Now, some time ago I posted an article on knowing God’s will. In all honesty I side-stepped the heart of the question by focusing on the foundational issue about actually obeying God in what He has already explicitly said. In that article I merely touched on the idea that God would entrust more of His will to those who are already faithful with what He has entrusted them with thus far.
Marvelous. God will entrust us with more of His will if we are faithful. That’s simply wonderful. The thing is that there are times when Christians are going about trying to do the will of God (or what they think it to be) and things happen which prevent the completion of the task.
The question that inevitably comes up in a faithful believer’s mind who is genuinely trying to do God’s will is this ?who is doing the blocking??
Take Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke for example. There they are trying to make their way into some territory to preach the gospel?the text specifying that the Holy Spirit prevented them (Acts 16:6-10). The Holy Spirit then went on to show a vision of a Macedonian male begging help. The message was seemingly clear?God wanted them to go into Macedonia to preach.
Fast forward some time after the call to about a year or so after a riot that occurred in Thessalonica in the wake of this small missionary party. Paul, writing to the Thessalonians after having received news via Timothy, assures them that his small party has repeatedly tried to return to Thessalonica but they were hindered (1 Thes 1:18). He reiterates that he himself has tried on several occasions but the hinderer in both cases was Satan.
A question arises. How did Paul know that in this case Satan was doing the hindering and in the previous case the Holy Spirit did the hindering? There they were in the middle of the respective situations, repeatedly trying to complete what their heart was set on, in one case the Spirit did the blocking and in the second case the Devil did the blocking.
Now, someone may easily suggest that in both cases it was based on the ?after-the-fact? realization. Paul and company didn’t know who hindered their path until the Holy Spirit’s Macedonian call. This is hard because the text shows the small missionary group cutting off an area from their itinerary based on the Holy Spirit’s blocking before the Macedonian Call. Note that they went through Phrygia and Galatia (presumably Southern Galatia) and then they were prevented to go to Asia. Then, on that decision they came to Mysia and tried to go to Bithnya but the Spirit didn’t let them. So they passed by Mysia and came to Troas?where finally the Holy Spirit came in a vision.
As to this point in particular we may overlook something in Acts 16:10. The verse, at a quick read, seems to say that Paul had the dream and the small missionary group got up and went. In actuality, there was a discussion and some back and forth based on Luke pointed out that the group had ?concluded? that the Lord had called them to the region of Macedonia.
That’s important. These men didn’t rely on the vision of one man or his personal relationship with the Lord, but they pooled their thinking together to ascertain the direction of the Lord. These men didn’t look down on the younger man and new member to the missionary group (Timothy) but they included him in the discussion. Luke used this situation to put it in his narrative to Theophilus to illustrate the tremendous difference between being led by the Spirit and being led by jealousy (Acts 17:5-9) and emotions (Acts 19:21-41). Luke even used this event illustrate a stark contrast to the people who would claim that this was just some other form of magic (Acts 14:8-18) or religion (Acts 17:16-34).
In contrast then to the barring by Satan, how did these men decide that it was Satan doing the hindering? I have a suspicion that it was in the same manner as the Macedonia experience. These men didn’t base their decisions on the emotional drive of one man, but they would pool their thoughts and prayerfully consider the evidence. That still doesn’t answer the question of how they knew that it was Satan hindering and how can we know when Satan is doing the hindering of the work at our hands?
We may look at Paul and say that he had special revelation from God. Most of us really don’t have a Macedonian or an Iraqi or a Canadian calling to us in a dream saying ?Come help us!? Neither have we been caught up to the third heaven and heard things that we can’t put to words to tell others. As far as I know, the Lord has never appeared and spoken directly via a shaft of light and much thunderings while I lay on the ground, thrown off my horse and blinded.
How is a faithful Christian in today’s day and age to know that it is God doing the blocking or Satan doing the hindering?
I would suggest a few things in my lack of a complete answer. We can look at the example of that small missionary group and we must put our emotions in the backburner and actually meditate on the revealed word of God found in the scriptures. We must consult other Godly men and prayerfully consider if it is the will of God to keep pressing on together or to find a work around with another person. We must carefully examine if we are neglecting or overlooking something that God may want us to consider first. We must continue baptizing the entire situation in prayer, saturating it with seeking God’s will. We must be convinced in our hearts of the decision?for each one will answer to Christ in the last day. When the consensus is formed, move forward as a whole (be it physically in the project or spiritually in convinced prayer). If there is not peace and the work-around is not assured in the heart of all?then perhaps it is Satan. I say all, because we’ll later see Paul making a decision in the Spirit while everyone else disagreed.
This is a really tough question?