Have you ever wondered what your life would be like if God answered, “Yes” to every prayer you ever prayed? It would probably be a chaotic mess. I thank God for not always answering prayers the way I desire. In fact when I look back on my life I am thankful that sometimes God said, “No” to my prayer requests. Does this make him a mean God? Does this mean he doesn’t care about me? Does it mean God wants me to be miserable and unhappy? No, I believe it could mean just the opposite. God never says, “No” just because. There is always a purpose behind his “no” and we will see how this is true as we look at the passage for today.
Hindered by the Holy Spirit
Vs: 6, 7: Paul and his companions were on a mission’s trip and they were in Phrygia and Galatia with the intention of going to Asia. Paul’s desire was to go to Asia (Asia Minor) to preach the Gospel and we are told the Holy Spirit had forbidden them to go there. They changed their plans and when they came to a place called Mysia they decided to go north to Bithynia and once again they were forbidden by the Spirit of Jesus to go. We don’t know exactly why they were not permitted to go to these places but we will see that God had other plans in store for them. We also do not know how they were hindered (did God physically restrain them or put closed doors in their path?), we just know they were. As far as we know Paul was not doing anything wrong nor was there a known sin that hindered him. He was zealous to proclaim the Gospel wherever he went. We just know Paul’s desire was for one place and God’s plan was for another and they were not the same.
Vs. 9, 10: In a town called Troas Paul receives a vision of a man from Macedonia who was urging him to come down to him to help them. It seems at this point God’s plan was to bring the Gospel to Europe instead of Asia (Not that the Gospel would never come to Asia, it just wasn’t the right time). It is also at this point the author and physician Luke joins their missionary journey because in verse 10 the writer begins writing in the first person (we instead of they). From this point on Luke travels with Paul on his missions journeys.
Vs 11 - 15: The men set sail from Troas they went north to Samothrace and Neopolis and eventually ended up in Macedonia to share the Gospel (in a city called Philipi) and remained there for many days. On the Sabbath the group went to the riverside to find a place of prayer. They began talking to a few women who were there. One of the women who heard the Gospel was Lydia. Lydia was a gentile woman who was a seller of purple (a very expensive and luxurious purple dyed cloth). The Spirit of God was at work as He opened her heart to receive to receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ and she was baptized (with her household) as a believer into the family of God. Lydia became one of the first Christian converts in Europe. She was probably a wealthy woman because she offered to put Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke up in her household. This is significant because Jews typically would not stay in the home of a gentile, let alone a gentile woman.
When God Says, “NO”
The Spirit of God is fully at work in this passage. We get a pretty vivid picture as to how God works for His glory and His purposes when he does things we are not expecting. In this account we see the importance of seeking God’s will and allowing His will to trump (so to speak) our will. It is apparent Paul’s desire was to proclaim the Gospel to the people of Asia (and this was a good and noble thing) but this wasn’t what God had in mind for Paul at this time. So often we are bent on doing what we want to do that we are not sensitive to the leading of the Spirit of God. We plan, set goals, create and cast vision, mission and strategies (as we should in accordance to God’s will) and we sometimes fail to seek God’s purpose in all of our desires; because sometimes our will and God’s will do not line up. Often, if we are Christ followers, our desires and plans are not bad, sinful or selfish but our plans are not what God has willed at this particular moment. This can be frustrating at a personal level because we put a lot of time, effort and resources into our plans just to see the door closed on us and we think we have wasted all of our time, effort and resources when in fact the closed door point us in the proper direction. James Montgomery Boice writes, “We need to understand that ‘closed doors’ though they are a type of negative guidance, are nevertheless true guidance.” It is important to be sensitive to the Spirit of God and flexible to change when God is the one who initiates it. Certainly Paul could have argued with God and complained that God didn’t do but he sought God and was sensitive to his leading.
 Boice, James Montgomery: Acts, Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1997 p. 274