Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Knowing God's Will: Open and Closed Doors

Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised—look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water.

Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew. 
Judges 6:36-40

Who among us hasn't been like Gideon? Who hasn't asked God to work through a Magic 8 Ball we had lying next to our bed or asked Him to send a total stranger to tell us what to do or, my personal favorite, who hasn't blindly opened their Bible and stabbed at a verse to see if it would reveal God's will for their situation? How has that worked out for you? If you are like me, it hasn't worked too well. There may have been times when God showed us extra grace by stooping to our level and playing our childish game; but all in all these aren't what I would call tried and true methods for discerning God's will.

Ironically enough, when we do these things we really aren't behaving that differently from Gideon or from the people of Israel in the Old Testament. This may sound crazy but the Israelites actually had a special set of dice that they called lots. They sometimes cast these lots (or threw the dice) to discern God's will in specific situations. (See the further reading at the end of this post for Scripture references.) So why don't we throw dice in the church anymore? And why don't the methods I mentioned above work better? It is interesting to note that the Bible does not record anyone "fleecing" (asking for signs like Gideon did) or "casting lots" after the day of Pentecost. (That's the day that Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to all of His followers.) It would seem that once God's people had the Holy Spirit living inside of them these other methods of discerning God's will became outdated and obsolete. But sometimes we just need some direction from the Lord that is more concrete. 

Thankfully our God is good and does sometimes use real world, concrete signs to help reveal His will to His children. Over the next few weeks, we are going to look at some of these ways that God helps us. This week we consider open and closed doors, but first a disclaimer. Generally speaking, none of these signs in and of itself definitively reveals God's will for your life with 100% certainty. When several signs point in the same direction, you can gain a sense of God's probable leading. But only when these signs are taken together with much prayer and listening for God's voice, can they really give a believer strong confidence in what God is leading them to do. All of that to say, these are not the end all in knowing God's will for your life. They are helpful, but they should always be considered carefully and with much prayer.

Open and Closed Doors:
The rationale here is that God will make it possible for you to do His will and perhaps even impossible to avoid it. There are times when God legitimately uses this method of revealing/confirming His will to His children. However, I think out of all of the ways that God helps us, this one is the easiest to misread. Sometimes an open door is just an open door. Sometimes God is testing to you to see if you will have the faith to walk away from an opportunity. And although He does sometime stop us from form doing things (see Acts 16:6-10), nowhere in the Bible does it say that God will always prevent you from missing His will. So you need to be careful when weighing open or closed doors as signs of God's will for your life. 

Here are some helpful hints for using this method of discernment. First, an open door is most convincing when you sense God is calling you to do something that is legitimately out of your grasp. Although you sense it His will for you to do it, you are incapable of obeying because some obstacle or closed door prevents you from it. If after you surrender to His leading the closed door suddenly opens, then you may be correctly understanding what He is calling you to do. For example, say that you sense God is calling you to attend a certain college but the college has already rejected your application and didn't even put you on the wait-list. Yet, you can't shake the feeling that God wants you there, so you surrender to attending that college if He will make it possible. Maybe you even take a step of faith and contact the admissions department and ask them to reconsider your application. If within a few weeks you are accepted to that school, then it would certainly seem to be a confirmation that you are on the right track.

I am less convinced when you are looking at a number of options and one door opens before the others. For example, say that you have applied to three colleges and you ask God to reveal His will. One of the three colleges calls you and tells you that you have been accepted. They even offer you a scholarship. This very well may mean that it is God's will for you to go to this school, but it is just as likely that it means the college had a lower number of applicants this year and they are trying to scoop you up before the other colleges take you. Thus, an open door can be a powerful tool that God uses to either reveal or confirm His will for you. But in order to know for sure if this open door is in fact God showing you His will or if it is merely circumstantial, you must turn to prayer. 

Closed doors can be a little harder to read. But certainly anytime you believe you are taking steps of faith toward what God has for you and a door gets shut in your face, it is a good time to reconsider what you think God is telling you. It may be that you are headed in the wrong direction or it may be that God is teaching you perseverance. Again prayer and listening for His guidance will clarify the matter.

For further reading this week...

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