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Divine Guidance Through Circumstances

Yesterday, I showed how Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit guides the people of God. As I continue my series on divine guidance, I’m beginning with this post to address specific ways we are guided by the Spirit of God. Today I begin by noting how the Spirit guides through circumstances.

Consider, for example, the following story.

In Acts, 16 the Apostle Paul and his colleague Silas were in Philippi, where they shared the good news of Jesus with a man and his family (Acts 16:16-34). The whole household believed the message and all members were immediately baptized. How did Paul and Silas get to the home of this man and his family? Not through inner spiritual guidance, that’s for sure. Not through dreams or angelic visions. Not through biblical interpretation. Rather, they got there through circumstances, rather odd circumstances at that. The man was a jailer who had been assigned to guard two prisoners, Paul and Silas.

The two missionaries got in trouble with the authorities when they cast an evil spirit out of a girl who had been used to make money for her opportunistic masters. Her spiritual freedom took away their source of income, so they grabbed Paul and Silas and accused them before the civic leaders of Philippi: “They are teaching the people to do things that are against Roman customs.” The officials had the Christians beaten and thrown into prison, where they met the jailer, who had no idea what was about to happen to him and his family.

Around midnight, when the two prisoners should have been licking their wounds and bemoaning their fate, Paul and Silas were praying and praising God. All of a sudden, a great earthquake shook the prison, knocking the chains off the prisoners. The poor jailer, supposing that his prisoners had escaped, was about to fall on his sword when Paul shouted: “Don’t do it! We are all here!” In shock, the jailer fell instead at the feet of the missionaries. He then took them to his home, where they proceeded to convert him and his entire family.

Given the whole tenor of Acts of the Apostles, we are surely meant to believe that the visit of Paul and Silas to the jailer’s home was no mere coincidence. Though not identified explicitly in this passage, the Holy Spirit was directing the action of Acts 16, just as the Spirit oversaw the mission of Christ throughout Acts. The Spirit got Paul and Silas into the jailer’s home by manipulating circumstances, some of which were obviously miraculous, others of which appeared on the surface to be both ordinary and distressing.

The Bible is full of stories in which God’s guidance comes, not by word or vision, but through circumstances. Such stories also fill most Christian communities where people seek God’s direction. We often don’t realize the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit until we look back in retrospect. But, later on, we see how God wove events together to accomplish his will in our lives.

Of course, the skeptic would deny that God was involved with such things. “Mere coincidence!” would be the claim. But sometimes the coincidences are so astounding that I find it very, very hard to believe anything other than that some Supreme Being is guiding events. In my next post in this series, I share one of my own experiences in which I’m convinced God was guiding me.

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mdroberts@churchleaders.com'
The Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a pastor, author, retreat leader, speaker, and blogger. Since October 2007 he has been the Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence for Laity Lodge, a multifacted ministry in the Hill Country of Texas. Before then, he was for sixteen years the Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in Irvine, California (a city in Orange County about forty miles south of Los Angeles). Prior to coming to Irvine, Mark served on the staff of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood as Associate Pastor of Education. Mark studied at Harvard University, receiving a B.A. in Philosophy, an M.A. in the Study of Religion, and a Ph.D. in New Testament and Christian Origins. He has taught classes in New Testament for Fuller Theological Seminary and San Francisco Theological Seminary. Used by permission from markdroberts.com.