A New Year Lesson from Closed Doors By R. Scott Rodin
Stewarding Closed Doors: A Look Back and Ahead
Today, we look back at a year now nearly completed and ahead to a fresh new year that awaits us. This is a unique moment to ask how well we followed God’s leading in 2019. More importantly, looking ahead, how do we know if our plans are God’s plans? How can we be certain that the strategies, goals and pursuits that drive our life and leadership align with God’s will and purpose?
One way to be sure they do is to move through life, watching for where God will open some doors and close others. We can likely look to where he opened and closed doors in our life and work in 2019. Open doors are easy to navigate, but what about those closed doors? How do we steward closed doors? Did we respond well to God’s stop signs this year? And are we prepared to do so in 2020?
Here are a few New Year’s thoughts on stewarding closed doors. When God tells us to stop going the way we are headed, we can respond in three ways,
1) we can ignore it and continue on as if we haven’t noticed,
2) we can tell Him we’ll stop when we are shown ‘Plan B’ and can clearly see the new direction, or
3) we can obey, just obey.
Here is how the Apostle Paul stewarded a closed door.
“Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” Acts 16:6-10
Reading a bit between the lines, Paul and his companions had a plan. Paul was traveling freely through Derbe and Lystra. He went from town to town preaching and teaching. God was opening doors and blessing his ministry. There was no reason to believe God would not continue to cheer Paul on. No reason to expect restrictions, confusion or a cessation in his mighty work. And so, Paul planned to march on, from Phrygia and Galatia, on to the important regions of Mysia and Bithynia where some of the most prominent cities in the region were located. Onward and upward. Strength to strength.
But God had other plans. We are told “the spirit of Jesus would not allow them” to enter the country. Why? This made no sense. Paul’s advance for the gospel took him straight into this significant region. Yet Scripture makes it clear that Paul sensed he was to go a different direction.
Two things should grab our attention here. First, God gives no reason for such a restriction nor offers a rationale for His decision. Second, God also gives no ‘plan B’. He not only closes the door to this region, He does not open another one. It was just ‘no’. So, Paul obeys and changes direction, staying to the south, heading for Troas. We don’t know why, but there is no indication that Paul was following any divine leading in doing so. One thing we know, Macedonia was nowhere in the strategic plan. There was so much yet to do in Asia, why leave this fruitful region and navigate the treacherous waters to such an unknown place?
Of course, it is in Troas that Paul then has the vision to go to Macedonia, and he obeys. But the story then just gets worse. Instead of preaching in the great cities of Mysia and Bythinia, Paul’s first triumphant stop is in Philippi, where there weren’t even enough Jewish men to have a synagogue. Instead, Paul meets outside the gates. And who shows up? A group of women. In Paul’s day, this was a huge disappointment. Why would God open this door if there was such meager fodder for ministry? None of it makes sense.
For Paul, however, it didn’t need to. It was God’s plan, God’s open door and God’s direction. And that’s all that mattered. Paul would obey. And so, he starts his Macedonian ministry teaching a small gathering of women outside the city walls of Philippi. History would show that out of that obedience, heeding the closed door in Asia, waiting on God to open a new one and faithfully walking through it, Paul planted the churches of Philippi, Thessalonica and Corinth and wrote to them some of the most moving and powerful words in all of Scripture.
What can we learn from this amazing story? Let me offer three insights.
- Faithful stewards watch for God’s leading and expect Him to guide them through His opening and closing of doors.
- Faithful stewards do not need explanations from God or guarantees of the next open door in order to stop when God closes doors in their life.
- Faithful stewards go through the doors God opens, and they do not second guess God or backtrack when they face difficulties as a result of their obedience.
Where might God be opening and closing doors in your life? Are you listening? Are you obeying? Are you leading others to do the same?
May our New Year be one of joyful obedience to the God who opens and closes doors, who gives and takes away, who is for us, and who promises us that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
Happy New Year!
R, Scott Rodin is president of The Steward’s Journey and Kingdom Life Publishing. He also runs Rodin Consulting, Inc. He is a Senior Fellow of the Association of Biblical Higher Education and is past board chair of ChinaSource and the Evangelical Environmental Network.
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