"It's obvious that God wants me in this business, and I'm going to put everything I have into it. After all, it's growing, so God is blessing it."
"I know we're going to move away from our friends and faith community, but I'm certain it's God's will, since he opened the door on such a good deal on a house and property in the country."
These are quotes from people who have explained to me why they were doing something that I thought was detrimental to their spiritual welfare. "The door is open, so it must be God's will that I walk through it."
It's a common way of thinking. But is it a good one? Is every open door a "God door"?
If an open door by itself were a reliable indicator of God's leading, we would have to explain the many "open doors" leading to great temptation and moral compromise. Many have walked through open doors into embezzlement, illicit affairs, and much more. These things certainly are not of God.
But what about more innocent things? Some folks use this reasoning to rationalize what they have already decided to do. But not all. Some are sincerely seeking God's leading. And it's not necessarily wrong to want a business to succeed, or to have a home in the country. It may be wrong if it's done out of selfish motivations, but it isn't always. Nor is it wrong to have a deep longing to serve God.
I have been involved for more than three years with an Asian refugee population where we live. It has been, for the most part, a pleasure. But I have also noticed a spiritual emptiness among many of the people, and have prayed much for God to work among them, to pour out his Spirit on them and bring new life. And I have told God I am willing to be an instrument of that happening, if that is his choice.
Recently, I was approached by the pastor of a church where a number of these folks had settled. Would I come there and work among the refugees, helping to build a ministry and community there for them? "We're delighted they're with us, but we have no idea what to do with them."
My first response was negative. No way. Not at that church. I've tasted that flavor, and didn't like it. Find someone else.
But though I didn't like the idea, I had to consider whether was this God, opening a door to using me to fulfill his purpose for these people? It seemed like a possibility.
I prayed. I asked God for wisdom and discernment. I asked others to pray. And I went to some friends in the refugee community, told them what was being asked of me, and sought their opinion: Should I go or not?
Unanimously, they said to go. They all said they would be happy for me to join them at the church.
So I told the pastor I would, as he requested, visit and see "if God speaks" to me. One time.
I went, with my wife and three Asian friends. None of us liked it. In fact, five of us went, and five of us did not want to return. No neutrality.
So now what? What was God saying? The door was open, but was it God who opened it?
I decided that it was unfair for decide something important based on one exposure. So we went again. And I met with the "ministry staff." And the women's missionary group was told about me. All positive. All excited that I was joining them.
Now, despite my initial response, and my continuing apprehension, I was starting to get a little interested. Maybe this really was God at work. After all, I didn't have to look far to see examples of God moving his people into places of discomfort and difficulty.
So we attended several times a week for perhaps six weeks. Watching. Listening. Praying.
I began to see things that would be problems. Beliefs I didn't agree with. Demands that I teach this or that material.
So now, here I am. Am I hearing God? Perhaps. But what is he saying? Is he saying "This is the place where I want you"? Or is he saying to go elsewhere?
An open door. It certainly seemed like it was open, and still does. But is it God's open door? Or is it a distraction?
It's an important principle: Just because a door is open doesn't mean God opened it. It might be exactly the opposite.
How do we know?
Pray. Pray some more. Ask others to pray, as well. Go slowly. "Follow your peace."
And don't be afraid to say you missed God or misunderstood what he might be saying. Nobody infallibly hears God. Not me. Not you.
And so I wait and I pray. I look at open doors. And I ask God to close the ones that he didn't open.
Incidentally, the businessman from the quote above has totally walked away from God, and is now consumed with his business. The person moving to the country has been there over two years and has found no spiritual home.