There is a wonderful story in the book of Acts which shows us that just hearing from God not enough we also need to discern it too. Paul was making his way to Jerusalem and in Acts 21 he reached Caesarea. There he visited with Philip, one of the first deacons. During his stay, a prophet, Agabus made an appearance and as prophets sometimes do, he did some strange things…
Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” (Acts 21:11)
The immediate response of everyone was to tell Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. They took the Spirit’s message as a warning and tell Paul that he must abandon his plans. You can understand why they felt that way, they loved Paul, and the idea of him being arrested and handed over to the Romans did not make sense. They assumed this was a warning from God. So they urged Paul not to go. Paul, rejected their interpretation of what the Spirit had said. He stated that he was ready to be bound and even to die in Jerusalem for the sake of Jesus (Acts 21:13). Two very different reactions and interpretations of what the Holy Spirit said through the prophet.
This is why discernment is so important. For one group, fear led to a warning to avoid Jerusalem. However, for Paul it encouraged a boldness to go to Jerusalem and even die. The first group allowed their own feeling and emotions to colour what the Holy Spirit was saying to them. But, at the same time, Paul’s emotions also blurred his vision. He expected imprisonment and death and while imprisonment took place death would have to wait a few years!
Without his imprisonment a number of the New Testament letters would not have been written, and Paul would not have had the opportunity to share the gospel with so many Roman soldiers. God had a plan and a purpose for what would take place.
As we listen to the Holy Spirit today, it’s important to make sure that we carefully discern not only what the Spirit may be saying to us, but also what it means, and how we are to respond to the directions the Spirit gives. Those directions may not make sense to us, but they may be part of God’s bigger plan and purpose that we have not yet seen.