Then they traveled back through Pisidia to Pamphylia. They preached the word in Perga, then went down to Attalia. Finally, they returned by ship to Antioch of Syria, where their journey had begun. The believers there had entrusted them to the grace of God to do the work they had now completed. Upon arriving in Antioch, they called the church together and reported everything God had done through them and how He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles, too. And they stayed there with the believers for a long time.Acts 14:24-28
I told you in the last Gem there is a story I would love to share with you all but I needed to ask permission of the person who features in the story before I would share it publicly. I have asked him and he is willing for me to share the story with you.
In September 1981 I was scheduled to go a Geography Conference in Wellington but began to question the wisdom of it if as I suspected I would not be teaching Geography much longer. But as Head of the Geography Dept I was expected to go. A week prior to the time I would leave I got the flu and became progressively worse with each passing day. Until a day before departure I wondered whether this sickness was from the LORD to prevent me from going to the Conference. I rang the associate pastor and asked Weston and the guys at the Friday night prayer meeting to pray for me especially for guidance to know whether I should be going or not and for healing. That night at 8.15pm I was healed in an instant of time as I lay on the sofa. Later Weston rang to ask me how I was and to let me know that the group had just finished praying for me at 8.15. Weston added that he felt the LORD had a ‘word’ for me to the effect that “I was to go to Wellington and there the LORD would show me the next step really clearly and help me to see all things in perspective.” My response was to laugh ‘the laugh of unbelief’ and tell Weston not to be too spiritual, and to remind him that I was only going to a Geography Conference. Weston’s response was to repeat the prophetic word!
In Wellington, it was like the LORD led me by the hand. I arrived at the university late Saturday afternoon and checked into my room. Sunday morning I prepared to head off to church. On the way I came across a young women who had a flat tyre; she was obviously heading to church too. So I stopped to fix her tyre. We were both late for church, so she invited me to have a cup of coffee and talk and she would go to church that evening. While talking she told me that David Metcalfe, our ex pastor, was speaking at her church that night. So I went to night service and met David and told him how God had been leading us into missions. He was excited and asked me if I was down in Wellington for Move Out, a Missions Conference he was involved in, due to start in Wellington on Tuesday. I ended up going to the Geography Conference on the Monday but felt that those things did not relate to me anymore. On Tuesday morning I set off for the Missions Conference. As I walked in the door the main speaker was saying, “Have you felt a call of God on your life? ” I thought “That’s me!” To which the speaker added, “Be sure that you are fully prepared before you go”. After he finished speaking I went up to the stage to talk with David Metcalfe again. David told me how timely it was because in the building at that moment were the Pacific Area Director and the NZ Director for WBT as well as David Foris whom I met in Matamata. I then talked with them for an hour or more after which it was clear that to follow the possibility of joining WBT would mean Bible College Training. They also spelt out very carefully all that would be involved in joining WBT after going to Bible College until we arrived on the field.
Walking back to the Geography Conference I remembered the words of Weston Finlay who had said I was to go to Wellington and there the LORD would show me the next step really clearly and help me to see all things in perspective. Well that had certainly happened. Now what? The next morning I was sitting on my bed in the student accommodation at the university and praying, somewhat in dilemma as to when I was to go home. It felt like the Geography Conference was not my focus anymore and yet I should stay to get the most out of it for the school I represented. I was asking God to show me what I should do and when I should go home. I picked up my Bible to read from the passage from where I was reading currently and the first word I read on the page was “Tomorrow”. I put my Bible down again and was struggling with the way that happened. That was not right. You are not supposed to do that with your Bible. It is not a lucky dip to open and find a verse. But I didn’t do that. I didn’t treat it that way. It just happened with me turning to place where my marker was. I spent a while hassling about it and then asked the Lord again, “When I was to go home.” I picked up my Bible again and knowing there was a “tomorrow” on the left page from 15 minutes before, I started on the right hand page where the first word I saw was again “tomorrow” but not the same “tomorrow” I had seen before.
I then spent some twenty minutes more grappling with the Lord over this matter. Apart from other issues I was also struggling with the fact that I had already planned to catch up with Bruce and Val on the way back home from Wellington after the Geography Conference on the Friday. The pieces were just not coming together as they ought to have. Thus I ended up asking God again when I was to go home. Going home tomorrow just didn’t seem right for a number of reasons. I should really stay on at the Geography Conference despite feeling like this didn’t apply to me anymore. I also should wait until Friday so I could catch up with Bruce and Val. It didn’t make sense to go home to Matamata on Wednesday. When I picked up my Bible again I already knew the location of two “tomorrows” on the pages, so again I avoided those pages and turned the page again to Exodus 9:5 where the first words I saw were “The Lord set a definite time saying, “Tomorrow . . .” I was reading in my NASB Bible. I was shocked and said out loud, “OK Lord I give up, I will go home tomorrow as you have said.” Yet all the while at the back of my mind I felt it didn’t make sense. Not only that but I had been taught that you don’t do this with God’s Word. You don’t just pick random verses. That is not a good way to get guidance.
