TEXT:         Acts 16:6-40


INTRO:       We human beings are visually oriented.  Unlike many animal species we are the rare exception among living creatures in that we can see colors.  We tend to think of things in visual ways, with pictures.  Even when we think about concepts we tend to do so in visual ways.


One of the realities of being visually oriented as a species however is that many times what we imagine doesn’t always look like what we expected it to be.  This can be either good or bad.  At either rate, when things don’t appear the way we expected them to we are called upon to adjust or we become agitated.


Many Christians have a “vision” of what they think the Christian life will be like, and just like in the real vision world the vision of what we expected from God doesn’t always match the vision we had.  How do we respond to these moments in our life when reality doesn’t match the vision we have?


The Christian life is full of tough calls, and we either become more and more agitated when the vision we have doesn’t pan out exactly like we thought, or we adjust and discover the wonder of God doing things in our life we never expected or at least somewhat different from what we expected.


The Bible is full of situations that didn’t match up exactly like the vision some originally had, but if they didn’t let go of the vision and adjusted their sight they still found a great fulfillment to a great vision.


PROP. SENT:     The Bible teaches us that God’s will is not found so much in what we do as much as it is in what we are.  When our focus is on God we cannot become disappointed even when our vision doesn’t pan out exactly like we expected.




A.   Heaven’s Focus    16:6-9

1.  Paul was planning on traveling east to take the Gospel message but was being kept from doing so “by the Holy Spirit.”

a.   We are not told how, but either by prophetic utterance or by circumstances they were kept from going.

b.   The interference however is attributed to the Holy Spirit’s action, so it is accepted as ok.

2.  This meant a change of plans.

a.   It is important that they knew this was from God and not just an obstacle.

b.   There may have been problems with travel, weather, or some other difficulty beyond their control that made it impossible for them to go, yet they saw this as from God.

3.  No doubt had it been simply a problem Paul would have pushed anyway, but knowing God was preventing their going made him respond with acceptance.

a.   We need to know when God says “no” and when it is time to persevere.

b.   We need to have our life in such a relationship to God however that we can know when it is God and when it is simply a distraction we should fight.

4.  The problem with many Christians is that we have so many voices fighting for our attention that God’s voice can’t get through sometimes!


ILLUS:     Ever been in a room with the TV blaring, a bunch of people talking, a record playing, and several kids running making lots of noise and then try to carry on a conversation with someone who is soft spoken?  Too many distractions can make it hard to hear a single voice!  When Christians have too many voices and demands calling for them all at once the danger is that we can miss the voice of God in all the distractions.  – Source Unknown


B.   Human Factor    16:10-12

1.   Paul takes the events of the moment; a vision by God, blocked from traveling east, possibly a prophetic utterance, and adjusts his vision to preaching to the west.

a.   A vision of a MAN from Macedonia (the West) calling to them -- comes at night.

b.   This MAN from Macedonia was calling them to come and help.

c.   Paul interprets the vision to mean that God wanted them to go to Macedonia and preach the Gospel, instead of east they are to travel west.

2.  Paul no doubt creates in his mind an idea of how this vision will pan out:

a.   They will go to Macedonia and find a MAN who will be the link to planting the Gospel in the west.

b.   Was Paul in for a surprise, for the vision was going to be a little different from reality when they get there!

3.  How many times when God has spoken to us that He is going to do something in our life do we form an idea of what reality this will take?

a.   If we are not careful we may stamp such a strong idea in our mind of what these visions mean that we may miss what God had in mind when we get there!

b.   Paul knew enough to stay flexible with visions!


ILLUS:     A middle age farmer who for many years desired to be a Pastor was one day taking a rest in his field while plowing.  As he looked up heavenward he saw 2 clouds that to his amazement formed two letters in the sky “P” and “C”.  Immediately he hopped up, sold his farm, and went out to obey this vision which he took to mean “PREACH CHRIST”.  Unfortunately, he turned out to be a horrible preacher and after one sermon a neighbor came forward and asked him why he thought God had called him to preach Christ.  After telling him about seeing the “P” and the “C” in the sky, the neighbor said, “Maybe the Lord wasn’t telling you to “preach Christ” but to “PLANT CORN”!  – Source Unknown


4.  We need to be careful that we don’t just see what we want to see.

a.   Many Christians have hurt themselves and others because they saw in visions or prophetic utterances what they WANT to see rather than what God may be trying to communicate.

b.   There should always be confirmations before acting on any vision, especially if it comes from someone else!

5.  In Paul’s case, the vision to go west and preach had been confirmed in several ways:

a.   Prophetic utterance.

b.   Blocked abilities to go east beyond human control.

c.   Paul’s personal vision of the MAN from Macedonia.

d.   And … the general desire to preach the Gospel to everyone!


