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Look - The Door's Open!

Posted by joshuacorp 
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Look - The Door's Open!
November 04, 2009 09:15PM
Here’s a problem you might say is nice to have.

You have an opportunity. A golden opportunity. The chance to develop a serious relationship, or to marry. Or a job opening with generous pay and benefits. Or an invitation from your pastor to direct one of your church’s important ministries.

At first you’re euphoric, stunned at your good fortune, flattered that someone believes in you so strongly.

Then, with time and reflection, come the reality checks: The relationship is too high maintenance. The job doesn’t fit you well. The church position doesn’t match your spiritual gifts.

Still, the door is so wide open. How could you possibly turn your back on such a wonderful prospect?

We each face this dilemma from time to time. And while we welcome the problem on one level (it’s nice simply to have an open door), the agony of deciding can be extreme. The problem is great enough for anyone, regardless of their spiritual outlook. For the Christian, though, questions about God’s will can add to the confusion. “If Christ is in control of my life, shouldn’t I assume that a shining opportunity like this is from him? Isn’t he showing his intention through this open door? Aren’t I sinning if I turn away from it?”

Some of our most confusing struggles about God’s guidance concern the meaning of open doors. We wonder if respect for God’s providence (“God opened the door, so I must go through it”) should override stewardship of our life and common sense (“the opportunity doesn’t work for me, so I shouldn’t pursue it”).

Different Responses to Open Doors

There is no question that God uses circumstances to guide us. Paul placed important weight upon open doors in determining which regions God wanted him to visit during his missionary travels. “I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost,” he writes, “for a wide door for effective work has opened to me” (1 Cor 16:8 RSV). Paul says nothing here about God’s giving him direct guidance to stay in Ephesus, but merely notes that the situation is ideal for him to minister. This example isn’t isolated. Paul based many a decision to stay in a certain area and evangelize on the fact that a prime opportunity for ministry was present.

Yet Paul turned away from good opportunities as well. “When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ,” he also writes, “a door was opened for me in the Lord; but my mind could not rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia” (2 Cor 2:12-13 RSV). Paul clearly perceived that God had opened this door for him in Troas, yet he also concluded that God didn’t want him going through it! His example shows graphically that God may provide us with an opportunity which he doesn’t wish us to accept. And this may be true even though we recognize that God himself has opened a particular door.

Jesus, like Paul, also responded to circumstances unpredictably. In general, he took open doors seriously. He healed every individual who asked for his help. And when it came to selecting his twelve disciples, he didn’t launch a world-wide search for the perfect dozen, but picked from those available in the small sector of the world where he had chosen to minister.

Yet he decided not to respond to certain beckoning opportunities as well. Once, when he was visiting Capernaum, his disciples reported to him, “Everyone is looking for you” (Mk 1:37 Phillips). They informed him that the situation in Capernaum was ripe for his ministry--that many were eager for his teaching and healing.

Jesus’ response? “Then we will go somewhere else, to the neighboring towns, so that I may give my message there too--that is why I have come” (Mk 1:38 Phillips).

What’s fascinating in this case is that the presence of a great opportunity to teach and heal helped Jesus resolve to go somewhere else! A significant opening for ministry in Capernaum helped him reaffirm his priority--that he was called to minister not just in one setting, but in a variety of them, during his brief earthly mission.

Not Jumping to Conclusions

The fact that both Jesus and Paul sometimes walked away from prime opportunities, after weighing them carefully, highlights a benefit of the open door that we seldom consider. When an opportunity to take a significant step with our life is actually present, we are able to interact with it, intellectually and emotionally, on a level not possible when we’re merely musing about it as a distant possibility. Having a real-life option to grapple with breaks us out of the realm of fantasy and focuses our thinking remarkably. We are able to gaze down the road, and grasp more realistically what it would be like to truly live out this role.

Even if we conclude that the opportunity isn’t right for us, we have still benefited greatly from its being present. This explains why God might open a door for us--even a wide one--yet not expect us to venture through it. This aspect of God’s guidance is immensely liberating, for it means we’re not obligated to any assumption about his will when a compelling option presents itself, but are free--indeed, expected--to weigh it along with other factors. While God gives us guidance through every open door we encounter, he means for us to accept the opportunity in one case, but to learn from it and turn away from it in another.

