Called to Failure?

Discerning the will of God in your life can be a tricky business. What does God want you to do and where does God want you to go? It can be easy to answer these questions through the filter of our own desires. We can confuse what feels good or makes sense to me with God’s will. In the same vein, we can sometimes equate worldly failure with kingdom failure and vice versa.

Acts 21 challenges these assumptions. In this account, the apostle Paul senses a leading from God to go to Jerusalem. When he shares this plan with his companions, a prophet named Agabus speaks up. He proclaims a "word from the Lord," saying that if Paul goes to Jerusalem he will be arrested and delivered over to the Roman authorities. How would you respond to this prophetic word? I would probably respond just like Paul’s companions who, “urged him not to go up to Jerusalem.” If I was Paul, I would assume that my first prompting was inaccurate and that God had sent this prophet to warn me off.

Paul thinks differently. He relies on his deep relationship with the Holy Spirit, trusts the original leading, and heads off to Jerusalem. And guess what? Everything Agabus prophesied comes true. Paul is arrested, handed over to the Romans, and even brutally beaten in the process. So, this begs the question: was Paul wrong? This certainly looks like defeat. Getting arrested couldn’t possibly be what God had in mind… right?

I love this quote from Dr. Rob Reimer’s book River Dwellers, “I think too often in the church we assume if God is leading us, then it will always turn out well, but I think that is a strange theology for a people who follow a God who died on a cross.” Does this mean that God sometimes leads us to failure and harm? Well, yes and no. God may indeed lead us on paths that include suffering, but pain or failure in the world’s eyes does not equal defeat. In Paul’s case, his arrest ended up being the pathway for him to share the gospel with Caesar himself. And in the case of Christ, the apparent defeat of the cross was in fact our gateway to forgiveness, reconciliation and life eternal.

Is suffering sometimes a consequence of our own or someone else’s bad decisions? Yes. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that loss, obscurity, or suffering automatically means you’ve missed the boat on God’s will. John the Baptist, locked in a prison cell wondered if this was the case for him. He assumed the Messiah was coming to overthrow Rome and improve Israel’s circumstances. His imprisonment caused him to doubt Jesus was really the one. Jesus’ response was to point out all the ways God’s kingdom was breaking in despite the fact that neither John’s nor Israel’s earthly circumstances would improve.

At the same time, this doesn't mean that when faced with a decision you should always choose the way of suffering. Our discerning of God's will simply can't be based on circumstances alone. We must cultivate the depth of relationship that Paul had with God. Deep communion with God leads us to recognize his voice and to trust in his goodness and will no matter the worldly outcomes. Remain faithful to him, even when circumstances are difficult or unfair. When we do this, it allows us to move from a posture of doubt to one of confidence. Confidence in a God who is close the brokenhearted, is overflowing in goodness and justice, and is in the process of redeeming all things.

O Israel, hope in the LORD; for with the LORD there is unfailing love. His redemption overflows. – Psalm 130:7
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. – Romans 8:28

Sean's Picks

A Place Called Earth by Jon Foreman and Lauren Daigle - I can't stop listening to this song off of Jon Foreman's latest album, Departures. It speaks of a deep soul longing for heaven where we'll experience the fullness of our identities in Christ. 

Missions Spotlight

We are offering you a tangible reminder to pray for our missions partners in addition to this monthly email with recent prayer requests. We'd love to mail you a packet containing updated hard copy prayer cards for each of our Missions Partners. You could post them in places you'll see often to nudge you to pray - like your bathroom mirror or the fridge or with your Bible! Simply send an e-mail to to provide your name and mailing address and you'll receive your packet of cards in a few weeks. 

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