The Apostle Paul was constantly in motion for God, but he didn’t have constant clarity. Paul did things he thought were God’s will but weren’t, yet he constantly pursued Jesus. For example, in Acts 16:7 Paul intended to go to the region of Bithynia but the “Spirit of Jesus” prevented him from doing this. The next verse states that during the night Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia who called Paul to come to him. Paul responded to the call and as a result planted the Philippian church.
This short account should give every Christian great courage. Here was an incident where Paul took two steps forward and God made him take one step back. Paul got it wrong and had to be corrected. He was still a great success because he served and in serving saw many people come to salvation through his ministry. Paul’s life reminds us we can pursue God’s will, get it wrong, and still accomplish God’s will!
Paul got some of the specifics of God’s will wrong, like where he should travel to next, but he was still faithful to God’s revealed plan for all people of all time. What is this plan? First, it is clear that God wills for people to come to know Jesus (John 12:32, 1 Timothy 2:4). This will is clear! Second, we also see in scripture that God gifts people with certain abilities, passions, and experiences. These gifts are to be used to glorify God and build up the church (Ephesians 4). In short, we are called to salvation and service. This is why we can have great confidence and live faithfully as Paul did.
This should be what we expect in our own lives. We make plans with prayer and good intentions. Sometimes we even think we hear God’s voice, but then we realize we made a mistake. We took the wrong turn, went down the wrong street, were the wrong fit for a job, or even moved to the wrong city. None of these decisions need to fatal or final!
We get into trouble when we get hung up on the details like where and how we are to serve. Yes, there are times in scripture where it seems God has a specific will for Paul to go to this place and not another. This specific will is rarer and may be better understood as a preference. This preference or divine suggestion is less clear, and Paul often misunderstood it as he pursued God’s bigger plan of salvation and service.
Today no one hears God perfectly or follows his direction without any misstep - just like Paul. I know of only one person in history who has perfectly followed the Father’s will, Jesus Christ. Even Jesus wrestled with doing God’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane. As we travel with God we should expect to hear his voice in increasing amounts as we grow in faith, but we should never expect perfection.
Paul reminds us in Philippians 1:6, “That the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” God isn’t finished with us yet, so we should be patient with ourselves and others. One day we’ll be perfected, but today is not that day (tomorrow likely won’t be either). Be patient! God isn’t finished with us yet; he’s still at work and we should be too.