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!

Moving & The Will Of God

Winding Road

Last week, Laura and I moved our family to a new apartment in search of more space for our soon-to-be family of five.  So, that means I’ve spent the last couple of days carrying boxes, cleaning out the old place, carrying boxes, unpacking those boxes and carrying a few more boxes!

But I’m not writing to grumble about moving.

I’m writing in the hopes that the journey our family has been on for the last few months will be helpful for you as you follow God in your life.  I’m writing because Laura and I never thought we would end up living in a mid-rise apartment in the west end of Alexandria.  Yet, that’s exactly where the Lord has us.

And it all goes back to December 8, 2015.

I remember being in the gym that morning, doing my best not to die on the treadmill, listening to a podcast and praying/thinking through the day ahead.  Later that afternoon I was going to be meeting with a group of Southern Baptist pastors interested in supporting church plants in DC.  So, I was getting my vision caster/fundraiser game face on.  As part of that, I was mentally rehearsing stats about how many people live in this area, how quickly it is growing, etc…  I was getting more and more excited to tell these pastors about the mission field God had called us to.  And then all of a sudden, I felt like Laura and I should be doing more to reach our community.  I remembered my conversations with the leaders of a ministry called Apartment Life and felt like God might be leading Laura and I to move into an apartment in the Crystal City/Pentagon City area through this ministry.  That was a stretch for us – we had been renting a row house and weren’t thrilled about going to an apartment (our kids are loud and we didn’t want to live underneath someone running a makeshift dance studio in the apartment above us!).  But we felt like it was how the Lord was leading.

So, Laura and I started down the road of getting plugged in with Apartment Life.  We did applications and interviews.  We introduced the ministry to the church one Sunday morning.  I told the whole church Laura and I had applied and wanted to serve as a CARES Team through this ministry.  We were accepted into the program and totally believed this was God’s next step for us as a family.

But by the middle of April, it was starting to look like Apartment Life wasn’t going to have a community to place us in.  Honestly, I wasn’t worried.  I totally expected the Lord to pull something out at the last minute.  But by the beginning of May, that was looking less and less likely.  And we knew we needed to be out of our old place by May 31st.  Unsure of what else to do, we started looking for other places – including apartments.  Honestly, we probably never would have included apartments in our search if it wasn’t for the months of praying for Apartment Life.

Finding out that we’re having our third child this fall made it really clear we needed to move.  We knew we needed more space and didn’t have a lot of room to increase our budget.  So, we started looking.  And getting frustrated.  And discouraged.  And concerned. There wasn’t anything available in the time frame we needed!

Finally, we found the place we’re in now.  It meant we had to leave the Del Ray neighborhood that we loved so much.  But it’s the best option for our family in this season of life.  So, we moved in last week.

That story is in some ways very boring – we thought we were going to serve with a ministry, God closed a door, so we did something else.  But I’m also hoping it’s helpful in at least two ways:

  1.  Don’t be afraid of messing up God’s plan.  Clearly, Apartment Life wasn’t the Lord’s will for our family in this season.  We really thought it was, were excited to serve, prayed for God to open doors and did everything we could think of to help open those doors.  But as Job writes, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2)  Don’t worry.  You aren’t going to mess up God’s plan for your life.
  2. Go for it.  That means we have the freedom to go for it more often.  I would rather live my life trying to make things happen and trusting God to close doors than waiting idly for God to open doors.  I don’t regret trying to get placed through Apartment Life or feel badly that it didn’t work out.  I like knowing we went for it, put ourselves out there and did everything we could to leverage our lives for the sake of mission.

More often than not, this is what it looks like to follow Jesus – an unexpected road to an unexpected destination.  Even when the road doesn’t make sense, we can trust the One leading us and know that He’s in control and unfolding our lives according to His plans.

The Danger Of A Leadership Graveyard

graveyard

Churches can easily become leadership graveyards.  All it takes is a little centralized decision making and some micromanagement and you’re already well on the way.

Leadership graveyards are filled with markers commemorating the great leaders who were once there.  We honor these men and women and tell stories of the great ways God used them.  But we speak only in the past tense.  There’s a massive leadership void in the current generation and little leadership impulse coming from future generations.  A place where leaders once thrived now seems devoid of leaders.

What makes leadership graveyards so dangerous is how easily they can happen.

If only one or two people have the authority to make decisions, it won’t be long before there are only one or two people left who have the ability to make decisions.  Hoarding power, not trusting people and insisting that all decisions come back to an anointed few is the ideal recipe for a leadership graveyard.

Leaders, stop selling your people short.  They don’t want to simply execute orders from on high.  They want to think, create a plan, be held responsible for the outcome and give it their best shot.  They want to matter, to be challenged and to reach for something that’s slightly beyond themselves.  If organizations create a culture where that is allowed, leaders not only stick around but more and more leaders are drawn in from the outside.  If we fail to create this culture, there will be a leadership exodus that turns our organization into a graveyard.

I’m writing all of this as the pastor of a less than one year old church plant.  There’s a lot happening in our little church and I understand the temptation to make all of the decisions myself.  There are days when it just feels like it would be faster, easier and better to be a bad leader than a good leader.  It’s on those days that I need to remind myself it might be faster and easier, but it isn’t better.

God has blessed our church with amazing leaders.  Smart, talented, dedicated men and women who want their lives to count for the glory of Christ and the good of people.  They don’t need me to control them.  They need me to empower them.  It’s risky but it’s the way a church reaches it’s full redemptive potential.