God Speaks…Do I want to hear?

While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.  (11)  And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'”  (12)  When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem.  (13)  Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”  (14)  And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”       Acts 21:10-14 (ESV)

This little story is very interesting to me.  We have a group of people who are clearly all quite accustomed to listening for God.  Agabus is a prophet, practically a professional listener.  He presents his message, and does so quite graphically.  To everyone present, the message is clear:  Don’t go to Jerusalem!  You’re going to be arrested there!

Most of us would think that this was pretty accurate.  In fact, I suspect many people who read this story would likely report that Agabus had given Paul a word from God that he should not go to Jerusalem.   But notice that Agabus didn’t actually say that.  He simply said that Paul would be arrested and bound if he went to Jerusalem.  The audience filled in the blanks.  It’s obvious, isn’t it?  If you’re going to be arrested if you go to a certain place, don’t go there!

But Paul has a different view of the matter.  He is going to Jerusalem.  God has plans for him if he goes there.  He knows that is where he is supposed to be.  And in the end, the rest go along, and they finally accept that God’s will must be done.  But it was only Paul’s determination that persuaded them.

Very often we make the assumption that having knowledge of the future will mean we will know how to act.  Even more, we often act with great certainty as to what God would want to have happen.  So did Paul’s companions.  They just knew that  God would not want Paul arrested.  It was obvious, wasn’t it?

But the key question was simply this:  What is God’s will?  Why is it that it is so hard for us to say  that up front?  Some people have suggested to me that it shows a lack of faith.  But for me, it is my faith that gets in the way.  I know that God can do something.  I know what I want him to do.  If I say, “I ask for this, Lord, if it’s your will” I face the possibility that God’s will and my will may not be in agreement.  The temptation to manipulate God comes from the combination of my believing God can act, and my fear that in this case his plan may not include my wishes.

A couple of weeks before my father died, I had a conversation with my mother in which we both acknowledged that we needed to release my dad to God.  We knew that he might not make it this time.  But in addition we both knew that God had healed my him in the past.  He was 86 years old.  He had lived 35 years after a doctor had predicted he couldn’t live more than 10 more years.  We knew that God can heal, we knew that God had healed, but we knew this also might be the end of the race God had set for dad.  We needed to accept God’s will.

Simply knowing the future doesn’t give you the answers.  It simply gives you knowledge.  Obedience involves finding God’s will and acting on it.

Are you listening and trusting?

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