God is more concerned that our character and priorities reflect His character and priorities than that we know for certain what career decisions to make or what city to live in. However, we do still need to make a multitude of minor decisions on a daily basis, and some major decisions from time-to-time, and so it is instructive to consider some examples from the life of the apostle Paul to get an idea of how this exemplary man navigated his life decisions.
Sometimes God directs us quite specifically with supernatural revelation.
How did Paul know he should begin a missionary tour with his friend Barnabas? Luke writes in Acts 13:1-2:
1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers… 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
Presumably one or more of the prophets present were led by the Spirit to speak these words (although the text does not specifically say this). Later, supernatural direction is again indicated when, in Acts 16:6-10, Luke records the following.
6 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
In both of these examples Paul was among a community of believers, and the Lord was speaking directly to Paul or others as they sought to do God’s will. We should seek to develop the sort of relationship with God and the sort of community of devoted believers in which we are genuinely listening to his voice, and can hear him when he directs us.
Sometimes there is a great opportunity, we have the tools to help, and someone asks us to get involved.
In Acts 11:19-24 we read that revival began to break out among Gentiles in Antioch at the preaching of some men from Cyprus and Cyrene. Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem to see what was happening, and discovered that the Lord was doing a great work in that city. Acts 11:25-26 reads:
25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people.
Barnabas, it seems, knew that Paul was just the type of man needed to lay a solid foundation in the lives of these Greeks in Antioch. The opportunity for great fruit was clear. Paul had the perfect skill set to help. Did the Spirit “lead” Paul to go? We don’t know. Did Paul “pray about it?” Perhaps. Did Barnabas ask Paul to come with him? Almost certainly. A consideration of the nature of the opportunity before us, the skills we can bring to the table, and the people asking us to join them can be very helpful in making a decision.
Sometimes the decisions we need to make are virtually forced upon us.
In Acts 13:44-49 we read how Paul and Barnabas were making great headway in their ministry to Gentiles when the tide began to turn against them. Acts 13:50-51 reads:
50 But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium.
Paul’s and Barnabas’ ministry to these Gentiles was ended against their will. Sometimes we will have to make decisions that are hard for us to swallow, but which we cannot realistically avoid. We are laid off from work. A relationship is ended by another person. Our current job is not covering our bills. We do not get accepted to the university we want to attend. A child with special needs requires more time from us. An aging parent needs our care. When faced with such circumstances we should embrace the path before us and move forward rather than wallow in bitterness.
We will continue to examine Paul’s decision making in our next post.