God’s Timing Over Ours

In Acts 16 there is a powerful story illustrating clearly God’s timing over ours.

“As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. ” Acts 16:16-18 (English Standard Version)

The slave girl was filled with a spirit of divination, the Greek word used is pythonissa, meaning she was possessed with such a spirit of divination and likely part of the delivery of oracles of Apollo at Delphos. Such diviners “often dictated ambiguous answers to those who consulted, which served to gratify their vain desire of knowing things to come, but often deceived them.” (Matthew Henry)

The reality is what she was saying was true. Paul and Luke were both servants of God, and they did proclaim the way of salvation. She was right, but she was not speaking in accordance to God’s timing or His will.

So often we may speak the right words of encouragement with the greatest faithfulness to the Bible, but our timing is not according to what God has had it to be proclaimed. I think that is the greatest weakness of our encouragement, when we do not consult God first before we do anything. We may be proclaiming the gospel with the greatest passion and the strongest theology, but if we have not the Holy Spirit, any breakthrough we make is only temporary. We may be as passionate as Billy Graham in our fervour and speak with the boldness of Charles Spurgeon, but if we have not prayer how can we know anyone will be changed from the words we have said.

Moreover, how often are we like the slave girl and speak the right words and live a completely different life elsewhere? She was trying to deter the men from prayer by annoying them when she intercepted the men along the way to a place of prayer. Her message was tainted with the knowledge of the people around that she served Greek gods. Especially across the internet, there is an ability to pretend to have things all together, as if our relationship with God is healthy while our hearts are beating otherwise. While our hearts may be in utmost turmoil, we can post blogs which make us seem as if we are growing in joy in Christ.

Charles Spurgeon once preached a sermon that he felt was horrid, filled with stammering, he felt that it was a complete failure in what he did. That night after the sermon he prayed to God, “Lord, God, You can do something with nothing.  Bless that poor sermon.” Throughout the next week continually he prayed that prayer day and night.

He became determined in his next sermon to preach a great sermon. That is what happened, with him being praised highly by the listeners of the sermon that night. He was pleased by himself and slept soundly knowing that he had accomplished a difficult task. Coming back and watching the results of the two sermons, he was able to trace 41 souls saved through the poor sermon, while not one was saved through his successful one.

There is something wonderful in the way that God takes our best moments and shows us how helpless we are. While our worst of times, we find that God is the one that brings goodness back onto us. The slave girl may have spoken the right words, but if not backed up with God’s timing and will for how the events in the world should unfold. Without the primary sanctifying working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, speaking words of truth are nothing more than the Devil working. How often do we destroy the work of the Kingdom by not seeking and surrendering to God first? How often does Satan want to instil in us a sense that we are sufficient and complete in our current state?