Closed Doors & The Will Of God

doors

As we continue in our Boundless series on the Book of Acts, we’re going to be skipping over the five verses that would come next.  It’s not that they’re unimportant, it’s just that we’re trying to get to a certain place in the text by Christmas.  But I don’t want to skip over them entirely because they have tremendous value for us in navigating our occasional frustrations with the ways God reveals His will for our lives:

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.  And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.  So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.  And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Acts 16:6-10

We live a lot of life on the front side of a Macedonian call.  Yes, there are moments when it feels like God literally pulls back the curtain of heaven and tells us exactly what to do.  But, for most of our lives, it feels like we’re stumbling around, banging into closed doors and trying to figure out what Jesus is asking us to do.  Even as I write this, I can think of at least three ways Laura and I are trying to navigate that right now.  In the midst of that frustrating and painful lack of clarity, this text brings three helpful reminders:

Don’t Let What Seems Illogical Distract You From What Is Certain

Imagine how disorienting all of this must have been to the Apostle Paul.  He’s the great evangelist and church planter of the early church.  He’s completed one missionary journey and is on the first leg of his second journey.  His whole aim is to tell people about Jesus.  He’s not praying through whether or not he really needs the iPhone X.  He wants to pluck as many people as possible from the clutches of hell.  And his biggest obstacle seems to be the Holy Spirit.  What’s wrong with preaching the gospel in Asia?  Does God hate the Bithynians?  How can the God who has always said go now say no?

Closed doors are so frustrating because they often seem so illogical.  Why is God doing this?  Why won’t He open the womb, help us with the down payment, get me into grad school or accelerate our adoption process?

Paul doesn’t minimize the confusion but he also doesn’t get distracted from what he’s certain about – the mission God has given him.  He’s going to preach the gospel.  If not in Asia, Phrygia will be just fine.  If not Bithynia, Troas works.  He was so committed to that mission that when he finally has a revelation from God, his only conclusion is that God has called him to preach the gospel in Macedonia.  He isn’t thinking sea side sabbatical.  He’s thinking gospel mission.

You may not know what God is doing in your life right now.  But you do know your purpose in life – to glorify God by making disciples.  Everything else finds its place in relationship to that mission.  So, don’t give up on it when life doesn’t make sense.  Keep pressing forward.

Obedience, Patience and Inactivity Aren’t The Same Thing

Paul demonstrates a tremendous amount of obedience and patience in all of this.  He doesn’t try to kick down any closed doors (one of my favorite ways of running afoul of God’s will for my life). Imagine how easy it would have been for him to conclude he was mishearing the Spirit of Jesus.  That Spirit is always telling us to go.  Now He’s saying no? I probably would have stormed into Asia demanding God’s blessing on my well-intentioned disobedience.  But not Paul.  He obeyed and waited.

But he didn’t stagnate.  He kept moving.  His bias was towards unblocked action.  If God was saying no in certain ways, Paul was determined to keep moving forward in a way that God was allowing.  He didn’t grind everything to a halt and linger in neutral until God told him what to do.  He kept moving, trusting the Lord to make it all clear.

I know so many followers of Jesus who struggle with this.  They assume the default posture of the Christian soul is passivity interrupted by the occasional Macedonian call.  Not true!  We are a people with a bias for action.  This passage simply reminds us that action must walk down the paths of obedience and patience.

God Will Open The Right Door, The Right Way, At The Right Time

Don’t get discouraged!  God is more than able to break through the fog of closed doors whenever He needs to, in whatever way He needs to?  For Paul, all of the closed doors finally make sense with one vision.  God has been leading Paul and his team (which now includes Luke, the author of Acts) to Macedonia the whole time.  The gospel moves forward and we’re reminded that God has known what He’s doing all along.

Today, those moments are more likely to come through a study of God’s Word, wise counsel and circumstances than dreams and visions but dreams and visions are still on the table.  If that’s what it takes, that’s what God is going to do.

In the midst of the uncertainty of closed doors, we can cling to the hope that God will keep us on the path He has designed for us. All of our confusion isn’t going to thwart God’s plan for our lives.  Job 42:2 has been such a comfort to me over the years, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”

When the time comes, God will get you right where He wants you.

