[Here’s an 11th chapter of the “How God Guides” paper. Some of us use the terminology of “the open and closed door” to describe circumstances when it seems that God has put an obstacle in front of us to discourage us from going one way or when he appears to have orchestrated other circumstances to point us toward certain opportunities he places before us. Here are some things I think about those things…]
A great door for effective work has opened to me. I Corinthians 16:9
I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. Romans 1:10
Sometimes God uses circumstances like traffic lights, which say either stop or go. In such times God tells us his will by opening or closing a door of opportunity in front of us. We apply for a job or a college, and if it’s his will, God will see that the “door is open” for us to walk through. On the other hand, he might “close a door” by having them reject our application.
Three caveats (“don’ts”) about this open-or-closed-door principle:
First – don’t assume that because everything is going smoothly that you’re in the will of God. Doors might be open and your path smooth, but that might not be saying that God is telling you to go a certain way. Actually, if you haven’t had a trial in a while it’s no time necessarily to smile! You might want to look behind you to see if you have taken a wrong fork in the road. The path of Jesus isn’t always the easiest one.
Second – don’t fear that because circumstances are difficult (even terrible) that you’re out of the will of God. Joseph suffered at the hands of his brothers and others all the while being part of a providential plan of God to save the nation (Genesis 50:20). Paul and Silas had specific orders from heaven to go to Macedonia when the first place they visited there was a Philippian prison (Acts 16:16-34). Their difficulties might have given them the idea that God was closing a door, but in actuality, he had opened a door to a way of suffering, which eventually led to the advancement of his kingdom.
Third – don’t presume that because “coincidental” circumstances occur that God is necessarily speaking to you. It may just be the way things worked out, and not God trying to tell you something. Everything that’s available to you is not necessarily a green light from God. Sometimes things are what they are, and God might not have personally made them that way.
For instance, when I was a pastor, I often had 20-somethings tell me that they’re praying about going to a certain missions organization for a period of time. The main way they would assess whether or not it was God’s will for them to go was if they accepted their application. I didn’t want to discourage them, but I felt I had to say, “Since they pretty much accept any warm body with enough money to go, I don’t know that this should be your only indication of God’s will.”
I think it’s true to say that God more often uses a closed door to deter us than an open door to direct us. For instance, you may think it’s God’s will for you to be a dentist, but you can’t get into any dentistry schools. That’s a fairly clear sign from God, at least for now. On the other hand, acceptance into four different schools doesn’t necessarily mean it’s God’s will for you to go to any of them. You don’t know for sure that it was God who opened the door. Saul thought the Lord was leading him to kill David when he said, “God has handed him over to me for David has imprisoned himself with gates and bars” (1 Samuel 23:7). Another time David’s men thought that God was “opening a door” for David to kill Saul because he was in the same cave that they were in (1 Samuel 24:1-7).
Another thing about the “closed door” – sometimes we’re supposed to kick it down or at least knock on it until it opens! Twice Paul wrote about being “hindered” and “prevented” from visiting the Roman Church (Romans 1:13; 15:22). He doesn’t specifically identify the hindrance in this case, but he implies that it wasn’t the Lord who hindered him. In another of his letters he refers to a hindrance, the identity of which he spells out clearly as the devil himself. He claims that it was the adversary who got in the way of the will of God – “We wanted to come to you again and again, but Satan stopped us” (I Thessalonians 2:18). The point I’m making is that sometimes when a door closes we’re not to give up on that door. We might be wise to ask the Lord if we’re to do some spiritual warfare in order for this particular door to be opened by his strong arm! Just because a door is closed doesn’t mean that God necessarily closed it or that we’re to passively assume that everything will just work out. There are times to assert the authority that Jesus gives us against the will of our spiritual foe. “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it!” (Matthew 16)
But, in order to press the issue when the circumstances are against it, you should probably be pretty sure that God does want you to do this certain thing. But once you’re sure, forge ahead with faith and courage! I love the faith-filled tenacity of the four guys who, when there was no room left in the house to get their disabled friend close enough to Jesus for healing they dug a hole in the roof and let him down with a rope. Talk about not being afraid to kick a closed door down!