“We were prevented…”

Much frustration, confusion, anger and loss is incurred by mission workers who find their plans thwarted.

Perhaps a family need draws us back home from the field. Some of us inexplicably lose visas and are given 48 hours to leave a country we’ve lived in for 20 years. The risk of terrorism forces our evacuation. A sending agency decides to pull out of a given location. Our funding falls to an unsustainable level. The list goes on.

Each time something like this happens it causes trauma. It is accompanied by complex emotions of guilt, loss and regret. But there is also confusion in our spiritual life. Did we hear God correctly? Why didn’t God provide? Has God changed his mind? Did we get something wrong?

I wonder if those thoughts were troubling Paul and his companions as they tried to continue with their second missionary journey but found doors closed. Acts 16:6-9:

They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 

We can only speculate why (and how!) God wouldn’t let them into the various places they tried to go, and why God didn’t give Paul that dream earlier, but we can infer that there was some unexplained purpose in a short time of confusion. An analysis of the “we” and “they” sections of the narrative shows that Luke wasn’t with them at this time – perhaps they had to go to Troas to add him to the team.

When we are confused and disorientated by rapid relocation, we can draw comfort that Paul and his associates have been in the same place. But we can also reflect on some possible reasons why God might do things like this:

  • God wants to move us on to a different ministry, but we’ve been so committed to the one we have that we couldn’t imagine something else
  • God is moving us out of the way so that others can take over the work we’ve been doing
  • God prevents us from building up pride in our own ministry, or even in our ability to listen to him
  • God is reminding us that he moves on, and he wants us to be ready to move with him
  • God’s plans for us are so big that we couldn’t conceive initially of what he could do, so he started small
  • God undermines our security in role, position, authority, home, church and our own anointing so that we place more of our security in him.

These and many others could be the reasons why things appear to have gone wrong for a time. We may never know the real answer this side of eternity. I personally draw comfort from the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness – when the pillar of smoke/fire moved, they moved, and when it stopped, they stopped. When they set up their tents they didn’t know if it was for a night or a year, and they didn’t know why they were in that particular place. They didn’t need to – they just stayed close to God.

Blog post first published on syzygy.org.uk on 14 October 2019.

Photo by Regis F on Unsplash

The views expressed in this blog post are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the GC network.

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Tim Herbert
Tim Herbert is the founder of Syzygy Missions Support Network. He is a Chartered Secretary who spent five years working as an administrator in southern Africa and has made numerous short-term missions trips to Africa, Asia and South America, including leading summer teams. Syzygy exists to support mission workers. Their mission is to maximise the effectiveness of mission workers and prevent their avoidable departure from their place of service. When mission workers do not have full support, Syzygy steps in to help with strategic leadership, pastoral support, training, debriefing, and resourcing.
Tim Herbert

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