Are we willing to have our life outline changed by God? Are we ready to have our expectations and our hopes dashed by God to be replaced with something better? What if God’s plan for us is different from our plan for us? These are all questions that we run into as we follow God in this life and it is how we answer them that dictates how joy filled that life is. When our best-laid plans fall apart, do we have faith that it is not evil winning but God working?
A good example of someone answering this question is Philip meeting the Ethiopian Eunuch from the Book of Acts. It is just a great moment from a book filled with them. The highlight of the account is when God takes Philip and places him in the path of a man from a far country who has come to Israel to seek God. Philip is standing by the road when an Ethiopian Eunuch’s chariot is riding by. Philip sees the man reading from Isaiah and God tells Philip to go and speak with him. Philip explains the Gospel to the Ethiopian and the man is saved and then immediately baptized by Philip. Just an awesome testimony.
But we have to rewind the account just a bit to see the point decision for Philip. If we do so we get to see a huge transition in Philip’s life. It is a big challenge for those who like control over their own lives.
Just before this encounter with the Ethiopian, Philip was in Samaria doing amazing things. He has been leading a revival and seeing God work in dramatic ways. Thousands of Samaritans were coming to Jesus and Philip was in the thick of it. He was building on the foundation placed by Jesus Himself and His encounter with the Woman by the Well. There was a great church springing up among Israel’s traditional enemies and Philip was in just the right the place to lead it.
Philip went down to the city[a] of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. 6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was much joy in that city. Acts 8
Philip had also landed in Samaria after being driven out of Jerusalem due to persecution. He suffered and lost greatly from the opposition of the enemy in Jerusalem. He was now seeing a great work of God after all the pain and loss.
Is there anything sweeter than seeing the wonderful work of God after a time of painful obedience. Philip endured, was faithful and saw the Lord bring fruit. He had to be praising the Lord for placing him there. It just made sense that Philip suffered and now was getting his reward.
Then in a moment, everything changed.
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went.
God sends an angel to tell Philip that his time in Samaria had ended and he should leave. No explanation of why or where he was going, just go. Why? Because God says! Would we be willing to just go?
Philip was – he rose and went. That had to be harder than that, right? Did Philip ever cry to God “Lord, I suffered so much to get here, I gave so much to these people…they need me!” Perhaps that is just the rationalization that I would make.
Not Philip, he just rose up and left following God’s direction. His route is stated simply as the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. This seems straightforward until you understand the geography. That road would have sent Philip into the middle of the desert. It is referred to as the Desert Road.
God has called Philip away from a vibrant revival. He has called Philip from people experiencing the awesome love and joy of Jesus for the first time. He has called Philip away from a joyful family in Jesus to go out alone into the middle of a desert and wait.
Does this idea challenge us? Why would God ever send us into a dry and barren place? It is so much more enjoyable in pleasant places. There is more entertainment for us where things are plentiful.
Philip is walking through the desert perhaps pondering some of these thoughts when God provides the answers. The desert is where the lost people are so God sends us to meet them there.
One man traveling through the desert is in need of help understanding the Savior, the Ethiopian Eunuch. There is one lost sheep looking for a shepherd. He needs help desperately. God never fails men in this state. If they are searching, God will send help even if it seems to be in an unlikely way.
Gods need to show love and extend mercy to the Ethiopian is so much greater than Philip’s desire to stay in Samaria.
Think also of the context. The Ethiopian is searching for God, right? He is returning from Jerusalem, where God’s house is located. He has spent tons of money, effort and time to get to the center of God’s world in order to find God. A chariot ride in the ancient world over thousands of miles was a huge task. The Ethiopian gave all he could to get to God. Yet he is on his way back with a scroll of Isaiah that he doesn’t even understand.
God’s chosen people failed to reach him. The Jews were not a friendly bunch, but God did not want the man to go away without what he really came for. God loves the man too much to let that happen.
So God inserts into the picture Philip. He is a man in the desert but one who is trusting God completely. God perfectly places Philip to lead this very lost man of Ethiopia into an eternal relationship with God. Philip loses his time in Samaria but another lost sheep is brought home.
Was the one man worth more than all the believers in Samaria? No, certainly not and the man’s prominence in Ethiopia has no bearing on the issue. But one lost man was not worth less than all the believers in Samaria. God’s math is just different from man’s. He sent His only Son to die for His creation, after all.
So we can pray to the Lord that He bless our endeavors and keep us on the path that He has us on now. Wanting to continue doing what we love doing for the Lord is a good thing. We also must be willing to leave our plans behind in a moment when called to do so by God. We can rise up and leave, even what we love dearly, confident that God’s plan is better than ours simply because it is God doing the calling. If God is sending us through into a desert, it is to save those who are lost in the middle of it.
We can trust that His love for His people and His lost sheep is so much greater than our plan for our lives and our ministries.