I Think My Skills are Underutilized: Acts 16:9-15

Preached by Terrell Carter on 5/19/13

I read a survey recently about workers and their job satisfaction.  In 1987, job satisfaction was at 61%.  In 1995, job satisfaction was at 58%.  In 2000, it was at 50%.  In 2005, it went up to 52%.  In 2009, it stood at a resounding 45%.   If you were surveyed about your current job, what level of satisfaction would you be at?  If you are retired, what would have been your level of satisfaction when you were still a part of the workforce?

Sources of low job satisfaction and workplace burnout typically include problems with workload; the level of required work versus access to resources in order to complete tasks; unrealistic expectations and deadlines; how much control a worker has over his or her job duties; the kind of recognition or reward given for the job; how well relationships with coworkers are going; whether a worker feels he or she is being treated fairly; and whether important values for a worker are supported by the work being done.  The person conducting the survey surmised that the biggest hindrances to job satisfaction were a lack of “Challenging and meaningful work.”

Do any of you relate to this survey?  For some of us, work may not a good place to go to.  Co-workers may not necessarily be the nicest people in the world.  Your boss may not be very smart.  If the truth was told, you were probably the person that trained him/her.  Or, you may have several years of experience doing your job, but you can’t seem to get promoted because you won’t participate in office politics.  Or, you have years of experience, but they hire a new college graduate so they won’t have to pay you a higher salary.  Or, your boss is such a micromanager that your creativity and enthusiasm are stifled because they have to control every piece of paper that comes out of the office.  Or, you have given years of blood sweat and tears, only to be let go during the last round of downsizing.

You may dread the drive in to work every morning and watch the clock as it moves ever so slowly and painfully throughout the workday.  You may not feel fulfilled or appreciated as you leave the office in the evening.  I think we all have probably experienced something like this, haven’t we?

In life, we want to feel fulfilled by the work we do and the relationships that we are involved in.  We want to feel valued and appreciated.  We want to feel like we are valued by people that we give so much of our lives to.  In life, we want to feel like we are important.  But, the cold reality is that sometimes, we give our hearts, time, energy, ideas, etc. only to be disappointed.

Let me ask all of you a question.  Have you ever felt like this when it comes to your spiritual journey?  Have you ever felt like this when it comes to your walk with God?  You live your life in such a way that you are pretty sure that what you do is pleasing to God.  You give of your time, talents, and possessions, but it seems like nothing is going right for you?

If you were surveyed about your satisfaction with God and how your life is going, what would you say?  Would you say that you are satisfied?  Would you say that life is where you want it to be?  Would you say that you feel like God appreciates you?  Or would your survey say something totally different?

If your survey would say something totally different, don’t feel bad.  It is not something to be embarrassed about.  You would actually be in good company.  I believe that if they were asked, some of the patriarchs and matriarchs of our faith would not be able to say that everything was always good for them on their journey through life.  We all know that Job questioned what God was doing during the time that he was being tested.  In the Psalms, we can feel David’s frustration and pain as his life descended into a tailspin due to political and family discord.  In despair, Solomon called life “vanity.”

I also think that Paul would be one of those people who, if pressed about it, could give examples from his life about times where he may have hesitated if he was asked to fill out a survey.  Paul experienced many times in his life where he had opportunity to question what God was doing.  One of those times is found in the Acts passage that is found in the bulletin.  Acts 16:9-15.

Before we go too far, let’s take a look at the verses that precede our printed text.  In Vs.1-5, Paul has met Timothy, a young man with a glowing reputation.  Over time, Timothy had become a trusted companion of Paul.  The two of them made significant strides to strengthen the church through their journeys together.  God blessed that as a result of their efforts, the church grew substantially.  In Vs. 6-8, Paul and his companions try to go to different areas to preach the gospel, but the Holy Spirit forbids them to do so.  We don’t know why, and we are not given an explanation.  We just know that they wanted to share the gospel message in a particular area, but the Holy Spirit said “No.”  Has this ever happened to you before.  The sense that we get is that this was the first time that it happened to them.

Verse 9 opens with Paul having a vision from God.  In the vision, a man from Macedonia beckons him to come over to where he is.  We don’t know how Paul knew the man was from Macedonia, but he takes this vision as a sign from God to travel to that area with the intent to share the Word with whomever they found.

