Some translations have "Advocate" instead of "Helper." Helper sounds like the Holy Spirit is aiding us when we are in trouble, but overall, we are in charge of our own salvation. Let's see the Helper in action. Turn to Acts 16.
Starting at verse 6: They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been FORBIDDEN by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. Sounds like the Holy Spirit is helping? Actually, it sounds like the Holy Spirit is LEADING.
Verse seven: and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bythinia, and the Spirit of Jesus DID NOT PERMIT THEM. Once again, the Holy Spirit takes control of the situation. The disciples are just followers.
Paul and Silas come to Troas, and after this incident, the pronoun changes from "they" to "we." Yes, Troas is where the group picked up Luke. The Holy Spirit did not want Paul and Silas to go into Asia. They were not allowed to go into Bythinia. God needed Luke at this point.
It doesn't end here! Now, Paul gets a dream: a vision in the night of a man in Macedonia, pleading for help. So, the crew heads to Macedonia, and ends up in Philippi. They stayed in that city for some days, and then on the Sabbath they went outside the gate to the riveside, where they found a group of women. Hmm. None of these resemble the man from the vision, so why doesn't Paul throw up his hands and move on?
He doesn't. He teaches the women, and one, only ONE, named Lydia, was really listening. The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. Here is our helper, once again, opening the heart of a solitary woman. Paul baptizes her whole household and the church of Philippi is started. Yes, the same church we have a letter to in our canon.
Paul gets arrested in Philippi in the next scene, and put in jail, where he converts the jailer, and baptizes the jailer's household. Is the jailer the man in the vision, seeking help? Probably not. After Paul and Silas are released and asked to the leave town, but before they leave, they go to Lydia's house to check on the church that had been planted there.
Now, they pass through a couple of towns and end up in Thessalonica. Preaching at the synagogue, Paul successfully persuades some Jews, a whole mess of Greeks, and a number of leading women. Next we get the Jews stirring up a mob and attacking the house of . . . Jason. Who is Jason? He apparently is the one who welcomed Paul and Silas in Thessalonica. If we look at the end of Romans 16, we see Jason's name as a prominent Christian on Paul's team. This is probably the man that Paul saw in the vision.
So, why did the Holy Spirit steer Paul all over creation to get to Jason? Because, although Jason was the goal, God has many milestones along the way that are just as important to him as the final destination. First Luke, then Lydia, then the jailer, then Jason. The first three are just as important to God as the last, and because God is sovereign, all of this was planned.
Paul and Silas didn't just happen upon Luke. God didn't just get them to Macedonia and say, "It's up to you, now." Paul didn't just think, "well, while we're trying to find the guy in my dream, we may as well teach this batch of women sitting here." Paul knew how to listen to the Holy Spirit's promptings. The Holy Spirit is Leader AND Helper. He leads Paul to where he wants him to go, and then he helps him listen. God wanted Luke, and he wanted Lydia, and he wanted the jailer, and he used the vision of Jason to get Paul there. Everything went according to God's plan.
When we think of Acts, we tend to think that it is the story of Peter and then Paul, or the church as a whole. But there are many stories in the book of Acts, and each story is just as important to God as Peter or Paul's story. Chapter 16 has Lydia's story, and the jailer's story. They were two important individuals to God. They are members of the elect, and we should not think of them as detours.
Think of the people we encounter each day. Who are the Lydias and jailers? Who are the people that God is steering us toward, and are we listening to the Holy Spirit pointing them out to us? Are we passing by the group of women outside the city gates because the man from our vision is not among them?
The big story, of course, is about Jesus Christ. Lydia's story is not just about Lydia but Lydia's encounter with Jesus. The jailer's story is actually about the jailer's encounter with Jesus. These stories are about the Good Shepherd finding his lost sheep Not only are these not Paul and Silas' stories. Paul and Silas are mere tools. They are already part of God's kingdom. They are already Christians. In the words of John the Baptist: they must decrease so that Lydia and the jailer can increase.
Evangelizing seems to be a difficult thing, because we are constantly thinking of it as part of our story. I hope I do it right. I'm scared. What if the person rejects me? I think this chapter in Acts demonstrates that this is not about us. This is about God finding his lost sheep. He's using us to do it, but like a shepherd's crook or a sheepdog, we are to minimize our roles and allow God to lead us where he wishes.
I hope it increases our thirst for evangelism to know that God is not trying to put us through another trial. Stop thinking of it that way. God is reaching his next Lydia through you. Let him do it. Let Jesus find his Lydia. It's about her right now.