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Listening for God's Call

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Dear Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

Chess is a fascinating game.  In the lobby of Beacon Christian School there is a new large chessboard that calls out to be played.  The knee-high chess-pieces and the board you can walk around – they just seem to call your name. 

My grandfather: Opa Winter taught me to play when I was twelve.  I tackled it with enthusiasm.  When I got home from staying several days with my grandparents I joined the chess club at school.  But I wasn’t satisfied with that, I taught my younger brother to play chess too. 

I guess that’s when I gave up any goals of being a chess master and knew I was called to preaching and teaching!  In a few days, my brother outshone his teacher.  He beat me so often I refused to play anymore.  You see, I never really mastered the ability to move the pieces around on the board with a goal in mind that wasn’t immediately obvious to my opponent. 

In the call to worship we read together this morning, Isaiah spoke of God sitting high above the earth.  The people of the earth are spread out before him like grasshoppers.  God controls what happens to princes and rulers.  God controls the events on the earth the way a chess-master controls the board.

That’s a comforting image on one level.  It feels good to know that our heavenly Father is in control of the events of our lives, the rise and fall of nations, and the comings and goings of rulers. 

But on another level, it feels uncomfortable to be a pawn in the game.  It’s not very flattering for our self-image; we feel small and insignificant.  We know that momentous events are moving all around us, but we don’t have the ability to see more than just the squares immediately around us.

There are many times when we would really love to understand God’s strategy – to see his plans a month or two in advance.  Or perhaps have a ten-year long-range plan.  We long to understand how some of the things we experience could actually be God’s will.  But God doesn’t often let us see his purposes and plans.  That’s not the way God leads us.  More often God teaches us to be dependent on him one day at a time.

That was the way Paul and his companions experienced God’s leading on their second missionary journey.  They set out into Asia Minor with the best of intentions to preach the gospel.  It must have confused them when God gave instructions as they travelled through the peninsula:

·        Don’t preach in Phrygia

·        No, don’t preach in Galatia.

·        Don’t even go to Bithynia.

Finally they land up in Troas, on the coast of the Aegean.   They’ve just covered a lot of land without preaching and without a final destination in mind. 

Like true children of Abraham, they followed God’s leading, though.  They trusted God’s plan even thought they couldn’t see the final destination.   Yet it must have been uncomfortable, being moved across the province like pawns on a chessboard without being able to see the rest of the game.

That image isn’t altogether comforting.  In chess, pawns aren’t usually considered too valuable.  When you play chess, you sacrifice pawns, bishops, and even the queen in order to keep the king safe and win the game.

Is that really how God is?  Doesn’t God care more about us than a chess player cares about a little pawn?  Is he really like a general sitting in safety at the back of his army, sending his soldiers into dangers that don’t come close to him?  Of course not!  The comparison breaks down there. 

God is big enough to control the world he has created and yet he also loves his creation enough to be concerned about each person he created. 

It is hard for us to put these two characteristics into focus at the same time: absolute power and tender love.  They sound mutually exclusive. Our experiences of going through tough situations, enduring the pain and misery of life in a sin-stained and fallen world often make people question both God’s power and his love.

Yet God’s ability to control and direct people’s lives doesn’t take anything away from his love for them.  In fact, his love and concern are expressed in the way he plans and shapes the path we travel.  We accept God’s Word from Romans 8 that

In all things God works for the good of those who love him,who have been called according to his purpose.[1]

Through Luke’s account of this missionary journey, we are given the perspective to see how that works out in the events of Acts 16.

Paul and his companions were kept from preaching the gospel in Asia Minor.  Then they heard God calling them to cross the Aegean and go to Macedonia.  God had made an appointment for them with the people of Philippi.  We see God’s love and care as he moves this group of missionaries into the position he wants them. 

