Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas. That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” (Acts 16:6)
My 78-year-old mother has been having some kidney problems of late. In trying to figure out what brought these about, I thought of the many pain pills she has taken over the years for other ailments. So adding two plus orange to get a cloudy day, I came to the conclusion that I should stop taking ibuprofen to spare my kidneys. Of course, the week I came to this great revelation, my back began hurting with a vengeance. Not just hurting, but being spiteful about it. Out came the bottle of ibuprofen. Then, once I got my back under control, my surgically-repaired knee (two surgeries on it in the 1990s) began hurting like billy-o. I could hardly stand, let alone walk. I reached again for the ibuprofen.
Things don’t always go as I plan.
I once pictured myself working in publishing until I was 62, then retiring to a cottage where I could read and write and watch the stars at night. Then publishing went upside-down, I lost my job, and now I am working retail to get by, and most likely will until I’m 82. I sometimes see the stars through my windshield when I’m driving home at night from my store.
Things don’t always go as I plan.
Have I done something wrong, and now God is punishing me? Did I miss a turn on the road that would have taken me where I wanted to go? With the pain pills, I could suck it up and endure the pain. I have a pretty high tolerance for physical pain, and am developing the same for emotional pain. The thought, however, of stabbing, searing discomfort every time I move is not one I want to cling to, even though I had resolved to keep my kidneys clear of what would help my back and knee. With my job, well, I have applied for so many other positions over these last four or five year I have lost track. Not many want to hire a 54-year-old former teacher/editor who now works retail.
What has gone wrong? Where did I jump the track? After all, if I were really following the Lord, would these things be happening to me?
The answers are: Nothing. Nowhere. And yes.
I was once visiting with a retired missionary, a great man of God named Merland. I said, “Merland, listen to this verse from Ecclesiastes. Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked? ”
“Oh yes,” said Merland. “God makes our crooked paths straight.”
“No,” I said. “That’s not what this says. It says God takes what is straight, and then crookeds it all up.”
Merland looked at the verse and said, “Well, that is something, isn’t it?”
It certainly is something. I want God to take what is crooked and make it nice and straight. I want a straight and level path to walk. That way I can see far down the road, where I am going. When the road is all twisty I can’t see around the next bend. I have no idea what is ahead. I want to know what is going to happen today and tomorrow and next week and next year. I am much more comfortable when I know what is going on. The fruit of knowledge, both good and evil, tastes good on my lips. I may say I trust God, but in all I honesty I want to understand more than I want to trust. And it seems God is having none of that.
My physical pain, my emotional pain, my struggles to pay my bills and to keep food on the table for my family are not the results of me sinning. They are part of the crooked path God has placed me on. God is not angry with me. He knows that the most important thing that can happen in my life is not for me to live pain-free or to have wealth in this world. He knows what I need most is to have strong faith that God is and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek after him. And for one like I who insists on understand and knowing, developing faith is a very hard task.
Paul and Silas were doing the Lord’s work, proclaiming the Gospel and establishing churches. They were set to go to Asia, but the Spirit of the Lord prevented them. Was it because they were in sin? No. It was because God had other plans for them, plans they could not see, plans that did not make sense to them at the time. I somehow think Paul was like me in that he wanted to understand. He wanted things explained to him. We don’t read the entire struggle, we just know that the Spirit of God would not let them go to Asia. Did the Holy Spirit give Paul an explanation? I’m betting he didn’t. But Paul and Silas obeyed, and that was all that mattered.
God has me on a very crooked, twisty path right now in many areas of my life. There are things he is doing that I just don’t get. I do know, however, that the desire of my heart is to follow after him no matter the cost. He knows that too. I know his ways are not my ways, just as his thoughts are higher than mine. And I know I am to trust him.
And that is the hardest thing I have ever been called to do.
Let us pray.