You’re not ready

If God were to us something prematurely, it would be the equivalent of serving an uncooked turkey.

If God were to give us something prematurely, it would be the equivalent of serving an uncooked turkey.

Few things I find more bothersome than someone uttering these words to me: “You’re not ready.”

If you are anything like me, these words can seem like an insult, even a statement of inadequacy. From the male perspective, in particular, being inadequate is the last quality one would want associated with himself. This truth is underscored by the age-old scenario of a husband driving, with his wife in the passenger seat. While it is clear he has no clue where he is going, he tries his hardest to maintain the facade of assurance in front of his wife. She, however, knows he’s lost all along.

We can go to great lengths to hide our perceived shortcomings, even if it is to our own detriment. It would be much to our benefit, however, to take heed when God says that we’re not ready. His assessment of us is always a sober one, while our own assessment is often diluted with an inflated sense of self.

Let’s consider the case of the Israelites in Exodus 13:17-18 (NIV):

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle.

Though the Hebrews were experiencing the realization of an over 400-year-old prophecy, their euphoria and renewed confidence in the God of Abraham would have been nullified by a confrontation with the Philistines. I’m sure if God would have given the people an option, they would have opted for the shorter route. He, however, knew they were only ready for battle, not war. Israel did possess the instincts to survive, but had not been organized long enough to have any kind or army or strategy. Besides, looking ahead into their sojourn into the wilderness, we see their willingness to turn back to Egypt at the mere sight of the Canaanites (Numbers 13:30-14:4).

Interestingly enough, there seems to be a similar instance in the life of the apostle Paul. In Acts 16:6-7, in the midst of his second missionary tour-of-duty, Paul and his companions attempt to travel through Asia and Bythinia, but are prevented both times; it reads this way:

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. (ESV)

Why would God prevent the most fruitful Christian missionary of all-time from taking the gospel to these areas?

Continuing in Acts 16, it becomes apparent that God’s immediate priority was Macedonia:

And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (v. 9-10 ESV)

Oftentimes, our immediate priority comes in conflict with what God thinks is important at the moment. It made sense for Paul to travel through Asia and Bithynia, just based on mere geography. Both could have been reached by land, coming from Galatia and Mysia, respectively. Macedonia, on the other hand, required a trek by land and sea, and easily more travel time than going to either Asia or Bithynia.

God’s ways and thoughts, however, remain above our own. His plan unfolds according to his infinite wisdom, which seldom follows our logic. As Paul’s journey progresses, we see that his trek through Macedonia was an important one. His stops in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea, later visiting Athens and Corinth in Greece, would shape the face of Christian history and influence the very content of Scripture (1 & 2 Corinthians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians and Philippians). While it is possible that this pivotal part of his journey could have taken place later, we should not so easily presume; God’s plan is very much about the timely occurrence of events.

Having the advantage of the whole witness of the New Testament, we take note of two things. First, Bithynia, is only mentioned twice, in Acts 16:7 and 1 Peter 1:1. This could, perhaps, suggest that it lacked significance as an outpost in the strategic expansion of the Kingdom of God, or that there may have been sufficient Christian witness at the time Paul wanted to enter.

Second, and most importantly, we see the prominence of Asia in the NT (the seven churches to whom Jesus recites letters in Revelation are all in Asia), particularly Ephesus. Paul has two stints in Ephesus: a brief introduction near the end of this second missionary journey and a two-year, three-month stay on his third journey.

After departing Ephesus the second time, though, he pens something rather telling to the Corinthians:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. (2 Corinthians 1:8 NIV)

Could it be that when Paul wanted to originally enter Asia, he simply was not ready?

A survey on the book of Acts notes that “Ephesus held the greatest challenge and opportunity of Paul’s ministry.” He says in 1 Corinthians 16:8-9, “But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” (NIV). What Paul experienced in Ephesus left a mark on him that no other place would, perhaps with the exception of Rome, where he was executed.

Though he “fought wild beasts in Ephesus” (1 Cor. 15:32), his time there was not solely marked by hardship. Acts 19 details what could potentially be the height of Paul’s ministry. He remains in Ephesus longer than any other location (two years and three months) and witnessed the economy of the leading commercial city of Asia Minor take a hit because of a steep decline in idolatry. In addition, two things occur during this time that make it unique: believers experience the baptism of the Holy Spirit under Paul’s ministry, which is recorded nowhere else in Acts, and “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul” (v. 11).

Could it be said that the “best of times” is the natural breeding ground for the “worst of times”? It does seem that added results come with added responsibilities, more blessings come with more burdens, and new levels come with new devils. Jesus, himself, says, “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return” (Luke 12:48 NLT).

God knew what lied ahead of Paul, and that his arrival in Ephesus would have been premature had it happened in Acts 16. The pressures of doing ministry in what was probably the fourth largest city in the world almost made him implode; rushing this could have been disastrous.

As we make some final considerations, we find three insights into why Paul’s trip to Ephesus was delayed:

  1. He was missing the Lord’s permission and blessing. 

“‘Everything is permissible for me,’ but not everything is beneficial,” Paul says to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 6:12 BSB). Just because something is within our means to do, does not mean that we necessarily should. Aside from the Spirit’s prompting, there is nothing that restrained Paul and his companions from venturing into Asia. It would have been foolish, however, to persist and not have the Lord’s blessing. When this happens, we are left to our own devices and forced to rely on our own strength.

     2.  The timely execution of God’s plan was crucial.

As it turns out, the Ephesian church was the last that Paul would pioneer. His journey, post Ephesus, focuses on his final tour and eventual date with Rome (which had a church prior to his arrival). While Paul wanted to stop here “on the way,” God knew that this would be a much bigger undertaking than a drive-by could do justice. In our own efforts to get places more quickly, we can easily make the mistake of devaluing the journey and the significance of the place we are trying to get to so desperately.

     3.  Paul needed the right surroundings.

Paul arrived in Ephesus in Acts 19 with a different crew than he would have in Acts 16, bringing along Priscilla and Aquila — a married couple he met in Corinth. He would need people to accompany him who could be entrusted with the task of overseeing the church during his initial absence, a church that would become one of the most prominent in the NT. While travel companions Silas and Timothy were certainly trustworthy, the record of Acts leaves them in Corinth (likely overseeing the affairs of the church) as the Ephesian storyline begins; Timothy appears to have rejoined Paul later on in Ephesus (Acts 19:22).

It seems like Priscilla and Aquila were the perfect candidates. In Paul’s absence, they meet an Alexandrian Jew named, Apollos, and in discipling him produce a key figure in the NT church (and possibly the author of Hebrews). Their house church in Ephesus is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 16:19; another house church of theirs is mentioned in Romans 16:5. Not only did the couple present themselves as capable leaders, but also loyal friends who were willing to risk even their own lives (Romans 16:3-4).

Having the right people around is an invaluable commodity. A star athlete’s desire to win a championship is contingent upon who is on the team. For a politician, being elected has everything to do with those who are running the campaign. Proverbs 13:20 adds, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (ESV).

The words, “you’re not ready,” do not have to be as daunting as they appear. Instead of taking them as a reproach against our person, we should accept them as an opportunity to learn and grow. Like Paul, we may lack permission, understanding or the right surroundings. Those things only come in God’s timing, to which we ultimately have to submit.

As important as our “Ephesus” may seem, it is not the most important thing. We have a very limited perspective, but God sees the beginning and the end. While we are focused on a destination, God is looking at the sum total of our journey, and arranges our lives to fit what he has in mind.

As Proverbs 16:9 rightly states, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (ESV).

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~ by christianballenger on October 27, 2015.

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