Today's New Testament reading is from Acts 16. Buried in the midst of this chapter is a divine detour:
They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia; they had been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. Passing by Mysia they went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision in which a Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, “Cross over to Macedonia and help us!” After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
Acts 16:6-10 CSB
My impression of the Apostle Paul is that he was not a guy to do something half way. If he intended to go to Bithynia (in modern-day northwest Turkey), he must've been pretty intent on going to Bithynia, 'come hell or high water' as we say. He had doubtless planned, prepared, and moved that direction fully believing he would be preaching the gospel in Bithynia.
But God had other plans.
We aren't told why, but Paul didn't get to follow Plan A. He didn't get to follow his passion, aim for the stars, follow his heart, or whatever pithy motivational phrase we toss around today to convince us to go after whatever it is we want. God had a different plan for Paul and it included going somewhere that Paul didn't plan on.
In other words, God did not give Paul what he desperately wanted.
We have been so smothered by a Christianity that 'claims' the promises of God and thinly veils the "follow your passion" mentality of our culture in Christian-sounding language, we have a hard time considering that God would not give us what we want...to the point where for some people a detour creates a crisis of faith. But it shouldn't, and we should recognize that.
God-given detours are biblical.
Our challenge is to recognize these detours for what they are and then pour all the enthusiasm we mustered toward our previous goal into the new, God-provided one. Things don't always work out as we planned, trust me. But plans directed by God always bear fruit, even if not the kind we initially envisioned.
This prayer by Phillips Brooks--a pastor who certainly did not get to follow his Plan A, read about it--beautifully sums up this humble attitude toward God's plans:
O Lord, by all thy dealings with us, whether of joy or pain,of light or darkness, let us be brought to Thee. Let us value no treatment of Thy grace simply because it makes us happy or because it makes us sad, because it gives us or denies us what we want; but may all that Thou sendest us bring us to Thee, that knowing Thy perfectness we may be sure in every disappointment that thou art still loving us, and in every darkness that thou art still enlightening us, and in every enforced idleness that Thou are still using us;yea, in every death Thou art giving us life; as in His death thou didst give life to Thy Son our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash