by Bob Allen:
Margaret Atwood once wrote, ”’What am I living for?’ and ‘What am I dying for?’ are the same question.” There’s something disarming about that thought. When I think deeply about it, I get a bit rattled as I think about what it ultimately means for the believer. These two questions, when taken together, define the life Christian.
The Book of Acts displays lives challenged, interrupted, and changed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
One of the most telling accounts comes as the book begins its march to its conclusion. Paul is beginning his final trek to Jerusalem after being on mission for the better part of a decade.
After we tore ourselves away from them, we set sail straight for Cos, the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. Finding a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we boarded and set sail. After we sighted Cyprus, passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria and arrived at Tyre, since the ship was to unload its cargo there. We sought out the disciples and stayed there seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go to Jerusalem. When our time had come to an end, we left to continue our journey, while all of them, with their wives and children, accompanied us out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach to pray, we said farewell to one another and boarded the ship, and they returned home.
When we completed our voyage from Tyre, we reached Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day. The next day we left and came to Caesarea, where we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the Seven, and stayed with him. This man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.
After we had been there for several days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. He came to us, took Paul’s belt, tied his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him over to the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, both we and the local people pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem.
Then Paul replied, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Since he would not be persuaded, we said no more except, “The Lord’s will be done.”
Paul’s relief journey to Jerusalem, where he wants to deliver an offering for the saints under persecution, demonstrates how far he’s come and the heart God wants from his people. Paul’s trip demonstrates what it looks like to be submitted to God’s leading. The life wholly given to God is marked by urgency, community, dedication, and surrender.
Paul’s missionary efforts have been characterized by intense devotion to the message of the gospel even in the face of scrutiny and opposition. Wherever Paul goes, he takes Jesus with him, often spending months at a time in towns talking with believers, reasoning from the scriptures, preaching the good news. But the next steps of his path look different.
Knowing that his path leads to Jerusalem, Paul does not waste time. He takes comfort but no leisure in his journey. Luke recounts the travel with a list of seemingly rapid fire towns and ports of call: Miletus to Cos, to Rhodes, to Patara, to Phoenicia, to Tyre, to Ptolemais, to Caesarea, and eventually, to Jerusalem. Paul knew his business. He knew the importance of his mission; the brothers and sisters in Christ still in Jerusalem were a persecuted group in desperate need. His mission was to bring help and support to them and he would not be deterred from bringing it. Paul, whose life as a Christian had been spent traveling, preaching, teaching, rebuking, correcting, and exhorting, knows his destination and moves with urgency, not abandoning all else, but putting the task at hand above all else. This is what it looks like to be moved by Biblical urgency.
If we are to be submitted to God’s leading, we must, like Paul, dedicate ourselves to the task God gives us to do; not just when it is convenient or easy, but when it is anything but that.
Our lives must be marked by an urgency to accomplish what it is that God has laid before us.
Notice that everywhere Paul goes, he finds himself surrounded by people. He fosters and develops interpersonal relationships. He brings people with him as he goes; he stays with people when he arrives; he invests his time in leaders; he prays with his “family”.
Paul is on a tough road, he’s aware of what likely lay ahead for him. When he was at Tyre, the disciples there warned him “through the Spirit” not to go to Jerusalem.
This brings an interesting dichotomy however.
If Paul is following the Spirit’s leading, why is the Spirit speaking through other people telling him not to go where he feels he’s being led? Is the Spirit being misleading? I think the answer comes in that we do not know what the Spirit says to these disciples, only that through the Spirit they tell Paul not to go to Jerusalem. It’s a sticky proposition, but I think the crux of it is that these disciples now know that there is a trying time in the near future for Paul as he follows the path laid out for him.
Paul’s stops along the road engender community by including people who would otherwise not be involved. If we want to submit to God’s will, we must have that community, because we need the prayers, love and support of people as well. The Christian life is not a call to be “a man on an island”, but an integral part of the body. Whether or not you like each other, you are a part of the family.
