Acts 16:11-12 – So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samorthrace, and 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 some days.
In Acts 16, Paul is in the midst of his second missionary journey, accompanied by Silas and Luke. Timothy also joins the group in Lystra. This was not just another weekend event – this missionary journey lasted approximately 3 years and covered nearly 3000 miles! That’s a lot of travel!
In verses 11-12 the scripture tells us that Paul and company bypassed two smaller cities [Samorthrace and Neapolis] in order to come to Philippi.
Philippi was a larger city, situated on the road of a flourishing trade route. That infers a couple of things:
Goods and exotic item were brought into sea ports, transported to Philippi, then on to the rest of the Roman world. Other goods went in the opposite direction – they left Philippi to be loaded onto ships and passed to other foreign countries. So Philippi is a business hub and a center of wealth.
There would also be a lot of people in Philippi. The city would have a permanent population as well as a transient or temporary population of people who came there just for business and trade. Because of this, we would expect a very diverse spectrum of people in that city on any given day. These people could literally have come from anywhere in the known world.
God desires for his love and forgiveness to be known in that great city. He wants all of those people to find a personal relationship with him. Also, if the gospel were introduced into this city, people would take it to the ends of the earth. So, how will the gospel be spread in this great city?
Well, things begin on the Sabbath.
Acts 16:13 – And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together.
On that day Paul and company went outside the gates of the city to the riverside, where they expected to find a place of prayer. Why would they go there? Why do you suppose they did not go into the synagogue, which was their normal M.O.?
Answer: Most likely, because one did not exist. It took a minimum of 10 Jewish men to open a synagogue. Scholars assume that Philippi did not have enough.
Notice that they did not start rounding up people to open a synagogue. They were not trying to network with the most influential people in the city. They did not post anything on social media (okay, I know they couldn’t do that, but even if they could have, they wouldn’t). They began by earnestly seeking the place of prayer, because prayer is the key that would release the power of God in Philippi.
One of the people in the place of prayer was Lydia.
Acts 16:14 –One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshipper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.
Lydia is from the Greek city of Thyatira in Asia Minor. She was not born a Jew, but she is a proselyte, or a convert to the Jewish faith. From this, we know that she must have felt a need for God in her life. This is not unusual; God places a desire for him in the life of every person including you! If you think back, you will probably remember when you felt that your life was lacking something and you recognized your need for God. Then, the Holy Spirit led you to accept Christ. This is what was happening to Lydia.
We know that Lydia was a seller of woolen fabrics dyed purple (Purple fabric was quite the rage at that time. Funny how people are always obsessed with the latest in fashion). Possibly she was the agent of some business in Thyatira or possibly she was an independent business woman.
The scripture speaks of her household, though no mention is made of her husband. Scholars have conjectured that she was a widow as well as a wealthy property owner and that she was well known in her community.
That also means she had a life much like ours in many respects. She is not lying around the house checking her Facebook page and playing video games on her phone or Xbox after sleeping in until noon.
Rather, she gets up in the morning and goes to work. She has pressures and deadlines and perhaps some supply problems or quality control issues. Work is probably taking up a decent amount of her time, just as it does for us.
She also has a family to love and care for. Perhaps some of her children or grandchildren need her help. Maybe she takes care of her elderly parents. Does any of this sound familiar?
How easy it would have been for this very busy woman to find an excuse NOT to pray: I’m so tired… there is so much to do…. I will do it later… I need to relax for a few minutes, etc. Yet we find that Lydia made time to be in the place of prayer. She made it a priority in her life.
What about you? I know you are busy; we all are. Have you made prayer a priority in your life? Remember, the battle for Philippi was not won in the natural realm. It was won in the spiritual realm first (through prayer) then it manifested in the natural realm. Do you want to see changes in your life and the lives of those around you? Then pray!
