“…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:18

As a pastor, some of the most common questions I’ve received have do to with guidance from God. What is God’s will for my life? Is God leading me to take this new job? Does God want me to marry this person? Could God be pointing me in a new direction for my life? How do I know if is God opening a door?

Of course the question of how God guides us isn’t just a pastoral matter for me. Ever since I first put my faith in Jesus Christ, I’ve been understandably eager to do what God wants me to do. That is if I know what He wants. It would be a lot easier if God simply told me what he wanted, especially if He told me what He wanted in a one-to-one conversation. I would get started as soon as the conversation was over. But of course, that doesn’t happen, nor do we get texts, emails or tweets from God either. We can learn to see God’s hand in our lives through both positive and negative circumstances; through open and closed doors. In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers explains that not everything that happens to us as Christians makes human sense. “To turn head faith into a personal possession is a fight always, not sometimes. God brings us into circumstances in order to exercise our faith.”

In Acts, 16 the Apostle Paul and Silas were in Philippi, where they shared the good news of Jesus with a man and his family (Acts 16:14-34). The whole household believed the message and all members were immediately baptized. How did Paul and Silas get to the home of this man and his family? Not through intuition. Not through dreams or angelic visions. Not through biblical interpretation. Rather, they got there through circumstances, rather odd circumstances at that. The man was a jailer who had been assigned to guard two prisoners, Paul and Silas.

Here’s the story –  Paul and Silas got in trouble with the authorities when they cast an evil spirit out of a girl who had been making money for her masters. Seeing their source of money taken away, they grabbed Paul and Silas and accused them before the civic leaders of Philippi: “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us.” (vs. 20-21) The officials had the Christians beaten and thrown into prison.

Around midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and praising God. All of a sudden, a great earthquake shook the prison, knocking the chains off the prisoners. “The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” (vs. 27-28) In shock, the jailer fell instead at the feet of the missionaries. He then took them to his home, where they proceeded to convert him and his entire family.

Looking at the Acts in its entirety, it is hard to believe that the visit of Paul and Silas to the jailer’s home was a mere coincidence. Though not identified explicitly in this passage, the Holy Spirit was directing the action of Acts 16, just as the Spirit oversaw the mission of Christ throughout Acts. The Spirit got Paul and Silas into the jailer’s home by manipulating circumstances, some of which were obviously miraculous, others of which appeared on the surface to be ordinary.

The Bible is full of stories in which God’s guidance comes, not by word or vision, but through circumstances. Such stories can also fill Christian communities where people seek God’s direction. God often clearly demonstrates His plan for our lives by lining up circumstances in obvious ways. And He also shows us what not to do in that same way. We often don’t realize the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit until we look back in retrospect. But, later on, we see how God wove events together to accomplish His will in our lives.

Of course, the skeptic would deny that God was involved with such things. “Mere coincidence!” would be the claim. But sometimes the coincidences are so astounding that I find it very, very hard to believe anything other than God is guiding the events. I draw from the experiences of people I have known during my years as a pastor. There is no doubt in my mind that the guidance of the Holy Spirit often comes through the circumstances of our lives.

Discussion Question:

  1. What circumstances brought you into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ?
  2. Have you experienced God opening and closing doors?
  3. Do you approach God’s will differently depending on positive or negative circumstances?
  4. How can we trust God more in our circumstances?
  5. Pray and ask God for the wisdom to see your circumstances as opportunities in His will.