I had resolved that I should leave for Matamata in the morning and now my mind was at peace. The next morning I got up early to read the Bible and I continued to read in Exodus Chapter 10. I had some more time and just kept reading. When I read the words of Exodus 13:17 – Then it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, “Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.”I was struck by the words “God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines although it was near . . . lest the people change their minds.” The thought that crossed my mind on reading those words was that I was not to stop in to stay with Bruce and Val that night lest I change my mind about all of this mission leading I had received. But then I thought, no that doesn’t apply, Bruce and Val aren’t Philistines. I met them a week after I had become a Christian in August 1973. They were solid Christians but I still couldn’t shake off the thought about not seeing them because I would change my mind. Despite all those spontaneous thoughts I dismissed the connection to Bruce and Val as irrelevant and continued with my plan to leave that morning to go back to Matamata but to stop in at Bruce and Val’s home in the hill country close to Palmerston North. I had tried calling them on the phone but got no answer so planned to get to their place around midday and stop at the house as Val should be home. I tried calling again when I was there to see if I could stay Wednesday night and not Friday night. What still bugged me was the thought that the Philistines would make me change my mind. Nonetheless I set it aside and continued with my plan to stop at their house and / or call Bruce at work. No one was at home at their house out in the country and try as I might I couldn’t get hold of Bruce on his work number. After trying for a while I decided that I should go straight to Matamata and call them when I got home.
I arrived at home to Tania’s surprise a few days early and told her that God had sent me home early. I told her also that I had tried to catch up with Bruce and Val to see if I could stay Wednesday night with them. I tried calling them a number of times on Wednesday after I arrived home but no one answered. It wasn’t until late Friday afternoon that I finally managed to get hold of Bruce to tell him that I wouldn’t be staying Friday night with them as planned because I was already in Matamata. I told him that the Lord had sent me home early and a brief summary of all that had been happened in terms of leading us into mission. Bruce then said to me, “No problem buddy. We were looking forward to seeing you but understand that it didn’t work out. Maybe it was good that you didn’t stay with us. I have become a bit of a Philistine and I may have put a damper on all of your sense of the Lord leading you into mission.” I was dumbfounded. I had said nothing about the verse that had struck me and me thinking that somehow it related to Bruce and Val but thinking “they weren’t Philistines” yet he was saying he had become a bit of a Philistine. I didn’t know what to say. I can’t remember what I said and Bruce doesn’t remember the detail. To him it was just a passing phone conversation. To me it was all highly significant because the sense that God was leading me very specifically. It was very real at the time and my sense that Ex 13:17 was connected to it was strong yet my reason told me it couldn’t be. Now Bruce was telling me in fact my inkling in all this was indeed correct and that if I had spent the night with Bruce and Val it would have influenced me negatively. God had been protecting me all along.
It is true that God does lead and guide us by opening doors and shutting doors. He guides us in many ways. Most often He uses his Word – His Logos Word (the general principles and teaching) and the Rhema Word (those verses that although they may be taken out of context still seem to speak to us personally. Through them God is telling us, warning us, impressing upon us His input to our hearts and minds. God uses all of these ways and more to communicate with us. Our problem is that so often we push aside the promptings we feel from God in favour of our own reason. I have learnt more and more not to trust my own reason but to trust God’s leading more. However I still stick with the principle of reading the Word of God in its context. Yet I can’t deny that there are times when God Himself appears to take verses out of context in order to guide us on His pathway for our lives.
I am grateful to Bruce for his willingness to allow me to share this story with you despite the fact that on the face of it he is painted in a bad light. I appreciate his big heart to allow the story to be told in order to help someone come to a realization of how God works in human lives.
After this we will concentrate on the last few verses of Acts 14.
Sometimes it is a fine line between presumption and faith. Only in retrospect can we tell the difference.Ian Vail
While it true that God’s Word should always be interpreted in context, it is possible that God may break the rules to communicate with us.Ian Vail
Always be prepared for God to communicate with you through the spontaneous thoughts that come to mind.Ian Vail
He who deliberates fully before taking a step will spend his entire life on one leg.Chinese Proverb
If you constantly rely on your logic to work God’s leading you will miss many of His promptings.Ian Vail
His sheep follow Him because they know His voice.John 10:4