In the past, God had caused people to have visions that led them to go to particular places where they were able to share the gospel with entire families, who in turn all entered in to relationship with God.  One example in particular was when the disciple Peter was on a rooftop and he had a vision of a sheet being lowered down containing all kinds of animals that Jewish law said was unclean.  After having that vision God, through a strange turn of events, brought Peter to the home of a Gentile, who, according to Jewish law, was unclean.  But by God’s grace and power, this man and his whole family believed on Christ as Savior and were saved.

I imagine that Paul had heard about this story.  This experience by Paul has similar qualities as the experiences of Peter.  I can imagine that Paul is waiting to see God work wonders as God did in Peter’s situation.  So, with great anticipation and great expectation, Paul and his group set out to go to Macedonia to do God’s work.

They set sail from Troas and travel to a place called Samothrace.  They leave Samothrace and sail to Neapolis.  From Neapolis, they sail to Philippi.  Altogether, they travel somewhere around 125 miles, changing boats three times.  They do this just to be able to follow a vision of sharing the gospel.  These people are troopers.  I know people who won’t drive 5 hours to see distant relatives.  Some of us would have a hard time getting excited about going to a family reunion if our flight had more than one extended layover.

When their feet touch ground in Philippi, I bet that Paul and his companions are excited.  They have travelled a long way to get there and they are ready to go.  They are ready to get to work doing something.

But the writer of Acts says that instead of getting directly to work, they waited.  And they waited.  And they waited.  Luke, the author of Acts says that they waited for “some days,” seeming to indicate that they were there for a while before anything positive happened.

So, Paul had this vision, obediently and immediately set out to comply with it like God wanted them to do, but nothing happens when they get there.  Instead of getting to work, they hurried up and waited.  I can imagine that they were disappointed.

On the Sabbath, Paul and his friends can’t even go to a synagogue, which was their usual habit when they visited a new area, because there wasn’t one there.  This is a sign that there seems to be no viable spiritual leadership present in the area.

But, as they walk outside the gates of the city, they meet a group of women.  Many towns in that day had laws that didn’t allow foreign religious practices to occur within their city walls for fear of the wrath of the particular gods of that city.  So, people like the Jews had to go outside the gate to pray.
Paul and Silas begin to talk to these women and one of them named Lydia pays attention.  It turns out that she worshipped God on her own, in spite of the lack of a synagogue.  She believed their message and is saved.  And not only her, but her whole family as well.  After receiving the message and being baptized, she invites Paul and his companions to visit her home.  Does this sound familiar?  It is similar to what happened between Peter and the Gentile.

And guess what happens next!  Nothing.  Nothing else spectacular happens.  We don’t hear about Lydia doing anything spectacular.  We don’t see her family accomplish anything out of the ordinary or earth shattering.  Actually, after this passage, we don’t hear Lydia’s name mentioned again.

So, Terrell, you’re telling me that Paul and his friends traveled a lot of miles over several days and took multiple boats only to see this one family saved?  Yep.

This chapter of Paul’s journey ends in a very unspectacular way.  We don’t hear of Lydia doing anything else or anything else positive happening in this area.

Does the story end there?  Paul probably wished it had, but no, it doesn’t end there.  Things went from boring to bad in a short amount of time.  The rest of the chapter tells us how Paul and Silas were traveling trying to find a place of prayer, and were approached by a woman possessed by a spirit of divination.  This woman, filled with an evil spirit, made a lot of money for her owners.  Eventually, Paul and Silas cast this spirit out of the woman.

When they did this, the woman’s owners accused them of a crime and had them thrown into prison.  While in prison, they were beaten and abused.  At some point they were put into shackles and locked away tight in the prison’s most secluded area.  That night an earthquake shook everything in the area and their shackles fell off.  The guard who was responsible for keeping them locked up thought they had fled, and was ready to commit suicide in order not to experience the wrath of his superiors.  But instead of letting the guard kill himself, Paul and Silas let him know that they were still there.  They then shared the message of God’s love with him.  This guard believed their message and he and his family were also saved.

