We had asked many to be praying for us as we made this decision because we didn't want to do it on our own. When I think of making decisions invariably one of the first verses that comes to my mind is Isaiah 50:10, 11 which says (ESV) "Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God. Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment." These are strong verses displaying our overwhelming tendency to try and go it alone instead of depending on the Lord. Thankfully, God has used these verses in my life to help me be more cautious before jumping into decisions. I try to insure that I'm not just running off by the light of my own torches (which I've done all too often!).
As I was spending time with the Lord over this decision, I kept thinking of Acts 16:6-10 which we had looked at during our study of Philippians this past summer.
"And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, 'Come over to Macedonia and help us.' And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them." - Acts 16:6-10
I am fascinated by this passage. The author, Luke, actually says that they were forbidden to do ministry in certain places by the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Jesus. I wonder how they knew that? Maybe one day I will get to ask that question! I was also struck by the word "concluding". How did they conclude? Is it possible to conclude without a vision?
According to my concordance, the Greek word translated "concluding" here is the same word that is translated as "held together" in Ephesians 4:16, "knit together" in Colossians 2:2, 19, "instruct" in 1 Corinthians 2:16, and "proving" in Acts 9:22. These last two translations I found very interesting and helpful. Acts 9:22 says "But [Paul] increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ." As we read through the rest of Acts and Paul's letters we can get a feel for what his "proving" would have been like. The way that he taught, especially when his audience was of Jewish background, depended highly on reasoning from the rest of Scripture and the facts of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. I think on some level or another their concluding in Acts 16 wasn't based solely on the vision from the man of Macedonia, but also had to do with the situation at hand and the surrounding circumstances. They used reason as well as the vision they had seen.
So I thought "maybe we can do the same" and as I prayed I began to list out our circumstances and the process we have been in to see if we also could conclude that God was calling us to Auckland. Here is a snapshot of what I had written:
1. God has used us in the lives of people and called us into ministry.
2. We sought to go into Fiji because of a sense of the need for laborers there.
3. Over time it began to be unclear as to whether the door into Fiji was open or closed.
4. Many of our leaders began to mention other options (beginning in June), several mentioning Auckland to us* though their stance was "let's continue waiting".
5. We traveled to Fiji, door seemed even more closed; felt like our hearts were beginning to distance from it.
6. Our leaders stances seemed to be shifting from "wait" to "let's look elsewhere".
7. They encouraged us to talk with the New Zealand staff.
8. We saw a clear need for laborers at the University of Auckland.
9. Mutual excitement about the possibility with the NZ staff and us.
10. Leadership released us from the team to Fiji and encouraged us to move forward in pursuing Auckland.
11. Kathryn and I sensed a great deal of freedom and peace in regards to ministering in Auckland, and we were excited about the possibility.
12. As we asked questions and continued to move forward it became readily apparent that this really is an incredible need and opportunity that we'd enjoy being a part of!
I concluded from that time that if NZ was to offer us a formal invitation, I would feel sure enough to conclude that God was indeed calling us there (just like Paul and his team did in Acts 16:10)! About a week ago, we received a formal invitation from the Navigators of NZ to come and work with University students in Auckland. A few days after that we prayerfully and excitedly said yes and accepted the role!
Just as Paul and his team then "immediately sought to go on into Macedonia" so Kathryn and I are now beginning a new visa process!
I thought this short study on Acts 16 may be very helpful to others as it was helpful to me. As we've worked with University students over the years it has become readily apparent that the question "how do I discern God's will and make decisions?" is very prominent and relevant! My guess is that it remains that way through many stages of life.
* Really, until our leaders began talking to us about the need in Auckland, we had no idea there was even a need there. For us, the whole process seems to go toe to toe with Proverbs 16:9 "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps." We had planned on going to Fiji and out of the blue God directs us to Auckland. I'm not sure we would have known about Auckland at all if we hadn't been in the process to Fiji already!