If we are to be submitted to God’s leading for our lives, we need that community in order to lift us up in prayer and to keep us in check about the mission of God.
People hear what’s coming and they are devastated. They don’t want to see Paul arrested. They don’t want to see their leader swept up and imprisoned, delivered over to the Gentiles. But look at what Paul says, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart?”
There are two possible reasons for Paul’s sadness.
The tears shed by those to whom he is closest affect him. They “break his heart” so to speak. These are no normal tears. These are harder tears than those shed as a missionary departs for a foreign country. These are harder tears than those shed by a parent dropping their child off at a college dorm. No, these are the tears shed as a soldier leaves for a war from which there may be no return voyage. This is a goodbye, not just a farewell or until we meet again.
So Paul, rightly, is gutted.
But what if there’s more to it than that?
What if Paul is so heartbroken because he is saddened by those who are weeping and begging him not to go? What if his response to those who would, with their hearts set on Paul’s safety, try and stop him from going off to Jerusalem, echo the words of Jesus to Peter, “Get behind me Satan!”?
Paul knows the task before him, not only to deliver an offering to people in need, but that in doing so his own life will be in jeopardy. He is determined to complete it whatever the cost. Is it at least possible that Paul is grieved because the people with whom he has spent time, with whom he has travelled, with whom he has planted churches, with whom he has spread the gospel, these close co-laborers are now unwilling to see things through to the end?
Consider that point deeply. Paul knows what is at stake. He has counted the cost. He has run the numbers and decided that the most important thing is obedience and submission to whatever it is that God’s will is in the situation. Paul is so determined to do what God has laid out for him to do that he is not only willing to walk the road, but ready to lay his very life on the line for what God has called him to do.
If we are to fully submit to God’s leading, we must set in our minds and hearts and hands and feet, that more than anything else in this life we will do whatever it takes for the name of the Lord Jesus.
Paul shows himself determined to do whatever it takes for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord and everyone there freaks out.
They take the air out of his tires, they tie him down and don’t let him go, they put him on a caravan leading back to the north and away from Jerusalem and toward Tarshish like Jonah, right?
No. They say no more except “The Lord’s will be done.”
This isn’t a hand-washing, “you’re on your own, buddy” moment. This is a complete surrender to God. They put it all in his hands. They’ve reasoned with Paul and been rebuked by him and now the do the only thing they can—give it over to God. In these last few verses, we see the juxtaposition of Paul’s single-mindedness for the gospel and his companion’s single-mindedness for Paul. But once they realize that they cannot dissuade Paul from continuing on to Jerusalem, they do the very best thing they can, give up!
Paul’s friends give up all their claims on him. They cease trying to convince him and they surrender his future to God.
As a parent I totally get it. I want nothing but the best for my daughters. I want them to be safe and happy, but really, what I most want for them is for them to know God like Paul knew God, to trust God like Paul trusted God. If God is going to one day lead them to a dangerous place to be a faithful ministers of his word, then so be it and I wouldn’t want anything else. So, Mandy and I pray for them, we pray that they would grow and that we would be better parents and that they would be lights in the darkness in their classrooms, in their school, and that they would learn to be people who follow God wherever he leads.
Paul knew that was the important thing. When Jesus said anyone who would not deny himself, take up his cross, and follow him could not be his disciple, he was talking about surrendering. A.W. Tozer wrote, “What costs you little or nothing is worth exactly that much. The challenge before us is simply this: What are we willing to pay, sacrifice, or surrender in order to advance in living the crucified life?” That’s the question Paul faced, that’s the question his friends faced, that’s the question his traveling companions faced, that’s the question you and I face today.
What are you willing to pay, sacrifice, or surrender in order to advance in living the crucified life?
These four marks, these distinguishing characteristics: urgency, community, determination, and surrender provide just how much we are letting God lead us in our lives.