For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits.  But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost,  for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
I wrote earlier that as believers we need to learn to hold our plans loosely. God may lead us in a different direction than what we planned. He may use a variety of means to get us there. In the Exodus God miraculously divided the sea, allowing his people to cross on dry land. In Paul’s case, his call to Macedonia came through a night vision. Joseph took baby Jesus to Egypt because of an angel’s warning. The Magi came to visit Jesus because of a sign in the heavens. The gospel spread from Jerusalem because of increased persecution against the church in Jerusalem. Peter took the gospel to Cornelius in response to a vision (Acts 10). Philip took the gospel to Samaria, probably in response to Jesus’ words that they were to take the gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world (Acts 8). Paul and Barnabas first took the gospel west from Antioch because the Holy Spirit directed prophets and teachers in the church there to lay hands on them and send them (Acts 13). The gospel came to Malta because of a storm (Acts 28). Not all direction comes from the Lord through visions and dreams, but whatever the means, the principle is the same. We need to learn to listen to the Lord and embrace the ministry opportunities God puts in front of us.
About three years ago I led the Oak Hills Christian College student body in a time of listening for God to speak during chapel. They might hear from him. They might not. But I wanted to encourage them to listen. One student responded, “We’re not used to doing that.” That, I fear, is all too true. We are used to strategizing and making plans. We are not used to listening. Some years ago I had the privilege of sitting with the pastor and elders of a small church. A sticky issue arose and the pastor said, “We need to pray about this.” They stopped right then and prayed. After they had all prayed, the pastor looked at each individual in the group and asked, “What did you hear?” By the time each individual shared what they had sensed or heard while they were praying, they had a solution. The pastor was teaching his elders to listen.
Planning is important. Strategy is important. Purpose and mission is important. But in all of our planning and strategizing we must leave room for listening. What is God saying and what ministry opportunities has he placed in front of you? Paul wrote, “But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries (1Cor 16:8-9).” Just because there is an opportunity does not necessarily mean it is a road we should go down. Paul was making plans to leave Ephesus, but, when God puts an open door of ministry before us, we should seriously consider it as a possible call from God. Paul passionately wanted to visit the Corinthians believers. I’m sure he was heavily burdened by the need to minister to them in light of all the issues he had to address in his letter. Still, he had a wide open door for ministry right where he was and he needed to consider that as well.
For Paul, the fact that there were many adversaries indicated that he needed to stay. In our planning, we need to not only listen, but we need to make sure that we are not just running away from something that is hard. There were times when Paul fled for his life, but he never left just because ministry was hard.
Planning is important. Strategy is important. Purpose and mission is important. But in all of our planning and strategizing we must leave room for listening. We need to learn to listen. Part of listening is recognizing the ministry opportunities God puts in front of us. Daily I pray that God will open my eyes to the opportunities he gives me. My constant fear is that I will become so focused on me and my needs, plans, and activities that I will miss what God puts in my path. My prayer is that as believers, we would learn to listen well to the Spirit of God, and see the opportunities he places in our path.