When God Says No - and Yes; Acts 16:6-10

Pause for a moment and read these verses slowly. There are some absolutely fascinating (and perplexing) things here that are very easily glossed over:

1. Paul, Silas and Timothy travel through Phrygia and Galatia, presumably strengthening the churches as per the end of chapter 15. They weren't just interested in pioneer evangelism, they were interested in making mature disciples, as per the Great Commission. Missions mustn't mentally compartmentalise what they do away from discipleship. Back in my UCCF days we used to say what we did with students was "mission and maturity". A fair number of churches said "that's incorrect. You do the mission, we do the maturity, leave discipling exclusively to churches." I take the point that it is easy for Christian Union to unwittingly subsume some functions of church (which they shouldn't), but Acts makes it a lot more difficult than that to drive a wedge between mission and maturity. Its not wrong for pioneer missions to also be interested in maturing and discipling the converts

2. The Holy Spirit forbade them to speak the word in Asia and prevented them from entering Bithynia. What on earth is going on here? Does God not want the gospel preached in these places? This must have been really perplexing. Everything inside us tends to say "this is a godly thing to want to do, we see whole areas where God can be glorified and churches planted, so it must be a right thing to do." But it wasn't, and as yet they didn't know why.

3. The reason, of course, was Macedonia. God's "no" to Asia and Bithynia is so that he can give a "yes" to what he subsequently leads them to do in Europe. v8 is very easily ignorable. Don't. It describes what they did after they knew God had said "no" but before they knew why, or where he was leading them. They didn't just stop. They went on somewhere else where there was no prohibition, presumably praying all the way for guidance. It is an example of "make the most of every opportunity." 

God's "nos" allow His "yesses". And we can't always see how the "yes" will happen at the point we submit ourselves to a "no". Several years ago Ros and I were on the verge of moving so I could join the staff team of a large church that we love and hold in very high esteem. I was preaching there one Sunday morning when I came as close as I have ever come to hearing the Lord speak audibly. And he said "no". I thought "I am really tired; I need a holiday!" And secretly "I am preaching to 700 people who are hanging on the Biblical preaching and who want me to come and it would be like throwing away the crown jewels."

We went on holiday and the inward sense of "no" became stronger and stronger, and others started to confirm it unknowingly as well. But I WANTED to go. And there was no plan B. We finally said no, to the church's disappointment and ours, not knowing why the Lord had removed our sense of peace about it. In the subsequent weeks it became extremely obvious that He wanted me to start Living Leadership, but I didn't know it at that point.

The start of Acts 16 is very dear and pertinent to me, and should be to any Christian leader who finds God's guidance sometimes seems inscrutable. I don't think God gives "nos" for the sake of saying "no". He doesn't prevent His name being glorified in Asia and Bithynia because He doesn't want His name glorified there. I think he gives "nos" for the sake of subsequent Macedonias. This is almost always the reason for a "no", because He is always going to lead His children to the place where they glorify Him before the world.