Now, guess what happened after that?  Paul and his friends were asked to leave the city and not to come back because certain people thought they were becoming a distraction.

Wait a minute, Terrell.  You’re telling me that not only did Paul and his friends endure a long, drawn out trip, but, they got in trouble for essentially freeing a woman of an evil spirit, were beaten for doing it, were thrown in prison, and eventually were kicked out of the city and told never to come back.  And the only good thing that came out of it was that two families were saved?  That seems like a lot of work and major headaches for little reward.  They could have done all of that in Troas or any other city close to home.  My answer is “Yep, you’re right.”

Okay, Terrell.  That was not a very uplifting story.  Are you telling me that God sent Paul and his companions to a place that God knew would be difficult for them to operate in?  Are you telling me that God intentionally sent them to a place where God knew that they would experience pain and suffering?  Are you telling me that God sent them all that way just to interact with two small and insignificant families and a possessed woman?  Are you saying that God sent them somewhere knowing full well that they would be misunderstood, misrepresented, and manhandled?  What are you expecting me to get out of this?

I think what we can take away from this passage is simple.  In our spiritual journey, in our attempts to live out our lives for God, we will be allowed to go to what we think are insignificant places.  Some might say that God sends us to insignificant places.  During our efforts to become closer to God, we will inadvertently help/work with people who we typically may consider to be unimportant.  Someone might say that God sends us to work with unimportant people.  Sometimes, God will allow/cause us to participate in things that cause us more frustration and pain than what they seem worth.

Sometimes, God will send you to a place that when you get there, there will be no fanfare.  There will be no cheerleaders.  There will be no welcoming committee and no golden shore.  When you get there, you may be all alone.  When you start the work that God has for you, you may not get any accolades.  Actually, people may actively stand against you and what you are trying to do.  No one will tell you how good of a job you are doing.  There will be no pats on the back.  You may do exactly what you know God wants you to do, but you will be misrepresented.  You will be misunderstood.  People will not appreciate you.  You may want to leave.  You may want to retreat.  You may want to throw in the towel.  But don’t.

If it was important enough for God to send you, it’s important enough for you to stay.  If it was important enough for God to put you there, it’s important enough for you to finish the work that has been started.  If it was important enough for God to open the door, it’s important enough for you to walk through it and see what God has in store on the other side.

If Paul was surveyed after this experience, or any of the other experiences where he was met with opposition and ridicule, he may have said that he didn’t think God was using his skills correctly.  He may have said, “I am smarter than this.  I should be used for a much greater work than this.”  Or he may have said that he was tired of how his life was going, especially in light of the fact that he had dedicated it to God and the coming of God’s kingdom.  We all could sympathize with Paul and his companions if they felt like that.  To go through what they went through would leave anyone frustrated.

But I think that if you would have surveyed Paul years later, his attitude probably would have changed.  Why do I think this?  What Paul found out years later was that there was a faithful church in that region, which I imagine started with those two families that he preached to.  And this church was to whom the book of Philippians was written.

This church was acknowledged by Paul as being one of the most faithful churches around.  Not only was that church faithful to God, but they were also faithful to Paul.  When Paul needed support throughout his travels in ministry, the church at Philippi was the only group that supported him emotionally and financially without fail.  They did this when other churches dropped by the wayside.

If Paul would have been surveyed years later, after seeing what likely grew from these two small families, he probably would have said that his time and effort was spent right where it needed to be.  He probably would have said that the time that was spent there was blessed by God.  Paul, and his companions probably could recognize that God had been doing something important, even when they did not know it.

But what does this mean for WGBC?  We should be encouraged and know that where we are right now is where God wants us to be right now.  But, we should also be encouraged and know that where we are right now is not where God will have us in six months or a year from now.  As we seek to faithfully follow God, honor our Savior Jesus, and yield to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we will be transformed and moved to a different place and grow spiritually and numerically.

My prayer is that six months from now or a year from now, we do not look like we look today.  My prayer is that God will take the faithful people that gather at WGBC and multiply our number as happened in Philippi.  My prayer is that God will build this church as a faithful witness to this community, not for the sake of simply increasing the number of people that attend, but that as we grow, there will be more laborers and workers in God’s field helping to build the coming kingdom.

Will you pray with me?

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