Connections 05.22.2022: Embracing the Moment

Acts 16:1-15

Quite a while ago I saved a quotation from Thomas Merton and added it to the slideshow of photos that make up the screensaver on my laptop. It is a reminder that proves helpful again and again in my military family’s life, when we’re wondering (again and again) where we’ll go next, what we’ll do there, and where we might eventually end up.

Merton wrote, “You do not need to know precisely what is happening or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and the challenges offered by the present moment and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope” (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 206).

This week’s text from Paul’s missionary journeys seems like a biblical version of Merton’s wisdom. At the end of Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas have had a dispute—wouldn’t you love to know all the details of that falling out?—and have parted ways, each taking along a new partner for their work. As chapter 16 begins, Paul sets off on a new string of voyages and visits that will take him to unexpected places. He will meet surprising new believers who would become leaders in the early Christian movement.

As this action-packed chapter kicks off, Paul gradually makes his way from Syria (15:41) toward Philippi (16:12). At the front end of the trip, Paul meets Timothy and welcomes the young man into the company of missionaries (16:3). Midway through the narrative, Paul is dramatically rerouted when the “spirit of Jesus did not allow” Paul to enter Bithynia (16:7). Paul dreams of a man in Macedonia asking the Apostle to come bring help to the Macedonians (16:9), prompting the travelers to reroute their journey. Upon arrival in Philippi, the missionaries seek a place to pray on the Sabbath and meet a group of women including Lydia, who they recognize as “a worshiper of God” (16:14).

Paul’s plans for his missionary calling seem to have been upended. He parted company with a trusted companion, then faced holy roadblocks and unforeseen callings. He wound up in a place he never intended to go, with companions he had not known he would depend upon. How I wish the storyteller of Acts had given us a glimpse into whether and how Paul struggled to accept all these changes and surprises! How did he let go of needing “to know precisely what is happening or exactly where it is all going”? How did he recognize “the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment”? Acts 16 makes it look easy, but I suspect Paul and his traveling companions struggled as much as any of us would with the realities of life and faith, when the things we were so sure of fall apart and send us in new directions. How did Paul—and how do we—embrace all these moments with “courage, faith and hope,” no matter where, or with whom, God calls us to live and to serve?

Discussion

  • When you look back at your journey so far, where do you see roadblocks and reroutings? When have you been certain about where you were headed and the people who were part of your story… only to have that certainty upended and your plans changed? How did God provide support for you through that time?
  • Who are the people you’ve encountered along your way who have been unexpectedly important in your faith journey? Which ones have surprised you the most?
  • What transitions and unforeseen changes are you facing at this phase of your journey? What support and guidance do you need? How can you seek God’s direction? How do you know when God is calling you away from one path or toward another?
  • Thomas Merton’s words remind us to “recognize the possibilities and the challenges offered by the present moment and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.” What possibilities and challenges are in front of you right now, even if you are in a time of uncertainty or change? How can you embrace this moment with “courage, faith and hope” so you can experience God’s presence and provision here and now?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and as a military spouse has had nine (at last count) different hometowns in the past 20 years. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in the Washington D.C. area. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.com.

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