Wednesday, April 13, 2011

OnFire #256 Direction and Timing

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #256 Direction and Timing

I was in my car one day when I drove past the house of one of our church families. I knew them well and had been to visit them many times. I wasn’t aware of any great need or a reason why I should drop in on them, but this day I felt practically compelled. A few kilometres passed as I decided whether to go in. Should I? Shouldn’t I? What was I “supposed” to be doing? Was I scheduled to be anywhere else? Was this something I needed to do in the near future, or that day?

I turned around and when I knocked on the door it opened to a place in crisis. I’m not going to fill in the details of their particular issue, so no worries if you think I’m telling your story. Indeed, several people on the OnFire list may think I’m telling their story because this sort of thing has happened to me often enough that I take these promptings very seriously.

God’s direction and timing in apparently unimportant moments are a big part of the story about Barnabas in Acts 11:25-26. Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Paul and brought him to Antioch. These verses look insignificant, but this act will prove to be extremely important in the spread of the good news about Jesus since Paul and Barnabas will be sent out in Acts 13 to preach and establish churches in many cities throughout the ancient Roman world.

How did Barnabas decide that he needed to find Paul? Was it simply a desire to see a friend? Did something in the conversions of the Gentiles spark Barnabas’ imagination? Did he see an opportunity for the gospel since Paul had already engaged Grecian Jews in Jerusalem? Why not just go back to Jerusalem with his report? Did he figure that Tarsus, 250km by land and less by water, was closer than Jerusalem, which was more than 500km away? Did someone back in Jerusalem suggest that Barnabas find him? Was it a spontaneous decision or part of something planned in advance?

Of course we don’t have the answers we would like, but we can see important lessons for us in these simple verses.

God is constantly working to align events for His purposes. Paul’s life was in danger in Jerusalem so the leaders sent him to his home city of Tarsus. God used this “set-back” to advance the gospel outside Jerusalem.

Barnabas was sensitive to God’s direction and timing. These are both crucial for the faithful follower. Not every idea is a good one, and not everything should be done right away. Even when we feel the direction is solid, God may simply be planting the seeds for something to happen later.

God uses both the “spontaneous” and the long-term . Sometimes we glorify on-the-spot leading as in the story I told earlier, but let’s not make the mistake of thinking that the Holy Spirit is only “spontaneous.” Sometimes direction takes months or years to come together. Anything involving more than one person to plan will take some amount of time. I have served on boards where we planned changes for years in advance.

Erring on the spontaneous is not my weakness, quite the opposite. As any of my friends will tell you, I often labour over decisions and so I sometimes need to remember that God may also lead in the moment. Either way, we must always be careful to discern whether direction is from God or simply a distraction.

God sometimes “interrupts” our plans. Barnabas went to Antioch for one reason, and God used him for another reason. I hope I’m sensitive to God’s direction so that I am effective in my faith and do not wander aimlessly from one thing to another. At the same time, I also hope I am sensitive enough to recognize when God’s plan interrupts what I wanted to do for the day.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published April 13, 2011. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at


  1. Good post. I've always wanted to be prompted by God to do something like taking a loaf of bread or carton of milk to someone, only to find out they had been praying for it because they were out, they needed it for the kids and had no money. I had friend who had that happen to them (one was the deliverer, the other the receiver), but I've never experienced it (either end) myself.

    With regard to the long term seed planting type urgings you mentioned, I have to wonder if that's what God has/had in store when I felt Him nudging me to become a teacher...since nothing much is happening with that at this time...

  2. Hi Shelley:
    It is very hard to wait, but I believe that something will eventually come from your teaching degree. Keep trusting, even though it is hard. God loves to lead us to good things, and it will happen.