We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptised, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.
Throughout the book of Acts it is the Spirit who initiates, urges and inspires grander visions. It is the Spirit who disrupts Paul’s plan and throws him off course in the direction of Europe. Paul’s intention was to visit the churches where he had been before, to strengthen them in their faith. But the Spirit has other ideas (verses 6 and 7) and takes him on a rather bigger adventure. What would have been a journey much like his first one – over land and fairly close to home – turns into a dangerous sea voyage and on to a new continent. The gospel reaches Europe and it happens because the Spirit takes the lead and Paul is willing to follow.
The journey leads straight to Philippi, a city with a strong sense of its own importance. Having failed to connect with the local Jewish community, Paul ends up outside the city walls, by the river, where he finds a group of women who had gathered for prayer. And simple conversations bear their first fruit, when Lydia and her household are baptised. Lydia was an outsider in Philippi; as an immigrant in a Roman city and as a god-fearer in the Jewish community she did not fully belong. And perhaps it is this that makes her open to the stranger’s testimony and willing to trust the good news of Jesus. Her response is hospitality – her first act of discipleship is to open her heart and her home to Paul and his party.
The Spirit enlarged Paul’s and Lydia’s world. Today, through the prompting of the Spirit, God continues to engender imagination and vision and urges us to move into uncharted territory. When the Spirit stirs, may our response be curiosity and courage.
Spirit of God, urge us on. Kindle in us courage and joy in every new adventure.
Francis Brienen is Deputy General Secretary (Mission).