God Outside of the Wall
One undeniable aspect of Acts of the Apostles is the surprising, extraordinary, and even confusing movement of God’s Spirit in the lives of the early disciples of Jesus. This Spirit makes my inner-Baptist very very uncomfortable. I believe that this is also true for many people in the Church today. In American churches, we tend operate in highly controlled environments in which our religion and spirituality function with a degree of precision that one would expect from any corporate entity or thriving business.
In other words, we evaluate standards, metrics, variables, goals, and criterion in hopes of achieving “success.” Yet, when we hear the stories in Acts, the lives of the early disciples (within the movement of love deemed “The Way”) are characterized by nearly everything but certainty. Why does the Spirit of God guide Jesus’ followers in such unpredictable ways? It reminds me of a similar conversation that the religious leader, Nicodemus, had with Jesus in John’s Gospel. Jesus responds, “The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”
In Acts 16:9–15, we find ourselves immersed in another occasion of confusion. Paul and Barnabas have just decided to go their separate ways. Paul wants to go further into Asia Minor to preach, but the Spirit prevents him from doing so. Instead, Paul has a dream of a man from Macedonia calling him westward. Once they arrive, Paul and his companions decide to join a prayer meeting down by a river, “outside the city gate.” Surprisingly, alongside the river, is a group of women gathered for prayer. Women? Where is the Macedonian man? The Spirit continues to move toward and from the margins of society by consistently subverting their understandings, categories, and assessments for a proper future response.
There, outside of the city gate and along the riverbank, Spirit acts within the lives of Paul, Lydia, and everyone present. “The wind blows wherever it pleases,” we remember. In a culture that is quick to respond with a desire to erect more walls, may we be alert to the Spirit’s call to go outside of existing walls. My hope is that we too may be attentive, present, and challenged to hear and respond to the Spirit’s movement and guidance in our lives today.