In Macedonia is the city of Philippi.  Outside of the city of Philippi there was a river.  At the river each Sabbath, a small group of Jewish people gathered to worship the Lord.  Among that group, praying among the women was a gentile.  She’s not even a full convert to Judaism, but she’s been accepted as a worshipper of God.  This lady’s name is Lydia. 

Even though Lydia is on the outskirts of the prayer group, on the outskirts of the town, God cares about her.  In God’s eyes Lydia is not just a simple pawn.  He has a message of love for her.

As Paul preaches, Lydia hears the gospel message: the unusual and amazing message of a King who sacrifices his life in order to win the victory; the King who gets pummelled and crucified so that an outsider (a pawn) like Lydia can be rescued.  It is that King, the Lord Jesus Christ, who leads Paul and his companions across Asia Minor and the Aegean, calling them to Macedonia in order that Lydia, among others, can hear the gospel.  Then, the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.

There too, the Lord is in control, allowing Lydia to hear the gospel and be changed.  Paul’s word was like seed that found good soil.  The message was received and sprouted.  Lydia and her household were baptized. 

Moved by God’s love, Lydia opened her home.  She welcomed the King’s messengers, pressing them to accept her hospitality.  Having them come to her home was evidence for her that she was accepted as a full member of the faith, for Jewish people would not otherwise stay in a Gentile’s home.

The Lord is in control of the situation and uses his messengers to express his love and compassion and acceptance.  From Luke’s perspective as he writes this account of his experiences travelling with Paul, we are able to see the bigger picture.  From this perspective we see God’s control and purposes in a way that we don’t often see in our own lives.

But what encouragement does this account give us for our own walk with God? 

It is nice to read about Paul being directed where to go by the HS and visions, but what about us?  How do we receive direction from God?  How do we gain the comfort of knowing where he wants us and what he wants us to be doing?

It is a pressing question for many of us.  We wrestle with trying to discern God’s will for our careers, for our dating and marriage plans, when to move or downsize. 

But if we believe that God still leads and directs his people today in the same way he did for Paul and Luke and the others travelling to Macedonia with them, how do we hear God’s will for our lives?

Reading carefully, we recognize that God makes his will known to his people in three ways in this passage.  There are three different ways God makes his plans known to his people one step at a time: 

·        Paul and his companions are in tune with the Spirit of Jesus that they know when to speak and where not to speak.

o   The way that they knew this isn’t explained.  From reading about others and my own experience – the HS can nudge you in a certain direction, put words in your mouth, or make his will clear in unmistakeable ways.

·        Paul receives a vision.

o   God uses visions or dreams many times in Scripture: Jacob and the ladder, Joseph and Pharaoh, Peter and the huge sheet of animals, and John in the book of Revelation.

o   Talking to colleagues and reading Christian writers, God still uses visions to give instruction and direction.

o   A vision is a gift you can ask God for, but God gives such gifts and guidance according to his own schedule.

·        Lydia hears God’s Word through a preacher.

o   The clearest way God speaks to his people – and the standard by which we measure every inner voice and vision is the Word of God: the Bible. 

o   We invest a lot of time and energy in reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Word – in personal devotions, small group Bible-studies, and worship services with a sermon at their centre in order that we can know God’s will and direction for our lives from his Word.

Yes, there are still times when we are confused by God’s will for our lives.  We sometimes face challenging questions of where to go, what to do, even what to say.

·        Job – what to do this summer, what is the vocation and career God wants me to pursue?

·        Where to live – should we move or downsize?

·        What ministries should our congregation focus on?

How do we make these choices?

We seek the Lord’s leading and will for our lives.

·        Get in step with the HS; tune our ears to hear his voice

·        ask God to make us open to his leading and message;

·        read, study, and listen to God’s Word – that’s how we tune our ears to the Spirit and gain an understanding of what God’s will is for us: how to live, how to act, what to say.

Trust our lives to our loving heavenly Father, confident that he gives loving guidance and direction to his people.  He leads us and guides us to be exactly where he wants us to be.


[1] Ro 8:28.

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