If you’ve been in church for a while you will have probably heard someone talk about God opening a door for them, or maybe even closing a door. This is not some allusion to gentlemanlike behaviour on the part of God, but rather a belief, held in some Christian circles, about how God reveals His will to us.
I was recently asked for perspective on an old article, Myth: God opens and closes doors, from a blog I hadn’t previously come across. Here is my response.
Are Open and Closed Doors in the Bible?
The basic gist of the article was: Christians should stop saying God has opened or closed doors for them, because it’s not in the Bible, opens the door to fatalism, and leads to lazy faith.
Well, he got two out of three right! However, in the Bible we do see the language of God opening doors: “… for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” 1 Corinthians 16:9 (see also Colossians 4:3; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Revelation 3:7). This is the language of Paul, and in Revelation, of Christ. However, we don’t find Paul saying God closed doors. He rather says, “having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit…”, which indicates how he knew the open door was God. Paul did not believe God opened the door just because he found a door and that door was open. Relationship with God, through the Holy Spirit, is the key.
Choice and Obedience
“Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15:22b
It is more common for God to give a command to do or not do a certain thing than to force or prevent us by removing choice and therefore an opportunity for obedience. The Ten Commandments are a list of thing we can do, that we either should or shouldn’t do. For example, adultery is something we can do but shouldn’t. To worship only God is something we can do and should.
But, while it is not typical of God to restrain us physically, there are incidents even of this in scripture. One example in the story of Jonah. Did God close the door to Tarshish? It would be fair to say God physically restrained Jonah. In the case of Balaam (Numbers 22), God stood an angel between Balaam and his intended destination, just as he placed an angel to prevent Adam returning to Eden (Genesis 3:24).
So, in scripture we see, 1) God opening doors, 2) God warning against stepping through certain doors, and 3) in some rare cases, God closing doors tight shut. We cannot trust a door just because it is open. Adultery can present as an open door. A wallet left lying on a table, to a thief, is an open door. We cannot afford to walk through every open door. We need to be listening to God and know where He is leading us.
I think this is what the article meant when it makes its point about fatalism. The author says, “I believe this little phrase, God opens and closes doors, has lead [sic] to people falsely blaming God for missed opportunities.” I agree.
Circumstance does not dictate the will of God for your life. For Jonah, a massive storm at sea meant the end of his journey. For Paul, it was just another obstacle to overcome. For Balaam, an angel in his path, meant turn around, go back. For Jacob, it just meant an all night wrestling match. For one saint a job offer is an open door from God, for another saint, it is a test from God or temptation sent from Satan. Only by hearing God will you know the difference.
Knowing God’s Will
The real problem for many Christians, is they live by formulas, not by hearing God. Spiritual principles that effectively amount to, “If A, then do C, but if AB, do D”. The men of faith in scripture did not live by these kinds of formulas. They spoke to God and He spoke back. We need to get back to a place where our choices are based on our relationship with God, not an ‘open’ or ‘closed’ door.
Paul did not believe God opened the door because he found a door and it was open. Paul knew God opened it because he had a relationship with God and the Holy Spirit was guiding him. The door he found was where he expected to find it, and going through it was consistent with what he understood to be the will of God for his life. If God is speaking and we are listening, we can live in sync with him, and like Paul, know which of the open doors we find are the doors He has opened.
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