By Carolyn Moore –
A well-known Reformed pastor and theologian once said, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” It’s a good line. It opens up the creative pores and asks what are the 9,997 things God is doing around me right now that I’m not even aware of? What relationship is he repairing? What movement is he birthing? What miracle is already in the works? What if God is doing far more in your life and you’re not even aware of it?
In Acts 16, Paul is sitting in a room in Troas feeling some dejection. Things had not gone so well on this trip. Good ideas were met with contention and doors were closing. It starts with the simple suggestion that they go back and visit the believers in all the towns where they’d started churches and already preached. Then they started to brainstorm who they’d take with them. Barnabas thought they should take John Mark. Paul didn’t. That debate erupted into a huge blow up. We could spend a lot of time psychologizing this scene and deciding who was right and who was being ridiculous but if we go down that road we’ll miss one of those 9,997 things God doesn’t want us to miss: The Holy Spirit directs the mission – not us.
Paul wanted to visit the believers but you don’t get the sense that was the mission in the mind of the Holy Spirit. “Paul and his companions traveled 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. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas” (Acts 16:6).
For the lack of an open-door, Paul is left to wonder what in the world God is up to. Here’s this go-getter apostle trying to win souls for the kingdom, begging for an opportunity to do what he does best. And there is God slamming every door that distracts Paul. Slowly the Holy Spirit nudges Paul towards the coast where he will finally be able to gaze across the sea towards Macedonia and catch a glimpse of God’s heart for the nations.
Every door has a threshold. That is the point of entry at the bottom of a door that leads us from one room to the next. In spiritual terms thresholds mark progress. They represent forward movement in our spiritual maturity. It would make sense that it would be precisely at the thresholds that we experience the most pressure. When I approach a threshold that takes me from one level of intimacy with Christ to a deeper level, I begin to encounter greater pressure right at the threshold itself, just before the breakthrough.
That pressure can sometimes feel overwhelming. There we are waiting for the threshold of a new spiritual place, hearing God’s invitation to come on in. And meanwhile some devilish force is luring us backwards creating pressure against our progress, thresholds, or doorways. Another biblical word-picture is gate.
“Gates are where we win or lose. That’s why Scripture uses gates as the place to be broken through,” writes Barbara Yoder. “We must break through intimidation, faithlessness, fear, hopelessness, despair or whatever else looms like an unconquerable foe at the gates. The threshold is where we either cross over or hold back, opting to be safe in our homes. Yet once we cross over it is where we meet the incredible supernatural power of God to break through before us, victorious over every obstacle. It is after we leap that we begin to possess our inheritance for the current season.”
Paul was sitting at the coast of Troas, this threshold moment being lured by the Holy Spirit through a doorway into Macedonia where he would begin to possess a revolutionary call to take the gospel beyond Asia and into the world. “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready to go to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:9).
That’s so Paul, isn’t it? He is like a spiritual battling ram – breaks down a door, steps over a threshold into a whole new spiritual territory. I don’t know why he didn’t see it coming. I mean he had already preached this moment. In Acts 13, we find him battling the incessant complaints of religious people who are anxious over the mixing of races and evangelization of foreigners. Paul’s response to them draws from Isaiah’s word to the Israelites, reminding them that truth is not a private affair.
Paul quotes from Isaiah 49, “For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” This word moves us right up to a threshold, a doorway, because most of us are content to nestle down inside our own salvation and be comfortable. But Paul won’t have it. He needs us to hear the prophet’s word as our call too. ”I will make you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6 ESV).
Dr. Tim Tennent teaches us that the missionary task is bigger than we tend to give it credit for. “When we see the church being planted cross-culturally we begin to see that the gospel is being brought to new people groups, and that is the missionary task,” he writes. God is always stretching us towards the ends of the earth, towards the ones who don’t yet know.
“Even if every Christian in the world became an evangelist and they witness to everybody they knew, and everyone they knew became Christians, and they themselves became evangelists, even after you had a tremendous movement to Christ all over the world, there would still be over a billion people who had never even heard the name of Jesus,” Tennent writes. “Why? Because they had no friends or neighbors to evangelize them, to speak the word of God to them. So however vibrant the church’s life may become in various parts of the world where the church is planted, however vivacious the people’s ministry may be, however mature the church’s growth, the world will not be reached, the Great Commission will not be fulfilled, until people cross cultural barriers and bring the gospel to those who have not heard it.”
That’s why the threshold moment in the life of Paul is so critical. There he stands at the far edge of the movement. Paul, maybe the only follower of Jesus bold enough to do such a thing, opens the door so the world could be introduced to a global Messiah. Why? Because if Jesus is not Christ for the whole world, he’s not Christ for any of it.
In Acts 16:13 we read, “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 gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God … When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer of the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.”
What an example of our thesis that God is doing, 10,000 things. Here is Paul opening up the gospel door for Europe and when he gets there, he finds himself evangelizing women. How bold!
Down by that river sharing the gospel with Lydia, Paul crosses yet another threshold and finds himself on the creation side of Genesis 3 and, by that obedience, God opens the door for Lydia to join the fellowship of biblical women who dared to walk back in the Garden of Eden and claim their call to carry the good news to a lost and hurting world. We thank God for Phoebe, Junia, Priscilla, Mary, Tryphena, and all the women that Paul said worked hard for the Lord.
The first century church proved that when men and women worked together to build the kingdom of God, operating in freedom and in the power and giftedness of the Holy Spirit, the effects of the fall are reversed, and the glories of the gospel are exposed. Paul has a word for the future Global Methodist Church: Don’t forget the Macedonians. Don’t forget the ends of the earth.
Hope above the fog. A few weeks ago, I presided over a funeral in Florida and had the chance to walk on the beach at sunrise and was staring at the horizon, waiting for the sun to break through. That morning, the fog created a band above the horizon.
Staring at the fog line, waiting for the sun to show up, I thought about us and waiting for the dawning of the Global Methodist Church. I also thought about that quote, “God is always doing 10,000 things around us and we are aware of three of them.” And I wondered what if we are waiting for something that has already happened? What if God has already placed his stamp on this vision. Has he already sent it forth into the world like a sun that has already risen above the horizon yet hasn’t broken through the fog? And what if while we’re focused on the dawning of something that God has already blessed to happen, he’s off doing 9,997 things we’re not even aware of yet.
Just as I thought about that, I turned around and saw all of these people staring in the direction of the horizon. There was a door. It wasn’t a physical door, but it was definitely an open door. It was actually rows upon rows of hotels and there were people just waiting to see the sun break over the fog.
Those rooms were full of people who must surely be starving, as I once was, for a better answer to life. Some of them were perishing for lack of it. And I can literally hear the cry, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” So, I stood there looking at the hotels and the fog and wondered and grieved about how much time all of us have spent desperately staring toward a horizon waiting for a sun that has already broken through while a world of lost and hurting people are starving for a better answer.
Be encouraged. Don’t focus on the fog. Focus on the door. Because God is always doing many things in the world and right now, he is inviting us to step through a doorway to become a light to the nations because the world is our parish, and the world is God’s mission.
Carolyn Moore is a United Methodist clergyperson and the founding and lead pastor of Mosaic Church in Evans, Georgia. She also serves as the chairwoman of the Wesleyan Covenant Association Global Council. You can read more of her essays by visiting her webpage (artofholiness.com) and podcast. This article is adapted from her address at the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s Global Gathering in April.