Keep the Focus
Have you ever driven down the road and noticed the orange signs warning of a lane closure? The road crews put up the signs well in advance of the closure. The signs are nice warning of what’s ahead so drivers can get over in time before they encounter the cones. On occasion though, I have seen the signs but never encountered lane closure. I guess that’s why when I see the signs; I choose to stay in the lane even though I know eventually I might have to get over into another lane. Others will get into the next lane when they first see the signs. I wait and I watch.
Reading through the New Testament in our discipleship group, we came to a section in Acts that has caused me to think of those road signs. Toward the end of the Book of Acts, Paul has his sight on Jerusalem. He was compelled by the Spirit to go (Acts 20:22). In the next verse, the author Luke wrote Paul didn’t know what was going to happen to him in Jerusalem but in every city the Holy Spirit had warned Paul prison and hardships were facing him (Acts 20:23).
As Paul was making his way to Jerusalem and visiting the churches he established along the way, through the Spirit the disciples urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem. A prophet Agabus took Paul’s belt and tied his own hands and feet with it and said “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles’” (Acts 21:11).
First off, didn’t the Spirit urge Paul to go to Jerusalem? Second, then why did the Spirit urge the disciples to stop Paul from going? A little bit perplexing to say the least. If I had been Paul, would I have stayed the course and gone to Jerusalem? I think I would have doubted I heard the Spirit correctly.
But Paul had a different relationship with the Spirit – he actually trusted the Spirit to guide him in his daily walk. Paul knew God would provide even if he was bound and in prison. Paul’s whole focus was summed up in this one verse in Acts 20:24: However, I consider my life worth nothing to me if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.
Paul kept his focus even to the very end, even in prison – when he wrote his letters to the churches; even when he was in front of officials, rulers and kings – where he testified about the transformation from chasing Jesus followers to becoming one through his Damascus road experience with Jesus.
At one point, Paul was in front of King Agrippa speaking to him about his work for Jesus. In Acts 26:28-29 Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Paul replied, “Short time or long – I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”
I noted in my study guide for this chapter – we all have a testimony to share – our elevator speech – how we were before Jesus, when and how we met Jesus, and how we are after Jesus has saved us from our sins. Paul’s mission was to share what he knew. That’s our mission too. Paul prayed for all to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus and have a relationship with Him just like he had.
He prayed for the short term – people who were listening at that moment; and he prayed for the long term – those who would come to a saving knowledge after his departure. But you know what’s really cool? Through Paul’s writings, we are his long term prayer request. His prayer is still being answered as each one of us who reads and understands what Paul knew and we find our salvation in Jesus alone. Prayer is a powerful tool that can open hearts to the amazing grace of God.
Even as we pray for others, we may not see the answer in our lifetime, but I do know prayers are never forgotten by God. I do believe I had ancestors praying for my salvation even though they didn’t know me or knew I would exist. But God did. He heard and He answered. I don’t know what future generations will come, but I pray for their salvation and that they too will have a relationship with Jesus so closely that they will never doubt His love or fail to trust Him in all circumstances.
I may need to see the “cones in the road” to heed warnings in the physical world, but I hope to never fail to see the spiritual warnings the Spirit uses to keep me focused on the task at hand. Let me be like Paul and finish the race before me, submitted to the Spirit’s instruction regardless of what’s ahead of me knowing God is in control and I can trust Him no matter what. As Jesus instructed Paul (see below), He instructs us. Let us go and do likewise.
“I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” Acts 26:16-18