A friend of mine, Victor, entered college intent on becoming a physician. His father, a prominent surgeon, had long encouraged him to pursue a medical career. As a college senior, Victor applied to various med schools and, due partly to his father’s influence, was admitted to the one he most wished to attend.

Acceptance by any medical college is a cherished accomplishment for a pre-med student. And admission to your top choice is an extraordinary victory. Add to this the family pressure, and Victor had strong reasons to stay the course toward his longtime goal of becoming a doctor.

During his junior year of college, though, Victor had become a Christian. He became actively involved in a campus ministry and in a local church as well. By the time he was ready to graduate, he had discovered that he had significant gifts for ministry and a strong motivation to become a pastor. He found the courage to turn down the prestigious med school’s offer in favor of going to seminary. Though it was difficult to decline such a tantalizing prospect, the fact that it was available helped him resolve firmly that his self-understanding had changed, and that God had placed a new aspiration in his heart to which he must be faithful.

His is a good example to keep in mind, for we need all the reinforcement we can get in striving to think clearly about open doors. We easily default to thinking God wants us to proceed through them. It can be excruciating to decline a great opportunity, and the decision can be complicated further by our view of God's guidance. Yet even the best prospect may be God’s means of educating us and sharpening our vision for taking a different direction.

Remarkable Coincidences

If it’s natural to think that God is giving us a clear message through golden opportunities to go forward, it’s even more tempting to think so when circumstances are highly coincidental. I know of a man and woman who met each other while each was traveling separately in Europe. They enjoyed some time together, but returned to the United States not expecting to meet again. Later, they encountered each other unexpectedly in a large metropolitan church. They took this unlikely occurrence as God’s sign they should marry.

Tragically, the marriage lasted only six months. Theirs was a classic case of reading too much guidance into a coincidence. It was an exceptional coincidence, to be sure. They would have been justified in concluding that God was showing them something through this unusual occurrence--perhaps that they should get better acquainted. But they jumped to conclusions about his ultimate intention for their relationship, without doing the hard work of getting to know each other thoroughly.

Over the course of a lifetime--and by the law of averages--each of us will experience certain turns of event so unusual and coincidental that it appears for all the world that God is giving us special guidance through them. We should be extremely cautious of our conclusions at such times. God may be using a coincidence to get our attention in some way. But we should stay tentative about what he is prompting us to do until we’ve looked at all the related factors. Sometimes the conclusion we reach, after a deep breath and many second thoughts, defies our first assumption.

Confidence in Providence

While we can be too quick to jump to conclusions about God’s will when circumstances are favorable or coincidental, we can also be too slow to recognize when opportunities truly are right for us. This is the other challenge we face in weighing the significance of open doors. We need to be properly cautious in considering them; yet we also need to learn to see them with the eyes of faith. God provides us with many opportunities that are well suited for us, and that are his means of moving us forward. Yet they sometimes fall short of certain ideals or expectations we have, and so we fail to perceive them as God’s best alternatives.

The problem in this case is that fantasy is always more enticing than reality. God provides us with real-life options, which he sees as ideal for us. Yet the fact that they're available may keep us from appreciating them as fully as we should.

In his missionary travels, Paul often settled for opportunities to minister that fell short of his expectations. One night a man appeared to him in a dream, pleading, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). In the morning, Paul and his companions concluded God was calling them to travel to Macedonia. They ventured forth to that city, surely expecting to find the man of Paul’s dream active in ministry there.

Instead, they found a Jewish woman, Lydia, leading a women’s prayer group by a river. Paul spent some time with these women, and through his influence Lydia committed her life to Christ. She then persuaded Paul and his team to lodge at her home, where a church soon blossomed (Acts 16:13-15).

Paul had come to Macedonia in response to a vision he had experienced--of a man active in ministry who was begging for his help. Yet to accommodate himself to the reality he found once in Macedonia, Paul was willing to modify his vision in two important ways: He accepted that the person he was to assist was a woman, not a man. And she wasn’t active in Christian ministry when Paul arrived, but had to be converted first!

