I recently had a dream that a construction worker knocked down one of our church walls, claiming that there was poison in it. Another person had a picture come to their mind a few weeks later of our church walls falling over so everyone could see inside. I had been wondering at the time if God was asking us to leave our building and start our previous plans for a mobile food truck church, but these visions and others reinforced in me the idea that God was calling us to keep our building. But another congregant heard these same words and felt God was telling us to leave the building behind. We heard the same Spirit-inspired words, but had two opposite interpretations. Who was right?
The Holy Spirit told Paul that once he reached Jerusalem, he would be persecuted. The Holy Spirit also told the early church that once Paul reached Jerusalem, he would be persecuted. Paul felt that the Spirit was calling him to walk into the suffering, but the early church felt that the Holy Spirit was actually warning him away from suffering. They heard the same Spirit-inspired words, but had two opposite interpretations. Who was right?
God loves to speak in parables. The dreams and visions he gives require us to pursue him for answers, creating the space for truth and direction to be found only in the intimacy of God. If we don’t pursue him for answers, we can veer off in the wrong direction and completely miss the point of what the Spirit was saying. Perhaps you’ve seen this in your own life when someone shares a completely valid supernatural experience they had with you, but then goes on to say the weird things they did because of that experience or a false belief they came to believe because of it.
There are times where misconstrued words are obvious and then there are times where they are not. Paul’s case is a good example of one that was less obvious. The Bible is full of stories where people are called into suffering—indeed, Paul had incurred plenty of it throughout his missionary journeys. But the Bible is also full of stories where people are spared from suffering—indeed, Paul had escaped it plenty of times throughout his missionary journeys. So which way was the Spirit leaning this time? Was this a “Jesus-miraculously-walks-through-the-mob” kind of moment, or a “Jesus-miraculously-walks-toward-the-cross” kind of moment? Paul boldly and willingly proclaimed that the latter was the correct interpretation, and so he embraced suffering.
*This devotional was created out of the themes of Acts 21:1-16 found in today’s reading at CommonPrayer.net.