It hadn’t fully struck me before that Paul’s plans are in fact thwarted on a number of occasions. ~We think most immediately about the occasion in Acts 16:6 where Paul is restricted and forbidden from proclaiming the Gospel in Asia (probably further in to Turkey). However, we also know from Romans 1:13 that he had wanted to visit Rome on several occasions but had been prevented. Did you know though that he had also been unable to make a return visit to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:17-18).
Can you identify with that sense of frustration? We can. Along the way throughout life, there have been various occasions where we have sought to do something which we felt laid on our heart to do. This includes times in my own life individually, together with Sarah after we got married and together as a church. For example, after we completed our time at Oak Hill, Sarah and I looked seriously into church ministry in my home county of Yorkshire but nothing seemed to come quite off. Ten years later, with time coming to an end in Bearwood we made another attempt. I have a deep personal concern for West Yorkshire, especially for Bradford and want to see Gospel work grow and flourish there. We serious considered the possibility of church planting. However, at the moment, once again, those doors don’t seem to be opening.
Whilst working for Bearwood Chapel, there were things we hoped to see happen and things we tried to make happen. Some things came off (getting a high street presence, multiplying congregations, training gospel workers) other things came along to surprise us which no one had seen coming (a Spanish speaking church plant) and then there were times when we just couldn’t get any traction (the possibility of a congregation in a local school, attempts to see a church plant on the Bristnall Hall estate, the potential purchase of adjoining land – something the church had attempted on various occassions). I’m sure you will have examples in your own life.
I want to highlight three things here. The first is that there can be any number of reasons as to why something doesn’t happen. With the three examples with Paul, the implications are that these included clear direction from the Holy Spirit, circumstances such as other priorities taking precedence and Satanic opposition. I would be cautious about jumping to assume that either the first or the third barriers are definitely in place. However, I think we can talk in terms of Holy Spirit direction when we are given counsel from wise and godly people against a particular course of action at a given time and we can also at times see opposition at work when people act in ungodly ways and for selfish reasons to prevent something. However, I would want us to be clear in our minds that God is sovereign in all things. If he wants us to be in a particular place at a given time doing a specific thing then he will not be thwarted. Indeed, sometimes we have to be ready for God’s timing and methods to be different. Paul does end up in Rome but as a prisoner.
Secondly, that we might face challenges and opposition, then there is nothing to stop us having a good go at something. Paul clearly makes every effort to take the message further into Turkey. Indeed, if it seems to be circumstances or opposition that are at work against you, then my advice would be to keep trying until you hear clearly, most likely through that wise counsel of godly leaders in the church that the answer is no.
…Or alternatively until something else comes along. So, the Acts 16 incident is famous not just for the Paul being hindered from going one way but for him being specifically called to go somewhere else. The reason that I might be being thwarted and frustrated in one direction may well be that God has something else for me to be doing right now. The frustration of not being able to get a congregation into a larger venue or to get traction for a council estate plan was real, however in the middle of all that, God surprised us with the opportunity to help plant Nueva Vida, a church using Spanish as its main language reaching particularly the South American diaspora in the West Midlands.
So, keep your trust in God’s sovereignty and providence, he knows what he is doing, don’t give up on plans unless there is clear direction but also make sure that you don’t become so obsessed with one possibility that you miss out on other opportunities that the Lord has for you to serve and glorify him.
 There is one possibility still to investigate.