The Book of Acts contains the exciting missionary adventures of the first Apostles of our Lord. We see them sweep through much of the eastern Roman Empire with the Gospel. Often, they meet conflict or persecution. But they seem unstoppable…or mostly so. Sometimes, doors were closed on them. Sometimes their hindrance came from God Himself. In Acts 16 we read:
Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them (Acts 16:6-7).
In this short passage, the greatest Apostles were hindered twice in their ministry by the Spirit. It made me think about how there are times that we make plans to do good, to help people, to perform some ministry, and things just don’t work out. God closes the doors that we hoped would be opened. If we allow it, these difficulties can cause us great despondency and even a loss of faith.
When this happens, however, we should persevere. It doesn’t mean God is angry with us. It simply means that the plan we had was not in God’s will at that time. Perhaps, if the plan was “successful,” it would have somehow been to our spiritual detriment (or to the detriment of others). God sees the hearts of those who wish to do good, and also knows the hearts of the potential recipients. Additionally, He comprehends the complexities of all the circumstances that make the world work. Sometimes He might be saying, “No, that won’t work right now. There are events about to happen that you don’t know about.”
In Our Daily Lives
Of course, this rule goes beyond doing ministry. It can apply to our everyday lives. For example, a mother with young children may desire to spend more time in quiet prayer and spiritual reading. But her children misbehave and she is hindered. It would be easy (and almost excusable) for her to fall into anger and despondency. Instead though, she can make an effort to pray her morning and evening prayers every day, and then patiently endure whatever hindrances come her way. She can allow the loving care of her children to be a prayer she offers up to God.
The same principle can be applied to those who wish to fast but have a bodily illness that prevents them from enduring the typical Orthodox fasts. Whatever the case may be, there are times that we want to do good, to do the right thing, but the door is closed to that by circumstances beyond our control. Whenever that happens, we should accept it as God’s providence and ask Him to help us patiently endure.
St. Silouan the Athonite gave us a test we can use to see if we are in the will of God. He said:
How are you to know if you are living according to the will of God? Here is a sign: if you are distressed over anything, it means that you have not fully surrendered to God’s will, although it may seem to you that you are living according to His will.
He who lives according to God’s will has no material cares. If he has need of something, he offers himself and the thing to God; and if he does not receive it, he remains as unworried as if he had got what he wanted…and in this way is peace preserved in soul and body (p. 335).
In the words of St. Paul who experienced these hindrances from God, “let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Gal. 6:9).