All the Places to Go: Living With Closed Doors

Luke 22:39-44

Have you ever had a door slammed in your face or stood at a closed door that no one would answer? I imagine most of us have literally experienced something like this.

We can also, however, experience closed doors in a figurative sense. Perhaps an opportunity presented itself that looked so right and promising, but didn’t work out. We say the door closed. Or a relationship with a special person, who you thought God had chosen for you, breaks up. The door slammed in your face.

Perhaps you found a job you felt would be a perfect fit, or you felt especially qualified for a spot on an athletic team, but you don’t get the position. They wouldn’t even let me in the door! Those closed-door experiences can be quite painful, even depressing and maddening.

Sometimes heaven’s door seems to stay closed on us or we feel like it’s been slammed in our face. You are praying for something to happen but it doesn’t happen. You are doing the right thing – perhaps it is even for the kingdom of God – but it just peters out and dies. It can be painful and frustrating, especially when we’re so sure we were right. People can become very disappointed, depressed, even angry with God and cry out with the psalmist,
“How long, O Lord, will you forget me?”
Or, Why, Lord? 
Or even, Why not, Lord?

The truth is, sometimes God allows us to go through His open doors, His divine opportunities, as we’ve discussed the first few weeks of this series. But sometimes God says no, which is a difficult word for us to swallow. It can cause us to throw a good, old tantrum before God, like a child in the store being denied a bag of candy at the checkout line or a certain toy dad or mom is denying them.

If you are encountering one of those closed-door experiences in your life, I’m really sorry. I know they’re not fun. I know from personal experience and from walking alongside a lot of people as their pastor. But, when we run into these and attempt to regroup from the experience, some things need to be considered from God’s Word.

First, God sometimes closes the door because something better is ahead that we don’t know about. I think of examples in Scripture: Paul and Silas in the book of Acts. They wanted to go to Asian and Bithnia, but the door to go was shut. Instead, a door opened for them to Macedonia where they established some of their best churches, the Philippian and the Thessalonica churches.

I am reminded of our first attempt at relocation as a congregation. We had run out of space in our old building and were growing big. We had no more space on which to build. I was so certain we were to move to a certain acreage I had found. I had it all picked out, and I was sure God was with me on this one. I even convinced my board this was the way to go. What I discovered painfully was I was wearing blinders. We were not ready as a congregation. God closed the door. It was painful, and I was angry. But two years later, in God’s good time, we were a united church again and were ready when a beautiful piece of land came up for sale at a bargain-basement price right off of the freeway. We relocated there, and God blessed us with growth beyond what we had ever imagined for ourselves. Looking back on that experience, I learned God knew something better lay ahead for us.

A humorous story: Pastor Tim Keller shares with us from his early 20s. He said, “I prayed for an entire year about a girl I was dating and wanted to marry, but she wanted out of the relationship. All year I prayed, ‘Lord, don’t let her breakup with me.’ (Of course, in hindsight it was the wrong girl.) I actually did what I could to help God with the prayer. One summer near the end of the relationship, I got in a location that made it easier to see her. I was saying, Lord I’m making this as easy as possible for you. I’ve asked you for this and I’ve even taken the geographical distance away.

But as I look back now, God was saying, Son, when a child of mine makes a request, I always give them what they would have asked if they knew everything I know.

Sometimes God closes the door because you’re knocking on the wrong one. We want the wrong thing. It’s not a wise choice. Or maybe we’re selfishly or sinfully motivated, and God is protecting us from ourselves. Remember when the disciples James and John came to Jesus asking for top positions when He came into power? He said, no. He knew they were selfishly motivated.

I think of Elijah, Moses, and Jeremiah crying out to God, “Take my life. I want to die!” I’m sure that, looking back, they thanked God He didn’t answer their prayer, because it was the wrong thing to ask for.

Have you ever stopped to think what would happen if God answered every prayer with a yes? What a mess our world would be in! Humorously, ball games would always end in ties, and how frustrating would that be! O, thank God for closed doors.

Sometimes God closes the door because I need to grow in my relationship with Him, or in my character, or in my skills. The apostle Paul talked of having a thorn in the flesh given to him, He said, to keep him from being too elated, too full of himself. Three times he asked God to take it away, but God simply replied, “No, my grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness” (II Cor. 12:8-9).

