Posted by: Mike Willoughby | April 6, 2010

Open Doors

Open Doors

Open doors, callings, missions, God things and items placed on our hearts – these are a few of the ways we may describe opportunities in life that are part of God’s will for us. If you are like me, you try to be vigilant about seeing these opportunities that come along to follow God’s will and serve him. However, this is one of the areas of my walk of faith that has been the most frustrating. How can I recognize an open door? How can I know when an opportunity is part of God’s will for my life or just another common everyday choice? Is God’s will part of every choice and opportunity or just certain very special choices and opportunities? I don’t believe I have all the answers on this topic but I think I may have some insight to offer. I do believe that God’s will can and should be present in every choice and decision we make. But through study and interpretation (including some necessary inference) I also think there are multiple facets to God’s will. Let’s begin with this verse from Romans 12:1-2:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

There is a lot of power packed into this short passage, but I want to focus on the part about discerning the will of God. This passage tells us that part of the transformation we undergo as Christians as we renew our minds is that we may discern what is the will of God. I find this promise to be very comforting and yet also challenging. Do I feel that I am able to consistently discern the will of God in my life?

First, I need to understand the way God’s will works in the lives of humans. I think we can begin to understand this by observing the way God worked in the lives of people recorded in the Bible. In some cases, I believe God’s will was explicit and irresistible in the lives of people God called to a special purpose or who were deterred from a certain course of action. I believe you see God’s explicit will working in Jonah’s life as God called him to go preach to the city of Ninevah. Jonah tried to resist God’s will and spent three days and nights in a fishy time-out before aligning his plans to God’s will. God told Balaam he was not allowed to curse the Israelites on behalf of the king of Moab and if it were not for Balaam’s speaking donkey looking after him, Balaam would have been prevented from his mission by a sword bearing angel. In the New Testament, we have an excellent example of God’s explicit will working in both a positive and negative way. During Paul’s second missionary journey, Paul was convinced he should go into Asia to preach. However, Acts 16:6-10 tells us that the Holy Spirit forbade Paul from going into Asia. We are not told how this was communicated to Paul just that he was deterred and when he tried to have his way, the Spirit of Jesus prevented him. God’s explicit calling sent Paul in a different direction.

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.

Do you think God has explicit will for our lives too? I believe he does, but I do not think he speaks to us like Jonah and Balaam and I haven’t encountered any talking donkeys or sword bearing angels (as far as I know). I believe God’s explicit will for us is revealed in more subtle ways including the way events unfold to point directly to an obvious choice, the way alternative choice may be eliminated for us, the way advice and counsel is delivered by Godly associates and the way we may feel called to go on a mission. I also think we always have a choice whether to respond to God’s will or resist and suffer punishment. Did Jonah, Balaam and Paul have a choice? Absolutely, if they wanted to be digested by a fish or killed by an angelic sword. I don’t know what Paul might have suffered if he has persisted in going to Asia. I trust that when God’s explicit will is active in our lives, we will be guided to the right choice and deterred from the wrong choice.

The question is, “does God’s will work in all our choices?” I believe the answer is “yes” although I do not believe God’s will is typically explicit in our choices. Although I think there are times God has an explicit and exclusive will for me with a given opportunity, I believe typically he works with me in a different way. I believe God has a permissive will that governs all the rest of my decisions. I think an excellent example of God’s permissive will working in a big decision is found in Acts 15:36-41. Right before Paul left for the second missionary journey we just considered, Paul brought the idea of the trip up to his right-hand man on the first missionary journey, Barnabas. Barnabas agreed and suggested they take John Mark along even though John Mark had abandoned them midway through the last trip. Paul refused and after a “sharp disagreement” between Paul and Barnabas, they agreed to disagree and Paul took Silas on his trip while Barnabas took John Mark and headed out on a separate mission to Cyprus.

The passage does not give us any insight into God’s will in this matter. Was Paul correct in his decision to refuse to take John Mark? Was Barnabas correct in vouching for John Mark and insisting he could be trusted in the field? Were they blessed in spite of or because of their sharp disagreement? Apparently either decision would have been correct and blessed. At least that’s the assumption I am making. Paul and Silas were blessed on their mission as evidenced by God’s explicit direction to them during the trip and the success they enjoyed planting churches and preaching to the Europeans. I assume Barnabas and John Mark were also successful as evidenced by the maturity we see in John Mark as he wrote the Gospel of Mark and in the way Paul later admitted in his second letter to Timothy that John Mark had become useful to him. Apparently, God’s permissive will allowed for either choice and he was able to work things out regardless of the choice Paul and Barnabas made. Within God’s permissive will, there may be multiple right choices and the choice to skip an opportunity may be right as well. Sometimes spotting the obvious open door may be difficult for us because God is OK with the choice to enter or walk on by.

Paul writes in Romans 8:28 that God is able to work all things out for good for those of us that love him. I believe this includes all the correct decisions we make and even the incorrect decisions we make. Do I understand how God is able to take the billions of independent human choices that are made each day and work them out for good for his people? No, but I trust his promises.

So if God’s will for us is present in every decision we make, either explicitly or permissively, how are we able to know which decision to make. The key is in Romans 12:2 where Paul tells us “that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” God gives us the gift of his Word to help us test the decisions we have to make to ensure each decision is in accordance with his will. If you have a decision to make and the ramifications of the decision do not violate the principles and precepts you have learned from the Bible, make the decision based on the best information you have and trust God to work out the rest. If you are committed to doing what is good, acceptable and complete (perfect), then use his word to test each decision and thereby discern God’s will in your life.

I must admit, that I have been imperfect in applying this methodology in my own life. There have been far too many decisions that I have made knowing the decision was against what I had learned from the Bible. I allowed my selfish motives to override the results of whatever testing I had done and in some cases I bashed down a door that was clearly closed and stormed through that door on my own terms. The bad news was that in many cases, I received discipline for that bad decision. The good news is that God has clearly worked many things out for the good in my life in spite of my flawed decision-making process. Praise God for his perfect will and for his grace and mercy in working his perfect will through this imperfect human being.

This week, apply this methodology and see if it helps you make good decisions. I think you may be surprised how many decisions are just left up to you to make without any obvious direction from God. Isn’t amazing that he trusts us to use our brains and common sense to make decisions! Isn’t it amazing how he accomplishes his purposes through us and in spite of us all at the same time!

Until next week,

Meet me at the intersection!

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