I've been thinking a lot about closed doors lately. Closed doors aren't what we typically want. When we have an opportunity (or THINK we do), seek God's will and receive a firm "No" as the answer despite our fervent prayers...well it typically isn't cause for celebration. Instead the focus often turns to ourselves.
"What did I do wrong?" or "Why is God punishing/holding out on me?" tends to be my default reaction when a door slams shut in front of me. If only I hadn't sinned so badly this week or if only God really loved me maybe the answer would have been different. So when the next opportunity comes, it's time to shape up and be on "best behavior" so that we'll somehow be worthy of the carrot God seems to be hanging out in front of us.
That doesn't seem to be how God decides to open or close doors in the Scriptures. Instead of seeing closed doors as God's punishment or petulance, the Word paints a picture of God working for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose, which is to become conformed to the likeness of His Son [paraphrase of Romans 8:28-29]...even (and especially) through closed doors.
The Apostle Paul, the author of those words, knew from personal experience what it was to not be able to proceed in the direction that he wanted to go. On his second missionary journey Paul wanted to go to Asia and Bithynia. I'm sure that he had grand plans for the people there and that he was excited to be bringing the gospel to these people who so desperately needed to hear the Truth.
Acts 16 tells us that the Paul and his companions were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to go to Asia and that the Holy Spirit did not permit them to go into Bithynia (v 6-7). If ever there was a set of closed doors, it was on that mission trip: Plans A and B right out the window! If I were in Paul's shoes I think I'd have been just a bit confused. Didn't God want Paul to be preaching and spreading the Word? Why would the Holy Spirit keep them from doing ministry like that?
In a message called "The Need of the Hour," Dawson Trotman shared his interpretation of these events:
Paul found closed doors, but closed doors to him weren't the problem. I believe those closed doors were used of God to show him the open doors he was to go through next.
Closed doors are closed because God has another door that He wants us to go through. It turned out pretty well for Paul: instead of either of his first two plans, he and his companions ended up going to Macedonia. Their stops on this second missionary trip included the cities of Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and Corinth. Sound familiar? The churches that were planted as a result of the doors into Asia and Bithynia being closed resulted in at LEAST five epistles (Philippians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and 1 and 2 Thessalonians) and perhaps the strongest and most faithful church that Paul planted (the Berean church is described in Acts 17:10-12).
When God closes a door in front of us, we have two options: we can either question God or we can submit to His sovereignty and trust that this closed door is an expression of His mercy rather than His judgement. Which will you choose?