Forsaken by God Or Perfectly Led?

Forsaken by God Or Perfectly Led?

house Annie Hutchison Jun 25, 2024

What do you do when you feel like you are following God and your life is crumbling apart? It’s easy to think, “I must have misheard or taken a wrong step.” What’s even easier to believe amid life-storms is that God has forsaken you, that he’s not good, or that he isn’t trustworthy.

Today, I want to tell you a story about two missionaries.

These two men were called to go and preach the gospel to a region of the world that had not really heard the gospel before. The older and more experienced missionary had even had a vision calling them to this area. When they got to the city, each day, they would go to the local place of prayer, and would tell about Jesus and the free gift of salvation he offers to those who surrender their lives to him. They noticed that the people at this place were mostly women, so they shared the good news with the women there. After doing this, one woman gave her life to Christ and her entire household was also saved along with her. The missionaries rejoiced in the work God had done in this woman’s life and that of her household but were wondering why God had called them to this region in a vision and then not given them more success. Still, they trusted that God led them there for his good purposes, and so the next day, they went back to the place of prayer to share the gospel some more with the locals.

One woman, who was a well known fortune-teller in the area, began shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” On the first day, the missionaries weren’t too upset at her loud shouting. After all, she wasn’t telling any lies; maybe God would use this. But after many days, they began to notice that her shouting was making the locals avoid them and was actually hindering them from sharing the gospel. In a fit of irritation and annoyance, the older missionary turned to her and said, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” and the demonic spirit of divination left her that very moment.  These missionaries might have hoped that this miraculous healing they performed of the demon-possessed woman would show the power of Christ at work through them and lead people to salvation, but the woman was a slave, and her owners were greatly angered at the fact that she could no longer earn them money from fortune-telling.

The owners called the local police over and explained that these missionaries were foreigners and troublemakers, stating that they were trying to instigate people to break the law. Then, the same crowd of people they had been preaching the gospel to day after day joined in attacking them; the police officer tore their clothes off them and beat them badly, publicly, before throwing them into prison.

These missionaries were called to preach the gospel to this region through a vision from God. Yet after many days of slogging it out at the local place of prayer, they were now bruised and bloody and chained in a dank, dark prison. It would have been really easy for them to feel utterly forsaken by God. Or worse, to feel betrayed by God. I imagine anger and disappointment at how God had led them into misery was being whispered to their hearts by the Accuser.

Yet instead of giving in to depression, hopelessness, anger, or resentment, they knew in their hearts that this was still part of God’s plan, and because they knew the character and personhood of Jesus so intimately, they chose to sing songs of praise and to pray to God. The other prisoners, who were loud with cries of despair and dismay, became silent and calm as these two men sang about why God is worthy of all their praise. Then suddenly, while they were still singing, an earthquake occurred that was so violent that it shook the chains off of all the prisoners' feet and opened all of the prison doors.

It would have been easy for these two missionaries to walk out of the prison they had been unjustly thrown into. It would have been easy for them to apply human wisdom to the situation and believe that this timely earthquake was God setting them free in a miraculous way, but they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and he hadn’t told them to leave. These missionaries chose to obey God even when it meant staying put in a prison they didn’t deserve to be in in the first place.

When the guard came to the prison and saw the doors all open, he was about to kill himself because he had failed in his job, and death was the penalty for his failure. But the missionaries yelled out to him, “Stop. No one has left. We’re all still here.”

Right away, the prison guard checked to see if this was true and found every single prisoner where they were supposed to be. Immediately, he brought the two missionaries out of their cell and knelt before them, asking how he could be saved. The missionaries shared the gospel with him and baptized him. The guard took them out of the prison and brought them to his home to have them share the good news with his family and to get them baptized. He tended to the missionaries' dirty, gaping wounds and fed them a hearty meal. They ate in celebration because his entire household had given their lives to Jesus and felt the freedom it brought.

The next morning, the prison guard was ordered to release the two missionaries from prison. It would have been easy for the missionaries to slink away when released for fear of more unlawful punishments, but the Holy Spirit compelled them, so instead, they responded by saying: “We were publicly beaten without cause and thrown unjustly into jail without trial. Laws have been broken, and now they seek to let us go secretly? No! They must come themselves and take us out.”

When the local authorities heard this, they were afraid of the missionaries, so they came and apologized to them and asked them to leave the city.

This mission trip did not go the way the missionaries would have hoped for.

Only two households in the entire city gave their lives to Jesus, and on top of that minuscule number of converts, they were severely beaten and imprisoned before being kicked out of the city. But these men knew in their hearts that they had obeyed all that God had asked of them, so they trusted that amazing things would result from their efforts, whether or not they ever got to see it come to fruition.

Many years later, those two households had shared the gospel with their neighbors and friends and began the first Christian church ever in their city.

This is the story of how the church in Philippi was founded (See Acts 16), which is why the book of Philippians is in the Bible.

Sometimes, the way God leads us doesn’t make any sense. Sometimes, it's brutally painful and feels counterintuitive. But if we walk closely with Jesus, filled and enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit, we too can have enough wisdom and discernment to choose to stay put, even though the doors look open to us, simply because God hasn’t told us to walk out yet.

I wonder how different that mission trip would have turned out and how many people would have been left in their blindness if Paul and Silas had chosen to give up when they felt discouraged by how poorly things were going. I wonder how different the story would have read if they had walked out of prison and allowed the guard to die for their freedom. Would the church of Phillipi have ever been established if they had used their own best judgment instead of following God despite it not making any worldly sense?

As an American Christian, I like to believe that anything uncomfortable and resembling a trial is bad and certainly not from God. But when I read stories like this one from Acts 16, I am reminded of how true Romans 8:28 is (which was written by Paul).

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 ESV)

Sometimes, we encounter trials because we made bad choices, sinned, or fell short. But often, the trials that hurt the most are the ones we feel blind-sighted by because we were following God closely when the painful circumstances came out of nowhere. In these seasons of trials, where it's really easy to feel angry or resentful at God, I pray that we would have the grace to choose to worship the holy, loving, and gracious character of God, who knows more than we do, and whose character doesn’t change because we dislike his leading.

May God’s Holy Spirit fill you today, and may you press into where He leads, even if it’s painful.

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Surrendering to the path God leads us on