And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16:9-10 ESV)
How can we have peace and joy when we don’t understand our circumstances, don’t know where we’re going, and don’t know what lies ahead? Seems impossible!
Such circumstances would give anyone anxiety. After all, we like to be confident, and confidence typically comes by having a handle on things. When life seems beyond our control and makes little sense, we tend to be shaken.
But what if we have an overwhelming trust in the one who is directing the situation at hand?
Suppose, for example, you were just learning to drive (or try to think back to a time in your life when you first got your learner’s permit). You’ve watched people drive. You’ve seen cars in movies. Perhaps you’ve practiced driving in video games. But you’ve never driven. And so, you don’t exactly know what pressing the gas feels like or how reactive the car is to the steering wheel or how hard to press the brake or how to parallel park, and so on. You don’t know how long it will take to pass your test. And so, when your instructor picks you up for your first lesson, you are naturally quite nervous.
When you get in the driver’s seat, you think you know where to begin because, after all, you’ve been a passenger before. But your instructor first tells you to check your mirrors. You don’t know why, but you do it. You’re told to adjust your seat. You’ve never considered that, but you do it. You’re instructed to test your lights, your brakes, and your blinkers. Again, none of this makes sense to you, but you do it.
The same feeling can be said about driving practice: how long to stop at signs, where to position your hands, how far to be from the cones. You have some nervousness because this is all new to you and your instructor is telling you to do things you wouldn’t have done if you were in control. But, you obey your instructor and do what he says. And why? Quite simply: you trust him.
You trust him because he’s been driving for almost 40 years, has instructed for 25 years, is a trained professional, and has helped thousands of students pass their test. So, despite the uncertainty of the future and despite the confusion of the current moment, you can have confidence to obey your instructor, because you trust that he knows what he’s doing.
Life can often make us feel like teenagers learning to drive: lots of confusion, lots of uncertainty, and anticipation about the future. However, like the driving learner who follows his instructor’s orders, our confidence in our circumstances rises in direct proportion to our confidence in the one who directs us.
More specifically, our ability to have peace and joy in the midst of uncertainty and confusion is available to us in proportion to our faith in God. The more we trust God, the more we can confidently and joyfully obey him, even when things don’t make sense.
The story of the Book of Acts demonstrates this principle over and again. The early missionaries often found themselves in circumstances that they wouldn’t have chosen for themselves. But the more they trusted God, the more they exuded peace and confidence, even to the point of singing!
This Sunday’s text recounts yet another example of this, recorded for us to strengthen our faith. In Acts 16:6-40, we find the “Macedonian Call,” wherein the Apostle Paul gets a vision from the Lord that compels him and the missionary team to head to Macedonia. At first, they wanted to go to Asia, but God said no. That didn’t make much sense, but they obeyed God’s leading and headed toward Macedonia. There, they would find Lydia, whose heart the Lord would open to receive the gospel. However, they would also find themselves in prison.
Paul and Silas’ imprisonment could be a reason to give up hope, if they didn’t look to God. But because of their confidence in the one directing their mission, not only did they not lose hope, they spent the night singing hymns!
They may not have known why they were in prison, what the next day held, or whether they would make it out alive, but they trusted in God, and obeyed his voice!
May God use this passage of his inspired word to give us the peace and joy to sing praises to him, even when we can’t make sense of our current situation.