Chapter 16 is kind of a turning point in the book of Acts. Paul and Barnabus have parted ways over their disagreement about John Mark, and now Silas enters the story as Paul’s new missionary partner. We meet Timothy for the first time, and Luke joins the journey as observer of all that is happening (notice the pronoun change in verse 11). We are also introduced to Lydia, who is a merchant of expensive purple cloth and a worshiper of God. And finally, it is the first time Paul preaches in a Roman colony, Philippi. The Holy Spirit seems to be taking Paul in a new direction, a direction that ultimately leads to Rome.
I’m intrigued by the Holy Spirit’s leading up to Lydia’s conversion. Paul and Silas are trying to focus on Asia, Mysia and Bithynia (modern day Turkey), but the Holy Spirit won’t let them. They are prevented from preaching in Asia, and are not allowed to travel to Bithynia. The Holy Spirit has other plans for this part of the world as we will see later in Acts, but now is not the time. It’s not clear how the Holy Spirit communicated this Paul and Silas, but it’s clear that their plans were thwarted. Doors were closed. The Holy Spirit is in control.
Then Paul received direction through a vision, and believing in faith that God was calling them to preach in Macedonia they left at once. It sounds like they traveled quickly and easily across the sea to Macedonia and ultimately to Philippi. Again, the Holy Spirit is in control, this time providing direction and opening doors leading to Philippi.
Philippi was a Roman colony, and it is likely that there wasn’t much of a Jewish presence there. The fact that Paul and Silas went out to a riverbank where they thought people might gather for prayer suggests that there wasn’t a synagogue in town (and it only took 10 circumcised Jewish men to form a synagogue). Paul must have been wondering why he was directed to this place when he met Lydia. The Holy Spirit opens her heart to the gospel, and Lydia and her household were baptized. So Paul’s first convert in this new part of the world was a woman. The Holy Spirit is in control. His ways are surprising, and His ways are not our ways.
I don’t have trouble believing that the Holy Spirit is in control, and that he opens and shuts doors to guide believers through life’s decisions. And I know that his ways are not my ways, and that he can lead in surprising ways. The part I struggle with is believing that God will give me specific direction, some kind of leading like Paul’s vision or a word of guidance. I just don’t expect him to do that for me, and that is wrong. Maybe even sin. I’m quenching the Spirit’s work in my life.
The Holy Spirit hasn’t changed in the way he works with believers. He still moves and works in the same ways today as he did in chapter 16. I need to change my ways and my expectations, and trust in the Spirit’s leading. How about you?