The book of Acts, sometimes called the Acts of the Spirit, tells the story of the early church. In it, we find big, grand, surprising acts of the Spirit. A new boldness for the disciples to proclaim the message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. A prison escape. A bright light, a voice from heaven and a life turned upside-down. A woman raised from the dead. A whole new menu. The inclusion of those who were once on the outside looking in.
But there are other stories too. And this week we turn to a rather odd story. It begins when the Spirit forbids Paul, and his companions, from going a certain direction. And then, when they try to go to somewhere else, the Spirit forbids them a second time.
It seems rather strange. After all, if Jesus’ last instructions were to go from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth with the good news of the gospel, then it seems strange that the Spirit would forbid Paul from doing just that.
But I find myself coming back to this story again and again, in part because of its strangeness, but also in part because it feels so relatable. I know what it feels like to be forbidden by the Spirit. We might be more comfortable with such promptings of the Spirit if we called them closed doors. And I would guess we all know something of closed doors.
We don’t particularly like closed doors.
But when I think of journeys, especially journeys that involve in hiking, I think of starts and stops, and of forks in the trail where you have to choose where to go. And it is true, sometimes there is a sign, clearly pointing in the right direction. But other times, we’re left to figure it out for ourselves. And sometimes we might even make the wrong turn, get a few steps (or maybe further) down the trail before needing to backtrack and try again.
Just last week, I was with my parents in Joshua Tree National Park and early one morning my dad and I went to hike Ryan Mountain at sunrise. Little did I know, there were actually two trailheads from the parking lot. And in the dark, we started on the wrong one, got a couple hundred feet in, realized the mistake and had to turn around and go back and try again.
If that’s true of hiking, then how much more is it true of our spiritual lives as we seek to follow God in a rapidly changing world?
Maybe starts and stops and uncertainty are simply part of the journey, maybe they are not necessarily a bad thing or a thing to avoid. But maybe, like we will see with Paul and his companions, they are an invitation to keep going.
Grace and peace,