Some missionaries speak of a “Macedonian call”, referring to this incident in the life of the apostle Paul, “During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us. When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.” (Acts 16:9–10). What does this say to us today?
Firstly, if we’re going to obey God’s call to mission, we need to pray, listening to God, with a willingness to have our own plans thwarted. From time to time in Acts we are told that the apostles were “constantly devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14; cf. 6:4), or that they were “praying and fasting” (13:2–3). Just a few verses before Paul’s vision, we read that Paul and his companions were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia” (16:6) and that the “Spirit of Jesus” would not allow them to enter Bithynia (16:7). Somehow, Paul was open and sensitive enough to recognize the Spirit’s leading – and to discern that he was closing a door, even though speaking the word in Asia seemed the obvious thing to do.
Secondly, obeying God’s call leads to unexpected converts and unlikely people and places. When Paul reaches Philippi, there are no opportunities to address large crowds; only a small gathering at a “place of prayer” by the river (16:13). Instead of finding “a man from Macedonia”, he encounters Lydia: a woman, who is from Thyatira – which not in Macedonia! Yet, Lydia responded to the gospel and her whole household with her (16:14–15). Paul and Silas then end up in jail, so they can’t preach to anybody! Yet there in their cells, a lowly Philippian jailor is confronted with the power of God through a violent earthquake, and he and his household respond to the word of the Lord, believe and are baptized (16:33–34).
Thirdly, we need to pray for the right words to say in mission, and speak them in obedience. When Paul met with Lydia, “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” (16:14). Later, confronted by “a slave girl who had a spirit of divination” (16:16), Paul boldly exorcises the demon in the name of Jesus Christ: (16:18) As a result, the apostles are flogged, and held in the innermost cell of the jail. It’s midnight and they are recovering from a severe beating but Paul and Silas proclaim Jesus aloud to all who can hear them through worship and prayer (16:25). When the earthquake comes to the prison, the apostles remain where they are, even though they could have got free (16:26) and Paul speak words of reassurance to the jailer (16:28). Paul knows just what to say; not that he can help the jailer in his own power but: “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (16:31)
Fourthly, mission is costly, the path is not always easy, and God does not always spare us from opposition or suffering. When Paul casts out the demon from the slave girl, he and Silas are seized and dragged into the marketplace (16:19). They are unjustly accused by the magistrates (16:20–21), attacked by the crowd, stripped of their clothing, beaten with rods (16:22) – described as a “severe flogging” (16:23). God does not spare them from intense physical pain, persecution and unjust humiliation. Even after each answer to prayer and each time that God rescued them, the apostles were not kept from repeated experiences of hostility, persecution and suffering.
Finally, God brings great fruit from obedience in mission. All this ultimately led to the founding of churches in Philippi and Thessalonica! It also led to Paul writing letters to those churches, which we now treasure as Holy Scripture and speaks to us today. And what happened about that aborted trip to Asia? Ultimately Paul (later) did get there and stayed two years (19:9)! So, the word of the Lord did get to Asia, but in God’s timing not Paul’s.
What about us? Are we praying constantly, individually and together about our part in God’s mission to the world? Are we open to hearing God’s voice and sensitive to recognize when he is calling us? Are we then willing “immediately” to lay aside our own plans and desires, in order to obey; not knowing what will face us when we do? Are we open to God leading us to unlikely places or people? Are we discouraged in mission because we see misunderstanding, opposition, challenges and suffering as defeat? Are we open to seeing God bring fruit in his own way at his own time? Let’s pray for the sensitivity to follow God’s call in mission, as Paul did.