a problem you might say is nice to have.
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.
first you’re euphoric, stunned at your good fortune,
flattered that someone believes in you so strongly.
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
the door is so wide open. How could you possibly turn
your back on such a wonderful prospect?
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?”
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
Jumping to Conclusions
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
problem in this case is that fantasy is always more enticing
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.
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.
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).
had come to Macedonia in response to a vision he had
man active in ministry who was begging for his help. Yet to
accommodate himself to the reality he found once in Macedonia,
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.