September 11, 2004

God's guidance and "open doors"

Blessed Assurances Baptist Church is nearing the end of its building project. In the last few years they have outgrown their current facility, and in their last week before they move onto their new, bigger campus in the suburbs, they hold a special prayer meeting. At one point, Pastor Irving directs the congregation: "We are moving into an area of the city that has many unchurched families. Let's pray that God will open doors that will allow us to minister to our new neighbourhood."

Open doors. It's a perfectly good, Biblical metaphor, used multiple times in the New Testament. It is used, basically consistently, for providential opportunities to serve God.

Paul uses this metaphor three times:

But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries. (1 Cor. 16:9)

. . . when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord, I had no rest in my spirit . . . (2 Cor. 2:12-13)

Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. (Col. 4:2-4)

Luke also uses the same metaphor in a similar way in Acts, writing that God had "opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles" (14:27) - not to say that the evangelist had been given access to the Gentiles, but the Gentiles to God. John also records Christ's words to the Philadelphians: "behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it" (Rev. 3:8). I'm not convinced that this particular usage is consistent with the others, so I am leaving it alone for the time being. (Anyone who can provide insight here is most welcome to comment.)

What can we learn from Scripture about open doors?

  • Open doors come from God. Paul says as much all three times. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he writes that his work in Ephesus is "the work of the Lord" (1 Cor. 16:10). In his second letter, he says the door "was opened unto me of the Lord" (2 Cor. 2:12). He asks the Colossians to pray "that God would open unto us a door" (4:3).

    Some people warn against taking every opportunity because some open doors are Satan's snares to trap us. But Paul and Scripture never say this. When the Bible speaks of the snares of the devil, it always means sins, not situations. God is in control of circumstances. Think it through: Could Paul have truthfully written that "all things work together for good to them that love God" (Rom. 8:28) if God and Satan were in competition?

    Others warn against going through open doors because while they might be good opportunities, they might not be the best opportunity. (There's that notorious idea of "God's second best" again). But if God is in control of all circumstances, isn't this really saying that he might be trying to trick you by laying enticing but inferior opportunities in your path? Or perhaps God is conflicted, giving you the opportunity but really hoping you won't avail yourself of it. Perish the thoughts! So this warning isn't really very useful either.

  • We should seek out open doors. Paul was an opportunist when it came to seeking chances to preach. He didn't care if the door was obstructed by adversity, and he asked his readers to pray for more opportunities. We read in Acts that he actively sought them out. He went to the synagogue in hopes of preaching to Jews, and the marketplace to preach to Gentiles (Acts 17:17). He went to the waterside in Thyatira because he knew there were women there who held prayer meetings (16:13). He even used the idols of Athens as an object lesson to point to the true God (17:23) and, in what has to be one of history's great displays of chutzpah, his own trial to preach to the local governors (24-26).
  • Just because a door is open, doesn't mean we have to use it. Opportunities are not commands. Paul had a door open to him in Troas (2 Cor. 2:12). Since he had been there before, but was sent away by a vision (Acts 16:8-12), you might think this time he would be all the more eager to stay and do the work that was interrupted that first time. But he didn't, for the seemingly unspiritual reason that he was concerned for a friend. It seems as though Paul was expecting Titus to meet him in Troas, but he didn't show up. So although Paul would probably have preferred to stay, he went to Macedonia (again!) where presumably he met Titus. Sometimes, even pressing personal concern must take priority over availing ourselves of every opportunity. Other doors will open. I doubt Paul spent any time sitting on his hands because he passed that one up.

"Open doors" should not be a cause of concern or indecision. When faced with a multitude of open doors, we shouldn't worry about which one is the "right" one to take. Rather, we should thank God for providing such an abundance of opportunities to serve him.

See also

First in the series: Finding and doing the will of God: Prolegomena

Previous entry: Fleece, peace, and the "still small voice"

Next entry: God's plan