What does it mean to be “led by the Spirit”? Often, when someone says something like, “I think the Spirit may be leading me to do something,” what they really mean is, “I think this is what I should do, but I want to sound spiritual.” But, of course, they also don’t want to blame God for any bad moves they make, so they give God an out by saying things like “I think” or “maybe” or “I’m trying to discern” etc.
I was thinking about that when I read this passage in Acts:
And they (Paul and his team) went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.Â And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 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.”Â 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. (Acts 16:6-10 ESV)
Notice a few things… first, Paul and his team attempted to make at least two moves that were not in God’s plan. They tried to “speak the word in Asia” and they attempted to “go into Bithynia.” Luke does not say that they thought God was leading them to do this.
But, second, they knew that God stopped them from doing it. Twice Luke says that the Spirit stopped them. This was a definite act of God, but whether they knew it before hand or afterwards, Luke doesn’t tell us.
Finally, Paul has a vision of going to Macedonia. It’s only after a direct communication from God that they were willing to say that God was telling them to do something. Even then, there appears to be some consideration of the vision, since they had to “conclude” that God had called them to Macedonia.
While there are plenty of other passages in Scripture that helps us understand how God leads his people by his Spirit, we can see a few things in this passage.
Paul and his team did not feel the need to credit (or blame) God for every decision that they made. Just in these few verses we see that Paul and his team made decisions and began following plans that were later changed by God. Reading through Acts, you could probably say that this was their default way of making decisions. Certainly they prayed and considered all their options and started along the path that seemed best to them.
But, they were also always cognizant of the fact that they might make decisions that were contrary to God’s plans, and thus, they were also willing to change their plans. If God clearly revealed to them to stop what they were doing (as he did concerning Asia or Bithynia), or if God clearly revealed something that he wanted them to do (as he did concerning Macedonia), then Paul and his team would change their plans.
God is our Father, and he loves as. We can make decisions based on the information that we have and the wisdom that he’s given us. We don’t have to say something like, “I think God is leading me to…” But, at the same time, we should always be ready to change our plans if he reveals something else to us.
You see, being “led by the Spirit” is not a feeling that you get. It is a definite direction that God reveals to us.