Text: Acts 16:6-15
Do you ever have the feeling you are going around in circles and getting nowhere? Do you ever feel that our church is doing that? It’s a frustrating feeling! You feel like you are trying so hard—-you are doing so much work—-but you don’t seem to be achieving much or getting anywhere.
One of the key reasons for this happening is our not being able to see what our destination or goal is. Without that destination of what God wants you to do in mind, we are not able to focus on where we are going——and we keep going in circles.
Although I grew up on a farm until 5th grade, we then moved to Abilene. My last two years of high school and first two of college I went to work for a farmer near Abilene who farmed 500 acres of wheat as well as other crops.. After the wheat harvest was over it was then time to do the plowing with a five bottom plow. If my employer wanted the field plowed so all the furrows were in the same direction, I found very quickly that thr first thing I had to do was plow a straight first furrow. The only way to do that was to find something directly across the field from me and fix my eye on that and head the tractor straight toward it. If I took my eyes off the destination for even a moment I would have a crooked furrow . I had to stay completely focused on my destination.
Long ago, the writer of Proverbs said words that relate to this example. He wrote: “Without a vision, the people perish”, as translated in the KJV. It was important for Israel to keep in focus their vision of being God’s chosen people to spread knowledge of God to the rest of the world.
It is just as important for a congregation today to have a vision that they can focus on to achieve. If it is to be achieved successfully, it must be God’s Vision, not just the congregation’s. Do you know what this church’s vision is? (Please don’t all answer at the same time in telling me) Is it a common, shared vision.? Is our church focused on it?
A VISION should answer these important questions:
WHAT is our congregation’s purpose for living?
WHY is our congregation here in this specific place?
WHAT specifically is God calling us to do as his church?
HOW is God using us, or wanting to use us to make a difference in our world—-right here—right now?
If we have no such shared vision for our congregation, we really have no reason to live. WITHOUT A VISION, THE CHURCH WILL PERISH EVENTUALLY!!
In today’s text, the Apostle Paul is having a vision problem. He and his missionary group were going in circles and not getting anywhere it seems. Paul’s idea was to head into Asia but that idea was nixed by the Holy Spirit. He then decided that they would go toward Bithynia but this decision was also disallowed by the Spirit of Jesus. Paul and his companions appear to be on the verge of traveling in circles when he finally received a VISION in a dream that directed their mission to Macedonia—to the West and not towards the East and Asia. In Paul’s vision he saw a man in Macedonia calling for their help and immediately they set out for Macedonia—following the vision sent to him by the Holy Spirit. They arrived in Philippi and there with the help of Lydia establish one of the strongest churches on their missionary journeys.
Two important things must be noted here about Paul’s actions. First, he was aware of the Holy Spirit’s leadership of their journey and when the Holy Spirit blocked where he thought HE wanted to go—twice—-he followd the leadership of the Spirit of Christ. Secondly, after first being blocked and then again, Paul didn’t sit down and pout when denied the door to Asia. He didn’t say—“I’m not going to do anything until the Holy Spirit tells me what to do. He didn’t just sit and bemoan the fact that Jesus didn’t want him to go to Bithynia but Paul kept moving—thinking that “if we can’t go that way we’ll try this way”—But he listened for the direction of God’s Spirit as to where to move!!! That is what we must learn from this scripture passage.
We listen for God’s Spirit to move us through prayer.. I’m sure Paul was in prayer most of the time. We must never undertake any journey in the name of Christ except through prayer. That is how the guidance of the Holy Spirit will come.
The English philosopher/political economist, John Stuaret Mill was prepare for his profession by a stern Scottish father, James Mill—himself a recognized philosopher/economist/ historian. His father observed his son’s early brilliance and determined that the boy should be educated exhaustively in literature and the arts, science, history and philosophy. However, he declared that religious learning was unnecessary and distracting, so he kept his son away from any religious education. Later, John Stuart Mill (the son) declared, as he looked back on his youth, that he realized the profound sense of lostness and longing that had pervaded his heart. Although his mind was crammed with information, John Stuart Mill declared his soul was “starved.” Without the directional guidance of a God personally known through prayer and faith Mill likened himself to a well equipped ship, but with no sail.
How many of us are “ships without a sail today”? In our personal lives and in our churches we are often without direction and work aimlessly and futilely to reach a vague destination that we do not know because we are not prayerful in communication with God. And if God does communicate with us and his breath fills our sails—-are we willing to listen and rechart the direction of our lives as the Spirit leads us? Because when God’s Spirit fills our sails we will often be taken into scary, ucharted waters.
I am fascinated by the fact that Paul never sat back and waited for God to give hims instructions. God almost always seems to have to interrupt Paul on a journey.
Paul was on the road to Damascus to persecute the people of the Way when the Light hit him.
He had it in his mind in the text today to go to Asia when God said, “Whoa” !
Then Macedonia opened up. Lydia was out there looking for God, a God seeker, a God fearer, when Paul came upon her and other women praying by the riverside in Philippi;
This leads me to think that maybe we need to get up and start doing what we think is God’s will now and trust that he will tell us what to do while we are on the way. Maybe God never gives us more directions and more information than we need and until we have started moving in one direction, there is no need for God to correct us and tell us to change directions. Perhaps to hear the voice of God as clearly and as fully as Paul heard it we have to be heading in some direction so that God can correct our movements.. Perhaps God will not give us more light than is needed for each step..
Our church is seeking a permanent pastor-–one that will work with us to build the church and to be a shepherd and a pastor to God’s people here in Eureka at Christian & Congregational Church. The Search Committee cannot just sit and wait for God to send the pastor we need. They must develop, through prayer, a clear idea of what that pastor should be.They must work and examine and search for a pastor—-but most importantly they must be in constant communication with God for guidance toward the right person—-the one that God intends for this church. They must listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They must be willing to change their minds and change their directions as the Spirit leads them—-just as Paul was willing to be lead by the Spirit.
We say we want to be a church that attracts children. We have formed a task force to do that. That task force must meet and discuss—-and work toward that goal—-but they will only be successful if they listen to God’s Spirit and let the Spirit lead them in directions they may have not thought possible. We must be able, through prayer to see what God’s picture of that church to attract children will be. It will not perhaps be the pictre that the Task Forces has in its mind—it must be God’s picture. That is only discerned by constantly talking and listening for God’s guidance.
God has a reason for this church to exist. God has a purpose, a dream for this church to fulill in Eureka. We must be open to the vision that will open to us as God leads us forward. But meanwhile we must be striving to prayerfully find the answers to those questions I gave in the early part of this sermon:
- WHAT IS OUR CONGREGATIONS PURPOSE FOR LIVING?
- WHY IS OUR CONGREGATION HERE IN THIS SPECIFIC PLACE?
- WHAT SPECIFICALLY IS GOD CALLING US TO DO AS HIS CHURCH?
- WHAT ARE WE DOING WITH OUR SPIRITUAL GIFTS TO ANSWER THAT CALL?
- HOW IS GOD USING US, OR WANTING TO USE US TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN OUR WORLD—RIGHT HERE—RIGHT NOW?
- As we struggle to answer these questions we must be prayerfully open to God’s Spirit and let that Spirit guide us to the answers that fulfill God’s dream for our church. Once we have seen the vision, then we will be able to focus on it as Paul did.. Amen.