Here’s a problem you might say is nice to have;
You 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.
At first you’re euphoric, stunned at your good fortune, flattered that someone believes in you so strongly. Then, 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 gifts.
Still, the door is so wide open. How could you possibly turn your back on such a wonderful prospect?
We 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?”
Some 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”).
There 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.
Yet 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.
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.
Even 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.
While 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.
The problem in this case is that fantasy is always more enticing than reality. 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.
Our 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.
To 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.