“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ This is a desert place. And he rose and went.”
“Oh, look. More desert.” These words facetiously came out of my mouth years ago as my husband and I traveled out west for vacation. We were having a great time visiting places like Monument Valley, Grand Canyon National Park, and Bryce Canyon National Park. Yet as we traveled from one amazing sight to another, the landscape along the way was pretty monotonous: desert, desert, and more desert.
When it comes to desert places, there may be plenty of sand and dirt, but there’s often very little of anything–or anyone–else. A desert is often a dry, barren, and lonely place–not typically something dream vacations are made of.
And as Philip went about sharing the gospel, I doubt the desert place was on his travel itinerary either. He originally began preaching in the city of Samaria after escaping persecution at the hands of Saul. And as Philip shared with the people of the city, “the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did” (Acts 8:6). In other words, God used Philip mightily to draw many to Jesus. Even the apostles heard of what God was doing and joined Philip for a time, baptizing the new believers and inviting God to fill them with the Holy Spirit. So when the apostles headed back to Jerusalem to continue proselytizing, I do not believe Philip anticipated anything different than more ministry to the multitudes–whether within the same city or in another.
But then God sent an angel. I love that part. For when God sends an angel, things always get exciting–exciting through the eyes of our Savior, that is.
Did the angel lead Philip to go back to Jerusalem with the apostles? Nope. Did the angel lead Philip to another city full of people? Nope. The angel told Philip to head south. Even more, Philip was to head away from the crowds and to the desert road. Talk about an unexpected and seemingly unexciting trip. Philip–the Philip who God used to draw the masses–was now being told to take the road less traveled long before Robert Frost ever penned the poem about the path that made all the difference.
So what did Philip do?
“…he rose and went” (Romans 8:27).
Philip had been preaching to countless people. The crowds had surrounded him and had clung to the words of life pouring forth from his lips. Even the apostles had heard about and then joined Philip. But when the apostles headed back to Jerusalem by way of the road well traveled, God called Philip to the desert.
God called Philip to the desert.
And he went!
He didn’t doubt. He didn’t question. He didn’t stall. Why? Well, I believe Philip knew that if God called him to the desert then God would meet him in the desert as well.
And He did!
Read with me the following verses:
“… And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over and join this chariot.’ So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.”
Do you know what I particularly love about the above passage? Philip may not have initially understood why God called him to the desert road, but I tend to believe that once he saw that chariot and heard God tell him to go over to that carriage, he knew God was up to something. Why do I say this? Look at Philip’s reaction: So Philip ran to him. Philip didn’t just sigh to himself and saunter over wondering why in the world God would want him to join some eunuch in a carriage. Philip didn’t hem and haw about the pros and cons of approaching a stranger in a chariot. No. Philip ran. Philip knew if God called him to this place for this purpose, then he wasn’t going to waste any time.
So Philip ran. And God moved.
The eunuch was reading a prophecy from Isaiah about Jesus but did not realize it was about Jesus. When he asked Philip to explain, “Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35).
And the eunuch met Jesus!
Because Philip took the desert road, a eunuch met the Lord.
Now Philip could have initially ignored the voice of God by remaining in the city. He could have gone along the road angry and resentful that God had called him away from the crowds, but he didn’t. He took the road God called him to take and fulfilled God’s purpose for the call. For there may not have been many on that desert road Philip was on, but there was one man in particular God wanted Philip to meet: a eunuch who was looking for more. Yes, while heaven was indeed rejoicing over the countless souls saved in Samaria, God also had His sights set on that one soul in the desert whose heart was right. For with God, ministry is not just about the many; it’s also about the one. Taking that desert road may not have instantly changed the lives of countless people, but it did change the life of one.
And it changed that life forever.
So I ask you: has God ever called you to a desert place? Has He ever called you out of your comfort zone and into the unknown? Maybe you were going along, surrounded by familiar faces, reaching out to many, and then God called you away from that–to an apparent desert road. Maybe He called you to walk alone into a place you always associated with a barren wasteland. Maybe a situation arose that required you to completely change gears. What did you do? How did you react?
If you haven’t been there yet, think about how you would react. Would you question God? Would you seek to figure out why He was placing you on that particular path? Would you immediately think God was punishing you for something? Or would you go? Would you obey His voice and follow His lead?
No one is perfect, and trust me, I despise change as much as the next person. And yes, going into the unknown can open wide the door of fear if we are not careful. But I want to encourage you today to remember God’s ways are perfect, even–or I dare say especially–when we don’t understand them. God doesn’t call us to understand; He calls us to go. And He promises that if we obey His voice, we’ll see His hand.
So if God’s calling you to take the path less traveled today, I encourage you to follow Him. Follow Him knowing sometimes God calls us to the unexpected places so He can do extraordinary things. Although you may not know what lies along the path you are traveling, and although you may not know who you will meet along the way, you can trust God does.
God has a plan. Trust Him in it. Trust that what may seem to you like an unusual and difficult way to travel may actually be the very path to God’s greatest work in your life–and quite possibly in the life of someone else as well.