Weighing Open Doors in Light of Our Priorities

Paul was able to adjust his expectations and to act decisively in this case because he had a keen sense of his priorities. His chief goal was to present the gospel in regions unfamiliar with Christ--a role that fit Paul’s gifts and motivational pattern extremely well. In light of this overriding intention, Paul simply looked for open doors. His confidence in God’s providence was so strong that he assumed a suitable opportunity to evangelize new territory was God’s will for him, unless proven otherwise. The chance to work with Lydia and her friends to launch a church in Macedonia was a good opportunity--and so even though it meant revising his initial assumptions about how he would evangelize this country, he chose to proceed.

On the other hand, Paul felt equal freedom to turn down a good opportunity to minister, if it didn’t fit his priorities well or presented significant obstacles to his being an effective icebreaker for the gospel. He chose to walk away from an open door in Troas, as we’ve seen, because a key associate--Titus--wasn’t present to assist him.

The most important lesson about guidance and circumstances that we learn from Paul’s experience is that we should evaluate open doors in light of clear priorities. We need, first and foremost, to come to grips with which of our gifts, talents and desires are the most significant and the ones that God most wants us to emphasize. We should keep this self-understanding in the forefront of our mind as we consider committing to various opportunities.

We should operate also with strong confidence in God’s providence--believing as a matter of faith that he will provide us with significant opportunities which allow us to realize our potential. We should carry a bias--that an option which matches our potential and interests reasonably well, and has had a fair chance to prove itself, is one that God wants us to accept. If we’re analytical by nature, we must be especially cautious not to write off a good opportunity because of its imperfections. In order to recognize God's best options for us, we will likely need to modify our expectations.

At the same time, we should remember that God brings along certain golden opportunities for their educational value, to help us better refine our vision for taking a different path. We aren’t obligated to go through an open door, and if a prospect truly fails to match our potential well, we are free to disregard it.

Take the case of Harrison. He is thirty and has long wished to be married. For three years he has dated Alicia, who longs to marry him. He has leaned toward marrying her for much of this time, too, and sees many strong points in their relationship. Yet he has also wavered at times, wondering whether he might find someone more perfectly suited for him if he waited longer. The fact that God has allowed him to tie up such a substantial portion of his life in this relationship, though, given his desire to be married, is significant in itself. He should put the burden of proof on why he shouldn’t marry Alicia, rather than on why he should; in other words, apart from a compelling reason not to marry, he should go ahead.

Suppose, though, that Harrison lacks the desire to be married to begin with, and is confident he would be happier staying single. No opportunity to marry--no matter how wonderful--should convince him to get married in this case.

Expectant Freedom

We have, in short, an extraordinary basis for confidence and hope as we pursue our goals and dreams, and weigh various alternatives that we face. If Christ is Lord of my life, I may assume he’ll be providing me with important opportunities to employ my gifts and to realize the desires he has placed in my heart. This conviction should add a note of anticipation to each day--that on any given day, options may arise that will forever affect my destiny in a positive way. My default assumption should be that a good opportunity is Christ’s provision for my needs and his way of prodding me ahead.

Yet I am also free to weigh each prospect that comes along, and am not obliged to any conclusion about God’s will until I’ve done so. In some cases, I’ll find that even an exceptional opportunity isn’t right for me, but is God’s way of helping me recognize that another option fits me better.

Call this perspective on open doors “expectant freedom,” if you will. It means good news for us as Christians, as we live each day and confront each opportunity.

More than anything, we should take great encouragement in knowing that God will enable us to resolve even our most difficult choices, when we ask for his direction. This is the most enlightening insight we learn from Jesus’ surprising decision to turn away from the harvest opportunity in Capernaum. He was praying, in the early morning, at that time; it was through prayer that he gained the clarity of mind to make this complicated choice (Mk 1:35). We’re reminded of our critical need to prayerfully seek God’s leading when we're facing a challenging decision. And we’re shown that he may be trusted fully to guide us when we do.

