Roadblocks Aren't Always Spiritual Warfare

It was a great idea. It was a godly idea. It was a community building idea. Why wasn’t it working? Why were there so many roadblocks?

We were convinced the problem was spiritual warfare. The evil one must have been trying to discourage us from doing what God wanted.

When I was pastoring at another downtown congregation, we believed God was calling the church to share life with and minister to our literal downtown neighbors.  In a way only God could orchestrate, a large historic building was given to our church by a local businessman who was encouraged by our vision to become more involved in the city. He agreed to give us the building and we agreed to renovate it and use it for the good of the community. The church was excited. The plan was to convert the building into multiple condos into which many of our members would move. Some of the units would also be reserved to help downtown residents with genuine housing needs. The city and our members were excited about the vision, the direction, and what we were convinced was God’s call. 

It didn’t take long for roadblocks to surface. For numerous reason, things were not coming together like everyone anticipated. Plans stalled and frustrations grew.  Over a year later, another member of the church shared his long-time vision and passion to start a medical clinic to the underprivileged in the downtown area.  Within a couple of years, a thriving medical clinic full of Christian doctors, nurses, and counselors was in place. 

Sometimes the Holy Spirit says “No” to great godly desires

We expect for the Holy Spirit to say “no” to things and to “forbid” things that will dishonor the Lord.

Of course the Spirit will say “no” to Christian parents who are tempted to bribe someone to secure college admission for their son. We expect the Spirit to “forbid” the Christian business owners from mistreating their employees by not paying what was promised.

It is harder for us, though, to grasp that the Spirit will sometimes prohibit God’s people from doing something that is a good, right and godly goal especially when he has given us a passion for it.

In Acts 16:6 we read about Paul’s and Timothy’s passion to go into Asia to preach and teach the exciting and freeing news of Jesus’ grace.

What a great and godly goal! What is wrong, ungodly, sinful, or unwise about that?  Nothing! Was it a genuine need? Yes, it was!

It is startling, though, to read that they were “forbidden” by the Holy Spirit to do that (v. 6).  So Paul and Timothy adjust their route and try again. But the Spirit “did not allow them” (v. 7) for a second time to carry out the ministry their hearts were passionate about.

Forbidden and not allowed are strong words.Think about that for a moment.

There are times when you and I are tempted to think that the evil one is trying to stop God’s people from doing Kingdom work when it is actually the Holy Spirit who is shutting things down. And he may be shutting down things that you and I really want and are really good ideas.

Unfortunately it is not always easy to tell when a roadblock is spiritual warfare and when it is the Spirit of Jesus. 

Therefore when you and I experience a number of situations that prevent us from making progress on something godly that we are passionate about, we must be willing to consider that God may not want us to do it.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit redirects us to a different “Yes”

Paul and Timothy made their way through Phyrgia, Galatia, Mysia, and Troas and still had no success and no opportunity to do the ministry they way they wanted. 

The Spirit said no.

The Bible doesn’t tell us how Paul and Timothy felt about the Spirit closing doors. I wish it did. Luke only records for us what they did as they kept trying to adjust their plans. So we must be careful not to read into the passage either that they grew angry and discouraged or that they were laid-back and took it all in stride confident there was a “better plan”.

All we know is that after some time Paul received a vision (v. 9) and learned that the LORD was calling them to do ministry in a different place, to a different people, in a different way. They were to go to Macedonia even though they desired to go to Asia.

There are times when we see a legitimate spiritual need and have a passion to address that need, but Jesus sends us out to meet a different need in a different way.

It can be difficult emotionally to come to grips with the Spirit calling us to a different “yes”.

But when we remind our hearts that our Father knows more than we know, loves people more than we do, and loves us more than we love ourselves, then it becomes easier to trust and follow his lead.

He is committed to inching his grace forward and to making us people who are less addicted to our own preferences and passions. We tend to believe that if only God would tell us what he is up to, then it would be much easier to understand when he says no. But God tells us that, even if he did explain to us what he was doing, we still wouldn’t believe him.

When Habakkuk complained, God said, “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” (Hab 1:5).

Our Father is doing amazing things that we struggle to wrap our hearts around.

Jesus was told “no” in the garden when he prayed for another way other than the cross. He followed his Father’s voice to a different “yes” on the cross so that he would defeat sin and death. 

Roadblocks aren’t always spiritual warfare. Sometimes it is the Spirit who does not allow us to do good things.

That’s OK.

Let’s help each other conclude what different “yes” God is calling us to.