By Michael E. Brooks
“After the uproar had ceased, Paul called the disciples to himself, embraced them, and departed to go to Macedonia. Now when he had gone over that region and encouraged them with many words, he came to Greece and stayed three months. And when the Jews plotted against him as he was about to sail to Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia” (Acts 20:1-3 NKJV).
I believe it was on the fifth overseas mission trip I made that I finally made all my flights and connections as scheduled. On each previous trip, I missed flights, had them canceled, rescheduled, or rerouted.
I always got to where I was going, but never in exactly the way I had expected and intended. As I continue to travel, such changes continue to be frequent.
Sometimes I find it necessary to change or cancel trips. The September campaign in 2001, is one example. After the attacks against the United States, the airline I was using suggested that I cancel and refunded my fare.
Another was a planned trip where the only available carrier was a national airline whose equipment, personnel, maintenance routine and training were widely known to be greatly substandard.
I chose not to use them, therefore missing a planned work. On other occasions turmoil within the area I was visiting forced early departures.
I strive to be consistent and dependable. It is heart-rending to have to cancel or alter plans to work in the kingdom and disappoint those expecting me.
I feel guilty knowing that some who would have heard the gospel, or been taught portions of the Bible more fully, may not have another opportunity. I am convinced that what we do on such trips is blessed by God and of benefit to the Kingdom and to those who receive our messages. To cancel or substantially alter these works is very difficult.
The apostle Paul faced similar decisions. On his missionary journeys, we read of occasions when he planned and desired to visit a particular place but could not (Acts 16:6-7; 20:1-3).
He indicates in his letters that some used such events to question his truthfulness and reliability (Romans 1:11-13; 2 Corinthians 1:17). Yet he defends those alterations to his travel as essential, unavoidable, or providential.
I don’t know when God acts providentially on my behalf. I am certain that he does, but one can always find a physical, natural explanation for most events, no matter how unusual or beneficial they may be.
With the eye of faith, believers will credit the Creator for all natural phenomena, including those that provide unexpected blessings. Many of us know individuals who for some reason missed a flight which crashed. Did God save them from death, or was it merely coincidence? Some of these strongly believe in the former explanation.
It is more difficult when I see no particular benefit or blessing from such a change. So far as I know the flight I refused to take because of the reputation of the airline arrived safely and more or less on schedule.
I could have gone and enjoyed that work. Should I have? I simply do not know. I have flown on that airline since (rarely) with no adverse experiences, after seeing evidence of improvement.
Under the same conditions I would likely make the same decision.
Had Paul taken his ship from Greece to Syria he might have avoided the ambush of the Jews. That would have put him in Jerusalem in plenty of time for the feast he wanted to celebrate. But he may not have had opportunity to visit Troas or Miletus or to say farewell to the elders of Ephesus.
Most humans have the tendency to second-guess themselves about their decisions. To a point, this is healthy. Continued guilt and self-doubt however is not.
The choices described above were made after sober consideration and prayer. They were exercises in judgment, which is sometimes faulty. Were they the best decisions? Possibly not. Did I do my best to exercise good judgment? Yes.
All of us must make difficult decisions. Sometimes they work out wonderfully. Sometimes they do not, or at least so it seems.
So long as we ask God’s help and use our best information and reasoning, we should avoid regret, second guesses, and guilt. God’s grace is promised. He will help us.
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).