Divine appointments can occur at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected ways. Just ask Philip. He was in the midst of a great spiritual awakening that was spreading throughout Samaria (Acts 8). God was using him in a great way, and many were repenting of their sins and believing in Jesus, when an angel of the Lord told him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” God was directing him to leave a work among the multitudes to go to a desolate place. That doesn’t necessarily align with a successful career path from a human perspective – even if you’re a pastor. Whenever we hear a pastor announce that God has called him to go elsewhere, it is rarely to a smaller church. And such a move would be even more difficult, if we are serving in a place where the power and the presence of the Spirit of God is mightily at work, and many are coming to faith and the church is growing. But such was the case with Philip.
We aren’t told whether or not he had a conversation with God as to the wisdom of such a move. However, with all we do know about Philip and his walk with God, i tend to think that he immediately set out on the journey to Gaza without ever questioning God. He was in Samaria because God had placed him there. The work that was occurring in Samaria was a work of the Spirit of God, and not of Philip. i don’t believe that Philip ever got confused about who was in charge. i don’t believe he ever tried to take any credit, or saw himself as being instrumental in any way. He was a man full of faith and full of the Holy Spirit – led by, empowered by and used by God for His purpose. Therefore, it didn’t matter whether the assignment was in Samaria, Gaza or Azotus. All that mattered was that he was in the place where God would have him.
Throughout my years serving with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, i had the privilege of meeting thousands of men and women who, in response to God’s call, were leaving successful careers in the U.S. – in a myriad of vocations – business, education, healthcare, agriculture, etc., as well as local church ministry – to go to a remote part of the world, where there were few, if any, other believers. They were going in obedience to God in order to share the Good News of Christ with a people group who, most often, had never heard the Name of Jesus. From a human perspective, it was rarely a “step up”. But i rejoiced, as i heard the testimonies of these men and women, because these men and women knew that following Jesus wherever He leads is ALWAYS a step up!
Philip, like the men and women i’ve mentioned, had no idea who he would encounter. All he knew was that God told him to go – and God’s direction is never haphazard. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus models obedience to the Father in His journeys – sometimes traveling long distances to see just one person, and sometimes to engage a multitude. But the numbers never mattered. It was all about the Father’s plan – and the divine appointment that He was orchestrating. In this case with Philip, the divine appointment was with an Ethiopian eunuch – the Secretary of the Treasury for the Queen of Ethiopia.
A few years ago, almost to the day as i write this, i was blessed to travel throughout the country of Ethiopia with a group of pastors from the U.S. i was leading the group and coordinating our schedule. As i look back i can clearly see the Father’s hand in assembling that group of men. Our group was comprised of a Korean pastor (Pastor Daniel), a Hispanic pastor (Pastor Ramon), a Chinese pastor (Pastor Alan), two African American pastors (Pastor Fred and Pastor James), an Anglo pastor of Italian descent (Pastor Ron) and me. Most of us did not know one another prior to this trip. We were traveling to spend time with men and women that God was using to spread the gospel throughout Ethiopia and other parts of Central Africa. Our goal was to encourage these workers, as well as to see where God might be leading these pastors to lead their churches to join with Him in the work He was doing among the people in that part of the world. Each of these men also hold positions of significant leadership in influencing other pastors and churches in doing the same. As a result, we were given an opportunity to see the work in many places within a short window of ten days. We were constantly on the move – riding on every form of transportation imaginable.
On one of the days we were flying through an airport in one of the smaller cities of the country. We had spent the day with a team of eight people who were being used by God in a great movement of the gospel among a nomadic people. We were scheduled to depart on a flight at 5:00 P.M. to go to another city to meet with another team there. There was only one plane at the airport when we arrived – the one we were scheduled to take. As it turned out, it was experiencing mechanical failure. The airline representatives continued to tell us that they were working on the problem as day became night, and night kept getting later. i became acutely aware that we hadn’t allowed for this much of a delay in our schedule, and we would be forced to cancel some of the visits we had planned. As i was working through the adjustments to our schedule, i began to observe something take place that had been totally unplanned.
The majority of people in the waiting room were native to Ethiopia and only spoke their native language. None of us knew their language, but we were grateful that the airline representatives also knew English. As we sat there, we noticed that there was a Chinese man who was obviously injured, traveling with a companion. It turned out that he had sustained a work injury earlier that afternoon, and was on this flight to get to a hospital in our destination city in order to receive needed medical care. They only spoke Mandarin Chinese. Pastor Alan, sensing their plight, was able to communicate with them as to what was happening with our delays and was able to assist them with interim care, all the while sharing the gospel in word and deed as the night progressed. Also in the waiting area was a young Korean woman who was obviously distraught over the delay. Pastor Daniel began to minister to her in her native language to calm her fears, and in so doing was also able to share the gospel. The Lord provided Pastor Ron with the opportunity to minister to a young man who spoke English. This Amharic believer was struggling over a decision that he needed to make regarding the direction of his life. The night prior to our time at the airport God had told this young believer, through a dream, that He would bring someone across his path who would provide him with words of wisdom regarding his decision. Pastor Ron was able to point him to the Word of God and challenge him in his walk with God. And on it went with all of our team, each one experiencing the hand of God orchestrating divine appointments. We finally departed on a replacement plane at 10:00 AM the following morning. We hadn’t gotten much sleep, and we all felt a little gamey – but we also knew that we had been right where the Father had intended for us to be. And just like Philip, when our assignment was completed, He “snatched us away” on our plane and we found ourselves headed to our next assignment.
As we read about Philip in the Book of Acts, his divine appointment with the Ethiopian wasn’t the exception, it was the norm. Because Philip walked in obedience as the Father directed him – wherever, whenever, and however. The Spirit of God went before him to prepare the way, to order his steps and empower him for the work. As followers of Jesus, divine appointments should be the norm for us as well, and not the exception. Whatever your journey looks like today, God has a purpose and a plan in the midst of it. It may be right where you are, or He may interrupt you and lead you somewhere else. It probably won’t happen when you expect it or in the way you expect it, but it will happen if you remain attentive to the Spirit’s lead. He has a host of those divine appointments laid out along the path ahead… so expect the unexpected!
Excerpt from Until He Returns