6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 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.” 10 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)
I remember first reading this as a teenager, “having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.” My mind was scandalized at first thinking through the implications, were mission trips to China now forbidden? What is going on here, why would the Holy Spirit not want the word spoken in Asia?
Of course, I slowly began to realize, one, that Asia as we mean it was not meant. After all, Israel is in Asia. And then, I shouldn’t be too hasty to apply a command given to one in scripture to myself. Growing my hair long had not given me the strength to rip apart lions, or kill an army of Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. However, this passage does give insight to the ministry and is a bit more than just an historical incident. It is the Holy Spirit that is at work. He calls the shots.
This can be a bit frustrating at times. Men are always thinking the thoughts of men, and we can’t even begin to comprehend the ways of the Spirit who blows where he will. We see churches shut down and tend to blame the pastor. Sometimes there is a lot to blame in the pastor’s character, and so forth. Yet, still that church was the Holy Spirit’s work, and if they gates of hell haven’t prevailed against it, perhaps the Holy Spirit is the only person left to blame. A pastor wants to take the credit when things are going good, and this can also be frustrating because for the life of him he can’t often figure out what it is that he is doing now, he wasn’t doing before. You can fish all night on the left side of the boat and catch nothing for all your efforts. Everything says it is where you catch fish, and the ones you want to fish. Suddenly you are told to fish in the most unlikely of waters off the right side, (or is that starboard? I’m not a sailor), well now your friends have to come in off of shore to help you out. Again, the Spirit of Jesus is at work.
The Spirit wouldn’t let Paul and company into Asia, a small province of what we know as Asia Minor. He had other plans. He sent them to Macedonia instead, because God had called them to preach there. I’m not sure how it is that the Spirit kept them from going to Asia. Sometimes there are places you want to go with the gospel, and there just is no way of making a go of it. Things stand in the way. It’s rather frustrating not being in control of your life, but the truth is, you aren’t and never have been. One is lucky if they really have a choice between a hamburger and a salad for lunch. Much less are we in control of the ministry. Oh, there is no excuse for being lazy in the work. There still are nets to be thrown, and fish to be pulled in. There is still need to spend time preparing sermons, visiting the sick, fixing Bible Studies and so on. But finally, it will be the Lord who lets you go where he wants you to go, who blocks your way here and sends you there, who reaches this soul with the blood of Christ, and lets another stay aloof.