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Pursuing God's Call

Acts 21:1-6
After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Kos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara. We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail. After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo. We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. After saying goodbye to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home. (NIVUK)

Paul's sea journeys are remarkable and courageous. Although the Mediterranean routes were quicker and safer from bandits, and dangerous geography (2 Corinthians 11:26), they were much more hazardous. Acts 27:13-44 describes Paul's shipwreck on the coast of Malta in detail, and 2 Corinthians 11:25 tells of three shipwreckings including swimming in the open sea for a night and a day. Paul might have refused to continue with his travelling ministry, but he knew it was God's calling and he had to preach the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:16) especially where people had no knowledge about Jesus (Romans 15:20).

Looking at the map, the coastline from Miletus to Patra has many rocky islands and outcrops. Small ships had to navigate under sail in variable visibility and strong winds, even in summer, without any of the modern aids to navigation. There was no fixed passage schedule. Most of the journeys were between a few ports known to the captain and so passengers would have to find their next ship at each port. It was faster than travelling overland but it was unpredictably dangerous. Paul was not immune to fear, but knew that the Lord would protect him (Acts 27:22-26).

The believers at Tyre were concerned too. The Holy Spirit had told them that Paul would come to harm in Jerusalem, and so they urged him not to go there. Yet we know that the Holy Spirit had previously told Paul to go to Jerusalem (Acts 20:22) where he should expect great hardship (Acts 20:23). So the Spirit was preparing the believers in Tyre as well as the apostle. Did the Spirit motivate the Christians to tell Paul not to go, or was it their own sense of wanting to protect him from danger? Or was the Spirit using the believers' concern as a test for Paul? We do not know. But the Lord did want Paul in Jerusalem; he knew it and so did the believers, and Paul chose to obey.

Following God's call can be very tough. But He makes His call unmistakable to those who want to listen. Sometimes, our friends and family want us to have an easier life, either for our sake or because of the repercussions on themselves. Sometimes the Lord tests us to see if we are willing to submit ourselves to His will, particularly if obedience will be costly. It might be nice to think that all good decisions will lead to humanly positive outcomes, but that is not reality. Nor does it reflect the experience of God's people in the Bible where joy and sorrow mingle (Hebrews 11:32-38), as in Jesus' earthly life. So do not estimate God's will by how much you may profit from it, nor despise His will by how much you may suffer with it. Just understand what He wants you to do, and do it.

Holy Lord. Thank You that Your will is good and perfect in every way. Forgive me for making my decisions on how much I will benefit instead of how I can best obey you. Please help me to understand that following Jesus will bring me through joy and sorrow, and will glorify His Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams