Acts 20:22 And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem without knowing what will happen to me there,  except that the Holy Spirit warns me in town after town that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me.  But I do not consider my life worth anything to myself, so that I may finish my task and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.
…self-preservation is oft the root of denial while self-denial is oft the root of ultimate preservation.
I remember an exciting Saturday night in the Upper Room of our mission years ago. The praise and worship was rich. People were genuinely excited about a move of God. The room was packed with expectants. One man came up to me and spoke prophetically, “God is pleased with your work and a 2 million dollar donation is coming in for your ministry.” I haven’t seen that donation yet but I must admit it sure was easy to believe for that! What if God would have spoken to me that night as He did to Paul in this passage? Rather than a promise of 2 million dollars, a one way trip to hardship and persecution? Would I have believed that so easily? If I’m honest with myself, I probably would have denied it. Why? Because denial ignores an unwanted end.
Denial is a common psychological response to impending and unavoidable bad news. A person in the process of failing is heading toward an F. Denial ignores the end. A criminal may maintain his innocence even when proven guilty. Denial ignores the end. A person receives a terminal diagnosis. Again, denial ignores the end.
But denial also fails to mitigate.
Renewed effort. A change in strategy. Revived prayer. There are often ways to mitigate or make the most of an unavoidable situation, if we’re not in denial.
Now put yourself in Paul’s shoes. God speaks to you in a personal whisper of sorts, “You must go to Jerusalem where you will be persecuted and imprisoned.” What’s your response? “Get that crazy voice out of my head” or maybe you tell Siri, “Navigate me to anywhere but Jerusalem.” Denial. After all, would God ever compel you into harm’s way?
He did Paul.
The Holy Spirit “warns” him in town after town (v 23). It wasn’t a warning that Paul should turn aside or change his direction for He was also “compelled” (v. 22) by the same Spirit to press on toward Jerusalem where that persecution awaited. This truth, that he was both warned but compelled calls for answers to these questions: What then was the purpose of the warning and how or why was Paul able to hear it?
If God’s warning is not for you to engage in evasive maneuvers, what then is it for? It must be for the purpose of preparation, an encouragement to consider how you should respond when the time comes that you must respond, to keep your head up and your eyes open as you enter into that fire to which you’re called. If denial is a blissful blindness brought on by the subconscious, then it blinds you to the fire you’re facing. And if you can’t see the fire you’re about to walk into, it’s much easier to believe it’s not there. But if, in those cases when that fire is inevitable, you don’t believe you’re about to enter it, you sure won’t know what to do when you get there.
If it’s certain you’re going in, don’t do it with your eyes closed.
Paul was getting the warning. He wasn’t in denial. He knew the fire was ahead. What was that character attribute of Paul that gave him ears to hear? Why didn’t he fall into denial like most would have? Paul gives us the answer when he links cause to the effect of finishing his “task” (vs. 24). “But I do not consider my life worth anything to myself, so that I may finish my task.”
It’s a strange paradox that self-preservation is oft the root of denial while self-denial is oft the root of ultimate preservation. Consider Jesus’ words in John 12:25: He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.
Paul thought nothing of his life in this world. His reckless abandonment of temporal comfort and pleasure for the eternal crown of life allowed him to hear clearly what God was calling him into. In spite of warnings and friends who pleaded with him not to go, he stayed on track with God’s will and entered the fire with his head up, his eyes open and with a determination to glorify God in it all.
Yeah, let’s be like that.