We all have our share of failed plans. Grand plans that just didn’t work out. Plans to study abroad or have kids or make it big in that band right out of high school or get on the fast track to promotion at work. Plans that – no matter how ridiculous they sounded or how encouraged they were – would have certainly changed our lives.
But doors close, right? There are certain things that I want to do that I shouldn’t do, regardless of whether or not I know why. And my understanding of that doesn’t necessarily change how upset I get about those paths being closed off. It does mean, though, that if I trust God enough to ask Him to guide me, I should trust Him enough to actually let Him do it. If I claim to believe He knows better than me, I should at least try to let Him lead me to “better.”
Paul, evidently, was pretty good at that. Or at least he was at the time of Acts 16. Paul and his people originally wanted to go to Asia, but were redirected by the Holy Spirit to Phrygia and Galatia. Then they wanted to go to the province of Bithynia but were redirected to Troas. That’s where Paul had a vision from God to go to Macedonia, and he did. Specifically, Paul’s group went to Philippi in the district of Macedonia (Acts 16:6-12).
“Why?” is probably the most human of questions. We always want to know the reason for something. And as much of an uber human as Paul was, I also find Paul pretty relatable at times. Luke, the author of Acts, doesn’t say that Paul questioned God here, but it would’ve been understandable if he had.
So Paul and his crew are in Philippi, speaking to people, even doing a little baptizing. One day they’re on their way to the place where they pray when they encounter a demon-possessed fortune-teller. She was good, but she got on Paul’s nerves. He eventually cast the demon out of her. The guys she worked for were mad and took Paul and Silas to the authorities. Everyone was all worked up to the point that a mob formed. So Paul and Silas were stripped, beaten badly, and put not only in prison, but into the inner dungeon of the prison and into stocks (Acts 16:13-24).
This is why I’m God’s problem child: at this point in the story, I would be mad. In every way, Paul is not where he wants to be. He’s in the most secure part of a prison in Macedonia, not preaching to people in Asia. God gave Paul a vision after He closed two doors, and Paul followed, and now he’s seemingly stuck in a bad situation. I would be scared and grumpy and ready to just get through it and go.
Paul and Silas’ situation seems very hopeless. But hopeless is where God shines brightest.
Paul, unlike me, didn’t dwell on his bad circumstances and failed plans. Unlike me, he didn’t question or doubt. No, Paul prayed and sang. Everyone listened to them, and around midnight, there was an earthquake. The foundations shook, doors opened, chains fell off. The guard thought everyone had left and was going to kill himself. But Paul stopped him. And the guard asked what he had to do to be saved. Paul told him to believe in Jesus. After his conversion, the guard washed their wounds and took them to his house where they baptized him and all of his family. And the next day, the authorities let Paul and Silas go (Acts 16: 25-36).
Thinking of what we wanted to happen but never did rarely puts us in a great mood. Thinking of opportunities missed and roads not taken cause us to look behind and not forward.
In December, I’ll have been on this Earth for a quarter of a century. And despite the fleeting feelings of awe and aging I have towards that fact from time to time, I think most of us, if not all of us, can agree that’s not very long. Yet I find myself owning up to the fact that I haven’t done some things I would’ve liked to by now, items on the bucket list that I thought would be crossed off already, like having a book published or traveling to certain places. It’s not to say that I’m running out of time so much as I sometimes worry that the timeline doesn’t look good someone like myself who gets comfortable and stuck in ruts a lot. So at almost 25, I already look back too much.
What good does that do me? What can I do to change anything that’s already happened even if I wanted to. And would I really want to considering all of my experiences from both successful and failed plans have made me who I am?
Plus, how does that make God feel? I say I trust Him and want Him in control, but the second our plans for my life differ, I hug and out and try to compromise. Surely it must hurt Him to know I’m not trusting Him, to know that something like that could affect how I see Him or how I feel about Him. And to know that I look back at failed plans that I made for myself like they could’ve been better than His? How does He still love me like He does?
Because He’s God.
Paul must have known this because he doesn’t dwell on what he wanted. He was focused on what was right in front of him. But Paul saw just as much value and potential in Macedonia as Asia. He was open to God and had faith in Him.
Paul’s faith even carried him though the dungeon. Dark, dank, secluded, and guarded. Had God not shook the foundations, Paul would have stayed there, but Paul’s faith in God’s faithfulness was bigger than Paul’s opinion of his circumstances.
Let’s try something crazy. Let’s trust God. Let’s have faith in Him. Let’s be bold enough to see what “better” looks like. Take God up on His promises and plans. Be open and obedient to Him.
By Carrie Prevette