Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” — Acts 8:26
Recently, I was asked to drive to the airport to pick up a group flying in from Nicaragua, returning from a two-week missions trip. Since I have done this a fair amount of times, I’ve learned not to pester them with questions that require deep thought. Their minds are usually on getting home to a comfortable bed. Not on debriefing me.
After an hour of driving them home, I pulled over for gas and snacks. A couple of the men were standing outside the bus, talking about their experience. I asked them, “So, what did you all do while you were there?” I’d broken in to their conversation which is rude. And, I’d broken the rule of not asking them to answer a question that required deep thought. One of them responded abruptly, “Whatever they told us to do.” I responded with a Hmm and went back to my driver seat and they resumed their conversation.
Though this description was devastatingly simple, I would say it was pure genius. Of course, “whatever they told us to do” isn’t sexy, but in just a few words he schooled me on the attitude one should take when pursuing the ministry of world missions. And, it aptly summarizes the way one of the disciples of Jesus responded when commanded by an angel to do something vague.
God obviously likes to communicate with people in a variety of ways. In this story, He spoke through an angel to our man, Philip. What I find interesting is that rather than being stupefied about hearing an angel speak, Philip treats it like an everyday collaborative task. There is no amazement, but only wordless obedience. He rose and went.
Maybe, you think, Philip should have been more amazed. You might argue it doesn’t seem realistic. Why? If we read through the Bible, we see he was responding appropriately. According to the Scriptures, it is the angels who find us stunning. They are eating popcorn watching God’s redemptive plan for humanity unfold.
Philip’s business-as-usual response should be normative and not exceptional. God is always talking to us, always directing us, always telling us where to go. That’s not amazing. What is amazing is our inability to hear Him, to decipher the message, and to obey. Philip introduces us to what normal life could be if lived through the spiritual reality that is happening at every moment around us.
Look again at the instructions Philip received. They weren’t exact. No lines of latitude or longitude. No GPS. Just a little more than a finger point and a command. Not even a solid “Go South,” but ” Go toward the South”. What does that mean? You can’t purchase airfare to go toward the South”. You could end up south of anywhere. But if we follow the story, we see Philip landing exactly where God intended.
I could be wrong, but the best information I have found indicates the road this angel was pointing him to was over 100 miles long. What? That’s a lot of area. And it was remote. A lot could happen on foot in that stretch of road. Thieves were a possible threat. Getting attacked and even killed along the way was realistic. But Philip didn’t demand an exact location. He just went. Not knowing when he got there what to do or what was next. He did what the angel told him to do.
And, this is the story of missions. Faithful men and women along the road of history obediently rising and going as God gives them sketchy directions at best. In the journey of that obedience, as they become more sensitive to the voice of God, they find direction. They hold loosely their own plans and ideas of missional success and take rather the moment by moment guidance of God, trusting that they will always go where God is at work.