Indecision: What to do when we don’t have a clue what to do with ourselves.
Sometimes we just don’t have a clue what to do with ourselves – we don’t like where we are, or what we are doing, we don’t sense value and esteem in where we are but nor do we know what to do about it. We’re not the first ones to feel like that and we won’t be the last. There’s a passage in Acts 16: 1 – 10 which gives us valuable insight into this dilemma we all face from time to time.
After his dispute with Barnabas, Paul needed somewhere to go and something to do to distract him from his pugilistic disagreement. Silas would do as a companion, but where to go and what to do? They hung out around Antioch for a while and then headed off into Asia Minor. Ostensibly they were visiting Christians in places they had been before to see how they were getting along. [15:36] They delivered the edict from Jerusalem [16:4] and it seemed to produce good results – reassuring the new converts that they could be followers of this Christian way without needing to become fully fledged Jews. Apparently this removed a barrier to conversion [16:5] and perhaps released existing converts to find greater fulfillment in their newfound faith. Growth was the result for the fledgling church.
Paul didn’t have any real plan – just a general idea as we have noted. So he just kept on rolling along, going places, looking for the kick, not finding what he was really looking for, moving on . . . trying stuff, not getting far. No doubt the after effects of his recent dispute with Barnabas were extracting some toll and making it hard for him to focus on the ministry at hand. He couldn’t set things right with Barnabas just then so he would have to get on with ministry until that rift could be healed at a later time. We are reminded how important it is to “not let the sun set on our anger,” learning instead to resolve our differences quickly so everyone can move forward in forgiveness and peace. It is no sin to disagree but the real victory comes in learning to use our differences to strengthen our ministries for the benefit of all. Mutual understanding trumps division every time. This is something we each must learn. In this passage, Paul is learning how to deal with recovery from hurt and disappointment in himself and find the way to get back onto the path which he and Barnabas had chosen. He was seeing good things happening but somehow he had gotten out of step with God and we see him struggling to get back in step. “Nothing opens up where we are, so what to do? Do we keep trying things until something opens up or . . . ?” Can we hear divine direction in advance or do we simply follow the general idea until some specific opportunity shows up? It seems Paul was doing well at finding out where he wasn’t supposed to go – [v6] “having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia . . .” [v7] “When they came to the border of Mysia they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to . . .” Have you ever wondered just how that act of prevention occurred? Was it a dream (unlikely since that came later), a sense of foreboding (how would they discern it wasn’t just fear of the unknown)? Was it the closing of “doors of opportunity’? (How can we distinguish that from mere chance), maybe it just didn’t feel right? (vs. hormones, fatigue and depression), was it prophetic declaration (if so, how confirmed), were the borders closed to them or more documents required? . . . Some of us might have reacted by blaming the devil!
The list of possibilities goes on. The focus of the struggle is that they kept on testing / trying to move into fruitful accomplishment of their ministry, mission and calling and were prevented from doing so. Somehow they knew what they wanted and they were being blocked from reaching it. It’s a good thing to be ambitious for effective ministry, to do well what we are gifted for and sense we are called to do. It’s a troubling thing to deal with the frustration of never quite getting to where we feel we are connecting with productivity. Is it the protestant value of needing to work or the struggle of how to define ourselves and respect ourselves if we are actually doing nothing of value? It is an inner value clash to sense we are doing nothing worthwhile and failing in our “calling” yet we have no clear direction, no work at hand, no position (or even worse, a position and no idea what to do with it), and no idea how to become genuinely “productive.” It’s worst in a culture where we define ourselves by our achievements. We can lie about our achievements and the progress we have made, we can fabricate our battles and accomplishments (these things have been done already so we’ll hardly be trail-blazers) but we can’t escape the emptiness of knowing that what we actually do doesn’t matter and if we stopped doing it no one would notice. Window dressing meets reality check!
We like to think of the mighty apostle Paul as being a man of decisive action, always sure of himself and always moving with steady purpose through the challenges of life. (He never made a mistake and even his weak moments were remarkably anointed and fortuitous!) No wonder we have trouble with our self-esteem when we compare ourselves with that picture. Reality check – Paul had no clue where he was going, no idea what he was supposed to do and he just kept stumbling along until he fell into something that might work. He kept doing what worked last time until something else showed up. As we’ll see, even after direct intervention, he was still struggling to get his act together. Sound more like us? We recognize that the one who has all the answers is the one who hasn’t asked all the questions. If you find yourself feeling inferior as you compare yourself with others (not a good way to live, incidentally) remember that despite appearances, they are probably lying about how great they are and are thrashing around looking for direction and purpose in life too – they’re just hiding it better!
During the night Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia standing and begging him to come over to Macedonia and help there. [v9] What is our conclusion? Either he’d eaten something disagreeable or God had called him to go to Macedonia. Since he hadn’t found anything else he thought worth doing, he went to Macedonia. He was getting back on track now as he moved from his idea of revisiting the churches into the path God wanted him on: reaching out to new areas with the Good News.
- Green Light (jesusyouthtcr.wordpress.com)