There are few things in the Christian life as disorienting as illogically closed doors.  They can give rise to all kinds of fears – has God abandoned me, is He angry at me, am I being punished?  Don’t fall for that kind of thinking.  You might be facing many closed doors but the arms of your Savior are wide open.  He’s already made what He thinks of you abundantly clear on the cross.  He tasted death so you never have to.  He purchased you, declared you His own and adopted you into His family.  He didn’t do it to leave you helplessly floundering through life.  You can trust Him, cling to Him and pray for the day the fog lifts.  In the mean time, keep walking!

Back To School

Back To School

Now that our oldest is safely and happily in his Pre-K classroom, I’ll spend my day like most parents on the first day of school – wondering how in the world I’m going to survive dropping him off at college.  Don’t get me wrong, by bath time tonight, I might be dreaming of sending him to college or possibly boarding school but, for right now, Pre-K is all I can handle.  Even as I’m writing this, I find myself praying that he’s having fun, feeling comfortable and not stealing anyone else’s snack.

This whole adventure of parenting is filled with more highs and lows than I ever would have imagined.  When I was a kid, I thought grown-ups had all the answers, were never afraid and totally had this thing called life figured out.  I guess that’s how it’s supposed to be; it would have rocked my world to know how unsure, overwhelmed and, at times, scared my parents must have been.  But now that I am a grown-up (or at least a parent), I’ve come to realize they must have felt that way.  And I’ve come to realize that’s a good thing.  All of that parental uncertainty draws two things out of my heart.

One, compassion for other parents.  It’s really easy to judge parents when you don’t have kids.  But, once you join the sleep-deprived club, you realize that everyone’s trying to do their best.  No, we don’t all parent the same way and, yes, the Bible has plenty to say about how we should raise our children.  But, wow, this parenting thing is hard enough without all the critiquing and criticizing we’re all tempted to run to as a way of covering our insecurity.  Our little people need us to stick together and keep the Moma Drama to a minimum.

Two, dependance on God.  The one thing that helps me sleep well at night is the certainty that God loves my kids more than I do.  At times that seems hard to believe but I know it’s true – they were His idea long before they were mine and He sacrificed more for them in Jesus than I ever will.  He has plans and purposes for their little lives and, in His wisdom, He knew that growing up with me and Laura as their parents was the best way to bring those plans to fruition.  He’s a source of wisdom, grace and strength when we don’t know what to do.  We just need to humble ourselves enough to ask.

In the sea of our parental uncertainty, Laura and I are trying to stay anchored in three commitments this school year:

  1.  Assume the best of and pray for your child’s teacher.  No, your kid’s teacher isn’t going to do everything exactly the way you would.  By the way, even if you homeschool, you’re not always going to meet your expectations for yourself!  In the moment when you are tempted to send that fiery email, take a breath and assume the best.  Make it a habit to pray regularly for your child’s teacher.  Ask God to strengthen, encourage and bless him or her.  Ask the Lord to work through this person to shape your child’s heart and mind.
  2. Show grace to other parents and families.  I was thinking about this the other day when I saw the list of foods banned from our kid’s school.  My goodness – PreK has turned him into a functional vegan.  By the time you add up everything that anyone in the classroom is allergic to, he’s pretty much going to eat celery for a year.  No flax seed?  Fine.  No peanut butter?  You just messed with a pillar of American education!  Does all of this make lunch a little more complicated?  Yeah.  Is it a big deal?  Not really.  The Bible calls us to outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:10)  Make that your goal when interacting with other parents and families – whether it’s about lunch, birthday parties or what tv shows they watch.
  3. Love your kid without comparing your kid.  If your kid had a melt down this morning, it’s easy to wish he was more like the confident little bugger down the road.  If, on the other hand, your kid leaped out of the mini-van and barely said goodbye, it’s easy to wish he was more like the sensitive kid down the road.  Why go there?  Love the kid God entrusted to you and make sure he or she goes to bed tonight knowing how proud you are of him/her, no matter how today went.

Before long, all the emotion of today will fade.  But, if it leaves us all a little more humble, dependent and compassionate, then it really will have been a good first day.

 

(Photo courtesy of  Aaron Burden on Unsplash)