Divine Guidance Through Circumstances


Part 4 of series:
How Does God Guide Us?

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.

An actual remnant of a jail in ancient Philippi. Some think this was the very jail in which Paul and Silas were incarcerated, though there is no way to prove it one way or the other. Photo used by permission from holylandphotos.org.

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.

  • Evan

    Mark,

    I do not want this to sound snippy and combative due to it being in writing, and if I were present, my expressions and tone of voice would demonstrate that my motivation is far different.

    Once Paul and company arrived in Philippi, I would agree that circumstances were involved. But earlier in Acts 16, the story of how they came to be in Philippi is quite striking:

    6 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.

    7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.

    8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.

    9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

    10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

    11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis.

    12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

    Given your standard thorough examination of topics, I have no doubt that the veritable cornucopia of different forms of divine guidance mentioned in these verses will shortly be on the agenda. It will be of great interest to me.

    I have always visualized the story of Paul in Philippi as scenes in a movie, and a thought occurred to me long ago for one of the scenes. At the climatic moment, Paul reaches out and puts his hand on the arm of the Philippian jailer to stop him from taking his own life. The jailer turns around to face Paul. Paul immediately recognizes his face: the jailer is the man of Macedonia who had appeared to Paul in the vision, begging for help.

    I wonder if that may have actually been the case, though I have thought Luke surely would have mentioned that. Still, it would make a dramatic scene.

    I am looking forward to what Paul Harvey would have called “The Rest of the Story” regarding Acts 16. :)

    Evan

  • Anonymous

    Evan: Oh, you’re absolutely right. I’m afraid you’re stealing my punch line! Seriously, though, your comment is right on.

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