II.  A CONFUSED REALITY!    16:13-24


A.   Hardly Fruitful!    16:13-24

1.   Paul’s vision of a MAN from Macedonia must have left him excited about what he was going to find:

a.   I.E. men who were just waiting to hear the Gospel when they arrived on the scene, perhaps even a synagogue of men whose hearts were all prepared for the truth of God.

b.   Paul may have been anticipating a quick and full response by hungry men that would stir the city and the planting of a large Church.

2.  What does Paul expect to find when he gets there?  He clearly expected to find at least some Jewish men praying by the river side that would be ripe for the truth of the Gospel, notice this was his expectation in 16:13.

a.   NO MEN! … there were only women on the river conducting a prayer meeting!

(1.  There wasn’t even 10 Jewish men to constitute a synagogue, 10 being the minimum to have one.

(2.  Paul’s vision doesn’t match reality here!

b.   Instead of the MAN FROM MACEDONIA Paul finds a GENTILE WOMAN FROM ASIA!  (Lydia was from Thyatira which was a part of Asia!)

c.   They weren’t crying out for help either as Paul had seen in his vision.

d.   Paul had actually been there several days with NO results!  16:12b

3.  So far the vision Paul had was hardly anything like the reality he encountered!

a.   At this point many Christians would have condemned the trip saying that Paul must not be living right or that the vision was false.

b.   Even a couple similarities would have been nice but there are almost none!

4.  What’s a prophet to do?

a.   Paul seems to accept the reality however as the fulfillment to God’s vision!

b.   They stay and work with what they got; a bunch of women who opened their hearts to the Gospel!

c.   If Paul had rejected the circumstances as not being the fulfillment of the vision there might never have been a Church planted in Philippi.

(1.  The Philippian church became one of the strongest and healthiest churches in the New Testament!

(2.  Imagine if Paul had given up the vision because he got a Gentile woman named Lydia as a convert instead of a Man from Macedonia?

5.  Too many times we miss God’s best because things do not always match our concept of “vision” in ministry!

a.   Many pastors do this with churches they pastor, they think they are all going to pastor mega-churches running in the thousands and they will be sr. pastors of huge staffs ...

b.   And so, they never are content where they are, or find any joy in the reality of the vision they are in!

c.   Christians do this too with spouses, children, and ministry in general!

(1.  How tragic when we can’t see in our spouse, children, or others God’s plan in our life because it didn’t measure up to what we thought we were going to get or should get!

(2.  Too much joy is wasted on false perceptions of visions or at least our ideas or visions.

6.  It may have seemed like a lousy start to fulfilling the vision God had given Paul, but he takes great delight in preaching the Gospel anyway to these women and finds a harvest and a start, albeit a bit different than he expected from the manly vision he had seen in his dream.

7.  Paul is neither disappointed nor bitter, we could learn something here about unfulfilled expectations or ideas.

a.   We need to trust God more in the way reality unfolds in our lives.

b.   If we are proclaiming trust in God, then we ought to show it in our attitude even when things don’t pan out exactly like we expected.


ILLUS:      Like one little girl who was frightened by thunder storms.  As she was about to go to bed a real storm kicked up, lightening, thunder, and wind.  She remembered how such storms sometimes knocked out the lights and how she hated the dark.  She was heard praying, “Dear God, I hope it doesn’t thunder and I hope the lights don’t go out” … then after a brief pause she continued, “But I thought it over, and you can do what you want, in Jesus’ name, Amen!”  – Source Unknown


8.  Paul wasn’t about to throw the vision away because it looked a little different from what he anticipated.

a.   Paul had the privilege of baptizing this woman Lydia and her entire household.  16:15.

b.   It was a small start but it produced one of the most stable churches!

c.   The Philippian church became Paul’s home church; his epistle entitled “Philippians” in our Bible has as its central theme: JOY!

d.   It is clear that Paul did not get hung up on the minute details of the “Man from Macedonia vision … he holds on to the meaning of the vision without getting lost in the details!

9.  The town’s reaction is not one of open arms to Paul’s efforts, they become hostile!

a.   So much for dreams of a thriving joyful church plant!

b.   Nearly everything that can go wrong goes wrong!

c.   Paul and Silas are thrown into prison as a result of preaching to these ladies!

d.   On top of this a demon possessed woman follows them around to harass them all day long!  Hardly the warm reception a church planter expected!

e.   Then when Paul frees this demon possessed woman all the business people in town get mad because she was the key to their fortunes!

f.    The business community certainly didn’t open their arms to Paul!

g.   All in all, this was quite a fulfillment to a hopeful vision!  Reality didn’t hardly matched the vision BUT Paul and Silas kept on singing anyway!!!!