Our need for his guidance is never greater than on those occasions when we face golden opportunities that don’t seem quite right for us. Yet we may approach these decisions with unspeakable confidence that Christ will give us exactly the insight we need to resolve them successfully--when we open ourselves to his help.

To say it in the most positive possible way: His availability to guide us, and his willingness to do so, is unceasing. This is the best news. That door is always open.
Re: Look - The Door's Open!
November 05, 2009 03:10AM
Wow, what a tome.


Several things spring to mind reading this, in absolutely no particular order.....

1)
"When God closes a Door, He opens a window" - I had it on a key ring and liked it once, but how does that now fit with what you have written.

2)
"It's Hell in the Hallway" - what do you do when you have no open door in front of you yet?

3)
I remember when we had an opportunity as a newly wed couple to take on a cleaning contract for a christian man. It was a commercial premise, and we could have turned our hands to it, although not passionate about it - it would certainly have helped us financially. So we walked through the place literally, with the man, to talk through what had to be done. Thought about it over night, and as something didn't sit right for both of us, a bit sheepishly declined the offer. It felt 'stupid' at the time, as if we hadn't heard God correctly because why would he provide an opportunity that we weren't meant to take. Later that day though, the christian man phoned us back to thank us because the job was in fact for the next person that he had down his list - they had been praying for it - whatever the 'it' was for them. I still find that whole scenario weird to this day - but perhaps what you wrote explains what happened.

4)
I really really really had a pull to do something a few years back. The planets had all aligned (well, you get my drift - it was 'meant' to be), and then I waited and waited and one or two things fell into place, but that was it. In the interim I have kept my heart soft towards the goal by keeping involved in satellite activities (activities that revolve around the same idea or theme but are not 'the real thing'). So now to filter that through what you said and see if I can make some further sense of it.

5)
What do you do when you want an open door but instead you feel as if you are in a wooden packing crate?
Re: Look - The Door's Open!
November 05, 2009 04:02AM
It's an interesting take on things, as usually we are complaining that the doors won't open for us....waiting for the perfect job...perfect spouse...dinner...you know winking smiley

Also it would appear to me to be something that required an extraordinary reliance upon the still quiet voice of Papa, in order to see the door open, but quieten ourselves instead of rushing headlong into it...as I tend to doBlushing

Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.
- Lenny Bruce
Re: Look - The Door's Open!
November 05, 2009 01:14PM
And it's really ok to make mistakes, to charge through the door convinced it's right, only to fall flat on the other side...to wait because you're not sure and miss the opening....Papa's there to pick us up, dust us off and help us learn from it. We don't have to be accomplished hearers before He can guide us.
Anonymous User
Re: Look - The Door's Open!
November 05, 2009 02:36PM
Quote
Sensitive Shelley
And it's really ok to make mistakes, to charge through the door convinced it's right, only to fall flat on the other side...to wait because you're not sure and miss the opening....Papa's there to pick us up, dust us off and help us learn from it. We don't have to be accomplished hearers before He can guide us.
I don't knowBad day

That happened to me, and it has taken over 2 years to get the drift that it's OK, I'm not a failure. The door was wide open and for awhile I felt I was in my dream position, but then I started knowing too much politics, etc. and it all fell flat. It will probably take some time before I am brave enough to go through an open door again. But God is in charge of all my doors-open or closed.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/05/2009 02:46PM by Phoebe.
Re: Look - The Door's Open!
November 06, 2009 04:46PM
I realize that so often with "church reponsibilities" it is not the voice of God speaking but the "angel of the church" the angels of the churches sound remarkably like the old testament if you ask me . winking smiley

Hope you all are well .



Re: Look - The Door's Open!
November 12, 2009 09:42AM
I have been thinking about this post over all the others here these last few days.

The thing that is sticking in my mind is.......

....if God shows you an opening door, but things don't happen for it to open up enough to pass through, how can you feel 'good' about that, enough to walk through an open door on the floor below?
Re: Look - The Door's Open!
November 12, 2009 01:14PM
What do you mean by "an open door on the floor below"?
Re: Look - The Door's Open!
November 12, 2009 06:20PM
Something that isn't quite on the level that you thought you were supposed to/wanted to be on.

Something less than what you were open to.
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