Paul said learned humility and contentment as he faced hard times when he was weak. But he was strong because God was working through him.

When I was graduating from the seminary back in 1980, I was convinced I should be a solo pastor and running my own congregation. When I graduated, I waited six months for my first call, but it never came. The door was closed. I was frustrated. It was a long wait.

Finally a call came from a congregation – a big congregation – in Winona, Minnesota that wanted me to be their youth pastor – part of their staff. I said yes, and God used those six years at Central Lutheran to prep me for Shepherd of the Valley.

Sometimes things in life need some tweaking. Maybe I needed to grow in my dependence on God instead of my own devices so financial doors get cut on me, and I really have to count on God to provide. Or I need to grow in humility so my wishes for grandiosity are lovingly ignored by my heavenly Father.

Sometimes God closes doors because He has plans I don’t know about. Looking at Scripture, I think of Israel. He called them to be a blessing, a light to the nations of the world. They didn’t quite understand that. They wanted to be the boss of the nations of the world. So they were allowed again and again to be put into exile, etc. However, God had His way. He had plans they didn’t understand or know about. Along came a Savior in Jesus Christ.

Solomon says, “The heart of man plans his ways, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Prov. 16:9). We may make plans, but God’s will is definitive. It might be that the loss of a job is an open door to a ministry God has in mind for us in His redemptive plan, one that serves people and brings others to Christ. Maybe God has a part for you to play in this whole redemptive drama that you haven’t become aware of yet. Sometimes God closes the door simply because He is God and I am not.

The mystery of closed doors can be so frustrating. When I start something but it doesn’t work out and there doesn’t seem to be a good answer why. I’m left mystified, puzzled by that closed door.

I think of Job and all the terrible things that happened to him. In the end Job is crying out for a hearing before God; He wants an explanation. God basically lectures Job and asks, Why do you ask? How dare you? Did you put this whole creation together? Remember your place. Sometimes closed doors don’t make any sense to us at all, and we live with a mystery.

The question is however, when you face a closed door, what do you do? How do you persist in seasons like this? Some people throw a tantrum and turn away from God. They close the door on God! You hear them say things: I used to believe in God, but I know better now. Others pray for wisdom, insight, and faith to keep trusting. They pray to be okay without knowing what the next week or month or year holds. They decide to trust Him step by step. Still others simply respond in trust, perhaps from maturity, and say, No matter what happens, Christ is for me. He is with me. He will see me through it, and that’s good enough for me! Which one of these responses best describes you?

I would encourage you, if you are going through a closed-door experience, to rest in this thought: God understands your frustrations. He knows about closed doors from personal experience. Remember God’s Word in the book of Revelation, “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” He is outside waiting to be let in. Oftentimes the holy Scripture reminds us of people who, in their stubbornness, won’t let Him in. How we, as simple humans, can leave Him standing outside – our closed door. The whole story of the Bible is basically about that, isn’t it?

Surely Jesus knows how you feel. Hebrews 4:15, says we have a great high priest who understands our weaknesses and sympathies. He has gone through them. He faced many closed doors in His ministry as well as God’s closed door. Let me explain.

Today’s passage is a closed-door story from Jesus’ life. The cross loomed ahead. It was Thursday night. Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to spend time in prayer with His heavenly Father. He asks His Father, “Father, take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet not my will, but yours be done.” But God didn’t say yes to that prayer, and we thank God for it! That closed door is our Gospel, our Good News of rescue. Jesus took on that closed door so we could have an open door to a relationship with our Father. The One who died and rose again is resurrected. He is with you and tells you, I am with you always as you face all kinds of doors.

One last thing to consider – the big picture. In the end, the door opens to all who trust Jesus. He said, “I am the door.” And heaven awaits. The apostle John said that he caught a glimpse through an open door of heaven in Revelation 4. Paul describes his sufferings to early Christians in this way: “This slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure because we look not at what can be
seen, but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary but what cannot be seen is eternal” (II Cor. 4:17-18).

What about our questions? Scripture says, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (I Cor. 13:12).

I believe that, on the other side of that door, we will be grateful for God’s closed doors, just as we are grateful for His open doors in the here and now. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer