holy Spirit got his point across here? Maybe a storm? A dream? Anything is possible!
No matter how he did it, the fact of the matter is that Paul listened. Finally, after being turned away twice, Paul has a dream of a “man of Macedonia” who begs him to come preach in Macedonia. Paul, knowing that this was the Spirit speaking to him, went at once. The Bible says he didn’t hesitate; he went immediately where he was told to go.
We need to stop a moment here and get a major point across: the Spirit always leads us to a place we can share the gospel. What was Paul’s purpose in Macedonia? Sharing the gospel. Doors are opened to us so that others might come to know Christ. We get new jobs so that we can share Christ. We make new friends so that we can share Christ. Even tragedy opens doors for us to share Christ. We are in the places we are in for a purpose: to share the gospel. Christ’s grace and mercy must be preached.
This does not mean that you ought to greet people with a “hi, I’m Chad. Do you know Christ as your personal savior?” It does mean that our actions ought to preach Christ to our co-workers, our friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. The things we do and say matter in every situation. The Spirit leads us where we are to share the gospel.
For Paul in our story, this meant Macedonia. When he gets there, he does just that. He meets a woman named Lydia, who is a seller of purple cloth and a God-follower. Essentially this means that she was Gentile follower of God, not a Jewish believer. She had heard of God and chosen to follow him, but she had never been told about Christ. Paul shares the gospel with her and she is saved. In fact, her whole household comes to Christ and is baptized right then and there. Paul was led by the Spirit and look at the outcome.
Then, Paul does some other amazing thing (which we will look at in-depth next week) and winds up in prison. While in prison, amazing things happen and guess how it ends: people come to Christ. The gospel is shared.
All of this because Paul was led by the Spirit and not by his own head or heart.
Amazing things happen when we obey the Spirit’s leading!
So now the question every one of you is asking yourself while reading this: how can I know? How can I be sure the Spirit is leading me and it isn’t just my own thoughts or desires? The answer might feel simple to you:
- Be in the Word – the Spirit will never contradict the Bible. Ever. Not only that, but studying the Word also helps us to understand God and come closer to him as his people. The closer we become to God, the more we will know what he (and his Spirit that guides us) desires. Those desires take root in our hearts as we study and we become more like him, desiring what he desires.
- Be in prayer – the Bible says that the Spirit helps us to pray. We also get to know God better through prayer. Think about this: on your Facebook right now, you have hundreds of friends. If you have a major decision to make and need guidance, who are you going to ask? Your best friend that you talk to every day? Or that “friend” from middle school that you still keep tabs on even though you haven’t seen them or spoken to them in 12 years? Your best friend of course! Why? You talk to them regularly so they know your heart and your passions. They can give you sound guidance because they know you. You trust them because you know them. How, then, are we supposed to trust the Spirit’s nudge in our lives if we treat him as our old middle school pal? We need to be in conversation with Spirit constantly through prayer!
- Fruit – the sure-fire way of knowing you are led by the Spirit is that the fruit of the Spirit is clearly present in your life. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If those things are present in your life, you can be sure you are led by the Spirit. And if you can be sure you are led by the Spirit, you can make decisions with confidence because your spirit is in agreement with His Spirit.
If you are in the Word, praying, and bearing fruit, you can be confident that God’s Spirit is at work in you and will guide you in the same way he did for Paul. We often think of Bible characters like Paul as a “special” case, but that simply isn’t true. The same Spirit that guided Paul can guide you now.
You just have to let it do so.