The Dilemma

"They kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem." Acts 21:4

"This is what the Holy Spirit says; 'In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt.' " v. 11

"When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem." v. 12

"For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." v. 13

Paul faced a dilemma. He was resolved to listen to one voice, and to do whatever he was told, and to go where ever his obedience to The Spirit of the Living Christ would lead him. His resolve ran up against the resistance of those who loved him most. This may be the hardest thing in the world to do. It hurts to disappoint the ones we love the most, while at the same time obey The One who loves us most. Prayer helps. More than an aid, it is essential to the resolving The Dilemma. 

"After kneeling down on the beach praying, we said farewell to one another." Acts 21:5

The disciples of Tyre, the prophet Agabus, the local residents of Caesarea, and even his closest band of brothers all tried to influence Paul to disobey the sense of direction he was receiving from the Holy Spirit. They even dropped the name of The Spirit in their arguments to get him to make a course direction.

They misunderstood Paul's sense of direction. He was bound and determined to obey the voice of the Lord Jesus, and if The Lord's voice led him to be bound and delivered to the Gentiles, so be it. He had reached that remarkable point in his walk with Jesus that his reward of consistent companionship with Him far outweighed the price he had to pay to have uninterrupted intimacy with Him.

Paul was not in love with the ministry. He was in love with Jesus. Paul was not in love with the fruit of ministry. He was in love with The Root of ministry. Paul loved the disciples who had responded to his message, but he was in love with Jesus. Obedience for him was not marked by a tight-lipped grimace, but a great release of the ownership of his life into the hands of Sovereign God.

The Dilemma for most preachers is the discovery of the joyless existence that being in love with the ministry can bring. Getting off course always appears as such a slight detour, but in actuality it is a terribly significant departure from God's best. Satan is the enemy of the best in the lives of believers. He would be pleased if the ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ would settle for what is good, if it kept them from God's best.

Don't get me wrong. God's best for you is sometimes wrapped in some pretty scary packaging. My wife, Dana, calls her battle with breast cancer her Great Adventure. It looked like a Giant Mistake to me, and I let God know how I felt about it. Perspective is everything. From her close walk with God, Dana could see God at work. From my close proximity to the crisis, I was blinded by the fog of war. I just wanted the fight to be over. Dana wanted to win it. God ignored me, and heard her. YAY! GOD!

There is great danger in focusing on the work of The Lord, without spending time with the Lord of the work. Doing the work of the Lord may build a preacher's career, but walking with the Lord of the work will build his character. Attempting to carry out ministry without being carried through it, by Jesus, always leads to compassion fatigue. When preachers can't tell the difference between being tired of it, or tired in it, the work of the Lord becomes a thankless job, and a pointless journey.

When Paul heard from The Spirit, and headed towards Jerusalem, the greatest spiritual warfare he faced involved friendly fire. There were those who told Paul they had heard The Spirit tell him not to go. He didn't argue with them. He knelt with them in prayer, and when he got up, he simply said farewell to his friends, and got on the boat for Jerusalem. Good call, Paul.

All the way to Jerusalem, Paul would be hindered by well-meaning friends, and perfectly accurate prophets. They all missed the point. Paul's mission wasn't focused on either arrival or survival. He lived only for revival. Paul was a dead man who had no purpose in life, unless revived by The Spirit of God to carry out something "for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." v. 13

With every breath, and every step Paul took, he was in synchronized rhythm with The Spirit of the Risen Christ. To people who were breathless to warn Paul from impending doom, it looked like Paul was on a suicide mission. They didn't understand they were a little late. Paul was already a dead man.

The infusion of courage for the course ahead, leads to the loss of fear for the consequences, come what may. Paul was bound and determined. If The Spirit led him to a confrontation with his enemies that would result in him being bound and delivered to the Gentiles, then The Spirit would lead him through it.

Paul's imprisonment would appear as a complete disaster, but it was actually all in God's plan to bring Paul to Rome. Along the way, Paul's letters to his friends would become most of the New Testament. Our hindsight on the will of God in this matter is now unimpaired by the fog of war. Sometimes it is hard to obey in the present tense, when there appears to be a clear and present danger. Prayer helps to clear the air, and remove the fear.

Thanks Agabus. If Paul had been deterred by your prophecy, he might not have ever given us Romans 8:28.

"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Roman 8:28

The Dilemma often comes when confronted by the choice of listening to friends or obeying The Spirit's voice. The Dilemma can lead to a detour from God's best, to a settling for good enough.

Prayer purifies a believer's motives and improves their sense of direction. Well-meaning people may try to save a friend from pain, but at the same time a painful experience does not mean that a person has missed God. They might be right in the center of God's will for their lives.

Athletes are sometimes challenged to "Play through the pain." Anyone who has ever heard this platitude knows that it is easier said than done. For the believer, life is a marathon, not a sprint, and around every corner there is another steep hill, or a painful challenge to face. Perhaps obedient believers would have more joy for the journey if they would take a page from Paul's workout manual, and "PRAY THROUGH THE PAIN." He did, and he finished the course. Finish strong. TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!