The novel coronavirus has been a colossal pain for just about everybody. It has caused all of us to change our plans. This is also true when it comes to how we want and plan to serve the Lord.
In my case, I had plans this summer to teach Bible courses in a couple of foreign countries. Right now, I was supposed to be in Zambia doing just that. My daughter Kathryn was going to be a part of that ministry as well. We are very excited about what we have seen the Lord do in that country. The folks we teach there have been very open to Free Grace theology. We were very disappointed when the virus closed the school down, and the trip was cancelled. We were left asking the question: Why did God allow this to happen?
In Acts 16:6-8 Paul might have felt the same way. He was on his second missionary journey and saw great potential in what he had planned. He wanted to go to Asia. In this case, Asia meant Asia Minor, what we call Turkey today. The main city there was Ephesus. If Paul could establish a Christian church in this vital city, what an impact for Christ that would be!
Luke tells us, however, that the Holy Spirit did not allow it. How did the Spirit do that? Did Paul have a vision telling him he couldn’t go? Did a prophet tell him? Was there Jewish opposition that prevented him from going? Was there a breakout of a dreaded disease? (I doubt this happened. I am just imagining some kind of first–century coronavirus.) We are not told. We only know that Paul’s wonderful plans were thwarted.
Then Paul tried to go north to another region. It was called Bithynia. This area was situated on the southern shores of what is today called the Black Sea. It was also a logical place to go and held out the promise of many new converts. It contained many Jewish colonies as well as Roman cities. This was the kind of situation in which Paul would find great success on his missionary journeys. But once again, the Spirit said no.
Instead, the Spirit, through a vision, told Paul to go west. So, Paul made a left turn and preached the good news in Europe—Macedonia and Greece. I would think that Paul was disappointed about his original plans being frustrated. But, needless to say, what God did with this change of plans changed the world. Paul’s ministry in Europe has brought a great deal of spiritual fruit to millions and millions of people.
My guess is that the coronavirus has caused us to take a left turn. Because of it, again in my case, Kathryn and I have had to do different things. With Zoom we have conducted Bible classes in Spain and South Korea. Just this week we started another class in Zambia with a totally different group. (Thanks to Bill Fiess for all his help in this area.) Who knows what the Lord will do with this opportunity. In a small way, maybe it will turn into a kind of Macedonian call for us.
I have heard different stories about how this situation has caused people to reach out with the teaching of grace in different ways. Churches are finding new ways to reach people online. New ministries are being formed. Perhaps the virus is being used by the Spirit to cause people to think about eternal things, both eternal salvation and eternal rewards. They will be more open to what the Word of God says.
I am really tired of the coronavirus. It made me miss out on things I was looking forward to and that I thought would please the Lord. But our King is sovereign. We just need to look at it for what it is. It is a detour sign that simply tells us we need to turn left on the road we are on while serving the Lord.