B.   Horrible Fantasy?     16:22-24

1.   At this point many Christians would be questioning the vision!

a.   Almost nothing had been a blessing except the salvation of one Gentile lady and her household and one demon possessed woman who found deliverance!

b.   What little success they had created even bigger messes!

2.   At this point, many of us would have had these thoughts:

a.   “Maybe it wasn’t really a vision from God, just too much pizza before bedtime?”

b.   “The guy who prophesied must have been in the flesh.”

c.   “They must have hidden sin in their lives, look how things are going!”

3.  The problem with all these concepts is that we assume when God gives us a vision to do something it will always be smooth and fruitful by numerical standards or financial status, or turn out exactly as we dream it in our own minds and understanding.

a.   In doing this we may miss out on God’s fulfillment.

b.   If they had given up on the vision one of the greatest churches in the New Testament would not have come into existence!

c.   In fact, since this was a change from taking the Gospel to the east and instead it went west we today might have seen the whole western world exist in pagan isolation while the East would have been Christianized throughout the middle ages!

4.  The trouble is rarely the vision, it is usually how we view the vision against reality!


ILLUS:     Like the guy who stopped at a full service gas station while on a trip with his wife.  After the attendant cleaned his windshield he got mad and told the guy, “It’s still dirty, wash it again!”  The attendant politely obliged, after washing it again however the man was still angry and said, “It’s still dirty, don’t you know how to wash a windshield?”  Just then the man’s wife reached over and took his glasses off his face and cleaned them with a tissue, and then put them back on his face again, and suddenly he noticed the windshield was sparkling clear!  The problem wasn’t the windshield or the attendant; it was the man’s own perspective from his glasses that were the problem … he was the problem!  – Source Unknown


5.  So what’s a Christian to do when reality doesn’t match the vision?




A.   Honorable Faith    16:25

1.   Instead of pity or anger Paul and Silas praise God by singing hymns in prison!

a.   They make the best of what they have!

b.   Notice verse 16:25b … the other prisoners were listening!! – No wonder the prisoners didn’t run away after the earthquake.

c.   How they handle their reality sets the stage for future ministry!

2.  They didn’t see the tensions they were facing as a sign of God’s disfavor!

                  Why do we so easily do this?


ILLUS:      Loose wires give out no musical tones, only when both ends are fastened and stretched with tension do they make melodious sounds!  – Source Unknown


3.  Their faith stays intact even when reality didn’t match the vision!


B.   Hope & Freedom   16:26-40

1.   Could things get worse … YES … an earthquake comes next!  But this was God’s way of opening up a door of ministry for them!

a.   Finally they get a MAN from Macedonia to minister to! … A jailer!

b.   And lots of other men too – the prisoners, who all stayed put!

2.  It becomes clear now that such suffering was all part of the plan, though reality seemed so different at first from the vision, it is taking better shape now and a great church is starting to form!

3.  Too often we view reality as signs of God’s abandonment or of God’s disapproval of us when in fact it may be His setup for a great plan!


ILLUS:            A distraught young boy watched helplessly one day as his toy boat began to drift out of his reach in a pond.  No matter what he tried it only drifted further toward the center of the pond.  He looked around for some adult to come to his rescue and finally found a man who said he would help.  But, to his horror he watched this adult pick up stones and start throwing them at his boat in the middle of the pond!  He was angry that this man who could help him was instead apparently trying to sink his ship, how could he do this!  As he watched however, he noticed that the man was a bad aim, for he missed the boat each time, and then something wonderful began to happen, the ripples created by the rocks thrown near the boat began to drive the boat toward the shoreline where sure enough, the boat eventually arrived again.  The boy finally realized the man was helping him, he just didn’t see it right away in his anger.  How many times have we viewed God in a similar way?  – Source Unknown


4.  The whole atmosphere in town changed now, Paul and Silas and the new Christians in that town could freely worship and promote Christianity once the authorities realized they had mistreated Roman citizens like Paul without a proper trial.

a.   All the anguished realities were in fact building toward protection of the church in a city where they would not have had it before.

b.   At last, though reality was a bit different from the original vision a great work was established because Paul could see beyond the negatives and see opportunity by faith.

5.  How has your reality compared to your vision?  AND, how are you handling it?


CONCLUSION:    What do you do when life doesn’t seem to be what you thought it would be as a Christian?  There can only be 2 responses,

(1. Trust God in everything and continue to serve Him faithfully no matter how many things go wrong. 

(2. become bitter and sullen and live a miserable life! 

Which one do you want?  Which one will build His kingdom better, and your life better?