Lydia sought out the place of prayer. For her, it was a riverside location. Where is your place of prayer? It could be your armchair, your bedroom, your car or on your daily walk. It really does not matter. You just need a time and place to be alone with God.
What happens in the place of prayer? You find God Almighty. You enter into his presence with thanksgiving and praise. You lay your needs and requests before his throne. You bare your heart and soul to your heavenly Father. You begin to wage spiritual warfare to free those around you from the strongholds of Satan.
It’s the place where you hear God’s voice. It’s the place of power, peace, comfort and strength. It’s a place where faith is built and strengthened. It’s the place where your battles will be won; only then will you see those changes manifest in the natural realm.
It’s not a place you find by accident. It’s a place you find on purpose. It’s a place you have to create and make time for. Think of a typical day in your life from morning until bedtime. Don’t you have more than enough stuff to occupy your time? Don’t you often go to bed thinking ‘tomorrow is another day – I’ll have to tackle this or that tomorrow because I ran out of time today?’
Prayer can and will be squeezed out of your life in a heartbeat if you let it.
Consider this: God expects us to pray. He is waiting for us to enter his throne room. He is waiting for your permission to act in your life. Talk to him! We (this generation) have full access to God’s presence – something that past generations longed for, but could not have. Let’s use it! It is up to us to make prayer a priority.
So, busy Lydia expends time and effort to be in the place of prayer. And sure enough, something happened to her and her family that day. She hears the life changing gospel of Jesus Christ from the lips of Paul himself. She accepts Jesus as her Lord and Savior. She becomes Paul’s first convert in Europe! Her circumstances are permanently changed. And apparently, it wasn’t just her. Her whole house was saved and is baptized.
Acts 16:15 – And after she was baptized and her household as well, she urged us saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
So what happened next? Read the rest of Acts 16 and you will find the miraculous power of God at work in that great pagan city. The kingdom of light confronted the kingdom of darkness in a very public showdown that confirmed God’s power and authority.
Here is the broad picture, though you really would benefit from reading it yourself: Paul and Silas are beaten and thrown in prison for preaching Christ and setting a slave girl free of a demonic power. At midnight, they are PRAYING AND SINGING PRAISES TO GOD.
All of a sudden there is an earthquake that opens all the doors. They jailer is about to kill himself, but Paul steps in. The jailer and his how household find Christ. The next day the city magistrates allow Paul and Silas to be set free, but Paul refuses. He makes it a point that the magistrates were wrong and he wants a public apology – once again another opportunity to publicly declare Jesus Christ. It had to be the story on the lips of every citizen and visitor to that area, from the lowliest slave to the highest magistrate.
The battle for Philippi and the great display of God’s power began in the seemingly quiet and insignificant place of prayer.
How does Lydia’s story end?
Acts 16:40 – So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers (new converts) they encouraged them and departed.
As more and more people heard about and saw the power of God, they believed the testimony of Paul and his fellow travelers. They accepted Jesus as savior. They came to regular meetings at Lydia’s house. Scholars agree that Lydia’s house became the church in Philippi.
She is considered to be one of the women mentioned in Philippians 4.
Philippians 4:3 – Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
So, if you have ever received guidance or wisdom or comfort from the book of Philippians, at least part of that credit would belong to Lydia.
What impact can her example have on our lives? Let me stress my main point once again, in case you missed it: Prayer is the key to change!
Prayer is the place to begin making changes in your life and the lives of those around you. As you pray, God will do things that you could never do. He will open up doors of opportunity. He will give you guidance and instruction. He will change your circumstances. He will show forth his great power. He will open people’s hearts to the gospel. He will confront the kingdom of darkness and give you the victory over it. He will use you in ways you never imagined.
I don’t think Lydia realized the impact her home church would have on the entire kingdom of heaven. What can God accomplish through you? Why don’t you renew your commitment to the place of prayer and find out!
Do you have a testimony about prayer that you would like to share? We would love to be strengthened and encouraged by your testimony. Please write in a share with us!