Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not. - Acts 16:6-7
No doubt about it, there are a couple of strange phrases in those two verses. Did you notice them? "And were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia." The Holy Spirit forbade preaching? I was under the impression that preaching was a good thing. Didn't Christ say, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel"? As far as I can tell, that's exactly what Paul and his gang were trying to do, but the Holy Spirit wouldn't allow it.
Look at the next one: "but the Spirit suffered them not." In Bible times, the word "suffer" meant "allow". So basically, it's saying that the Spirit wouldn't allow them to go to Bithynia. But they were going there to preach. They were trying to win souls for Christ. They were trying to follow the great command of Christ. Why wouldn't the Spirit let them do it?
The simple explanation is this: it wasn't His will. Yes, God wanted them to preach. Yes, God wanted them to witness. Yes, God wanted them to win souls. He wasn't forbidding their preaching; He was forbidding their direction. Paul and his gang were trying to head further into Asia, but God had other plans, and those plans involved a man back in Macedonia, several hundred miles in the opposite direction.
Has God ever slammed a door in your face? It smarts, doesn't it? We don't like to be told "no." We pout when we don't get our own way. After all, we have plans, goals and dreams, right? But aren't God's plans, goals and dreams for us more important? Yes, it's disappointing when God closes a door just when we thought things were looking up, but we know it's for our good. The real question is, how do we respond? I know how Paul responded.
And a vision appeared
to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him,
saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And
after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into
Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach
the gospel unto them - Acts 16:9-10
As soon as Paul got direction from the Lord, he set out. Notice he didn't argue with the Lord. He didn't ask for an explanation. He didn't try to persuade the Lord to change His mind. He obeyed. He gathered his things and went in the direction of Macedonia.
Did you notice what else he didn't do? He didn't stand there staring at the closed door. Have you ever wondered how much time we waste pursuing things that can never be? We know God has closed the door, but we can't seem to move away from it. We just stand there, thinking of other ways to "make it happen." Or maybe we think if we stand there long enough, God will feel sorry for us and open the door. Who knows?
Unfortunately, as long as we're standing there staring at the closed door, we're not doing anything else. If God has closed the door, it's because He has something else for us to do. So why aren't we doing it? It's impossible for us to stand at one door and walk through another one at the same time. We have to make a choice.
Paul did. He obeyed, and the Lord worked mightily through Him. Don't we want the Lord to work that way in us? He can, but it's going to require something on our part. It will require obedience. It will mean turning away from the closed door and walking toward the open one. And if there isn't an open one, we're told to keep doing the last thing the Lord told us to do. When the time is right, He'll open the proper doors. And we'll be amazed at what's awaiting us on the other side!