Lydia may have been her nickname because Thyatira belonged to the province of Lydia. It is not clear if she had moved permanently from Thyatira or whether she had a home in each place. In any case, she was enjoying a successful career, and had many of the trappings that go with such a lifestyle (she owned a villa in which Paul and his friends would later stay). But she had realised that success in financial and social matters does not bring inner peace. There is nothing wrong with such success, but it does not satisfy the longing soul.
Lydia was obviously an enterprising woman in other ways apart from her business. She began to search for God and eventually she found herself attached to the Jewish faith. No doubt she recognised in its dignified concept of God a superior divine being to worship, and she would have discovered that its moral demands resulted in a lifestyle that was far higher than that lived by her pagan neighbours. Yet although she had come this far in her search, she still had not met the God she was looking for in her heart.
Lydia is a picture of many people today who are successful in business or in a career and who are searching for inner reality. They have discovered that material things and social acceptance are not sufficient for their souls. In their search for inner reality, they turn to various religious movements. Such searching is the consequence that all humans have a God-shaped vacuum in their hearts and they will not find rest until God fills it. The sadness of much of their searching is that it does not bring them to the God whom they need. They will not find him until they have faith in Christ and receive the forgiveness of their sins. There are searching people everywhere, and the church should take the gospel to them.
During the address by Paul, the Lord opened the heart of Lydia. It is important to realise what this word picture means. There is no suggestion that this was a stormy spiritual experience for Lydia in which she was tossed up and down within her heart. In all likelihood, it was a secret and silent activity of God of which Lydia would not have been aware initially.
The evidence that her heart had been opened by the Lord was her increased interest in the message of the gospel. She began to understand what Paul was saying. She already had the framework in her heart as a result of becoming a member of the synagogue. With the other members she would have been looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. Now, as Paul explains about the work of Jesus, she quietly understands what he is saying. This is the usual way a person with a church background is converted. There is no need to have a dramatic experience marked by various turmoils. An enlightened mind is a great evidence of regeneration.
At the same time, her affections would be drawn to the Jesus that Paul preached. His message opened her heart in the sense that it enabled the love of God to flow into her soul. There, as she sat by the riverside, she experienced a sense of the love of Jesus. Her affections were drawn to the One who had died for her and risen again, and she found that responding to him in faith and love brought a sense of peace into her heart. Quietly and effectively, she was brought into his kingdom.