Here’s the link to Acts 23.
Years ago I asked a pastor how to know where God is leading me. His response? “God can’t steer a parked car.”
Now, at the time I interpreted this pastor’s words as meaning that if we want God to lead us we at least need to be willing to be led. We need to be open to the various ways God can guide us in our lives: whether in small matters or with bigger decisions.
More than this, I think it also means that we don’t sit around waiting for God to blow a trumpet in our ear or write a message in the clouds. Part of being open to God’s leading is getting on with how you know to follow God today.
At this point in the book of Acts (actually, before this chapter), the focus narrows considerably. No longer do we hear much of anything about Peter the apostle or about any other disciples of Jesus. All of Luke’s attention is now on the apostle Paul, who, thanks to his preaching and teaching about Jesus, is facing increasing hostility.
In this chapter, a group of Jewish leaders conspire to kill Paul. Thankfully, his nephew somehow is in the position to overhear their scheming. Passing on the news of this plot to Paul, who is being kept under guard, Paul tells him to pass this information on to the commander. Which he does. The result is that measures are taken to protect Paul and have him moved to another location.
It comes to mind that Paul had had a vision of Jesus. Jesus said to him: Have courage! For as you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so it is necessary for you to testify in Rome.
So Paul, who had already planned on getting to Rome, had this specifically confirmed by the risen Jesus. He can be sure, then, that he will get to Rome. Of that there is no doubt. After all, he heard from the Lord’s own lips.
But yet when he hears of a plot to assassinate him, he doesn’t merely say “The Lord’s will be done” or sit back and wait for a miraculous intervention. He acts. When his nephew apprises him of his enemies’ plan, he doesn’t sit still and do nothing.
Paul never acted like a parked car.
Because Paul knew that God was providentially at work in people and in circumstances. Yes, God would make sure he gets to Rome. And one element of that was having his nephew in the right place at the right time.
Later in Acts, as we will see, Paul eventually appeals to Caesar as a Roman citizen. Had he not done so, he very likely would have been released. But on to Rome he went.
Paul was never afraid to put his car in drive.
I confess that sometimes I’m much more timid than Paul. More hesitant to move forward without clearer guidance or assurance, I can be indecisive. Paul was many things, but indecisive does not appear to be on the list.
All of this also speaks to the mystery of how our actions and decisions are woven into God’s sovereign leading. It certainly tells me that God won’t lead me anywhere if I’m unwilling or too scared to get off my couch.
It also tells me that our actions matter in God’s plan for us. We are not robots or puppets. Maybe I can’t precisely parse out how my choices and actions work together with what God is doing or how he incorporates them into his purposes, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t what’s going on.
On a more personal level, I guess we have to bear in mind that to experience God’s leading means first of all having an intimate relationship with him. A lot comes with that. Some of it we want and some of it we don’t. And so if we don’t experience God’s leading and find ourselves wallowing in inaction, this might be partly because we’re just not willing to draw near to God. Could be there are things we are afraid or reluctant to give up or give over. Could be that we’re not confident in who God is, that we can trust him with the deeper stuff of our souls. Could be the way in which we were taught to be a Christian. It can be difficult to move beyond our spiritual and theological baggage.
Saying this is not meant to make anyone feel condemnation. Rather, it’s always an invitation. It’s always an invitation to walk more and more closely one step at a time, asking for the grace to take the next step. Trust me when I say that I have plenty of steps ahead of me. I, too, want to live more cooperatively with God’s leading in my life.
Paul intended to get to Rome. He had a destination in clear view. And he wasn’t afraid of taking whatever steps he could to get there. What’s your Rome? What’s mine? A clearer vision of what God might be calling me to do at this stage of my life? An increasing closeness with him? More evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in my character?
Because if we have that in mind, and are willing in faith to take it one step at a time, perhaps we’ll experience God’s presence and leading in ways we didn’t expect.
And at the very least we won’t be a parked car.