Over the course of the past few weeks, I have been corresponding with one of my great friends via email about prayer. Late last week in one of the emails, I felt compelled to recommend the movie, Facing the Giants. Although a favorite of mine since my husband and I first popped it into the DVD player several years ago, I hadn’t thought much about it or even watched it recently. Its a powerful, engaging movie that has many lessons to learn from. While I recommended it to my friend because of the lesson of the power of prayer, the idea that stuck with me after I watched it again Saturday evening was the idea of open and shut doors.
There is a gripping scene partway through the film where Mr. Bridges, a man who has been coming in and praying for each student as he passes their locker for several years bursts into Coach Taylor’s office. Taylor is surprised by him and Mr. Bridges goes on to say the following:
Revelation Chapter 3 says: We serve a God that opens doors that no one can shut, and he shuts doors that no one can open. He says: Behold, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and not denied my name.
Coach Taylor, the Lord is not through with you yet. You still have an open door here, and until the Lord moves you, you’re to bloom right where you’re planted…
Coach Taylor catches up to Mr. Bridges and admits he is struggling. By this point in the movie we learn that Grant Taylor is knee-deep in problems – his team is struggling, his job is at risk, his car is on its last legs, and he and his wife are having fertility issues. Life is tough for this man.
We all know the saying, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” There are many variations of this familiar phrase. A simple search of the internet will boggle the mind on the number of ways this phrase is manipulated. For example, when the going gets tough…the tough get duct tape, or the tough go shopping. Perhaps when the going gets tough, the tough go golfing. Despite these amazing examples, I’ve come to wonder if those of us familiar with God closing and opening doors don’t need another slogan. Perhaps this one:When the going gets rough, people take that as a sign that the door is closed.
I believe God does close and open doors. We see God do it in scripture. But I wonder if we take this “God closed the door” route too quickly. I wonder if we’ve become so influenced by our cultures need for comfort and security that we’ve taken this idea of God closing a door and we use it as an excuse to get out of situations that are hard. I can think of many times in my past where I or my family was faced with challenges and difficulties. Each time we had to wonder, “is God closing this door?” I’ll be honest that there have been times that I believe we have given up on things that God probably would have wanted us to pursue.
If the door is open, why do so many of us fail to go through it? A chapter in Hans Sach’s book, Masks of Love and Life is intriguingly entitled “Locked in a Room With Open Doors.” In the chapter, Sachs describes a family with two brothers. The younger brother had a dread of open doors. The older brother became impatient, as older brothers will be, and, wanting to break him of this habit, he threatened: ‘One day I will lock you up in a room with all the doors open.’” So many of us are like that. We are afraid of the unknown, the difficult, or the impossible. We like to be safe and comfortable.
Many of us are pretty much like Bilbo Baggins at the beginning of the Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Bilbo was rather contented in his home with his little rituals of breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner and the evening by the fire. He was quite happy until someone came to visit him and appeal to him for his help. Aid in this case would require a rather long journey. At one point, Bilbo thinks to himself that it would have been better had he not opened the door to this stranger. If he didn’t know, then he wouldn’t have to act, and he could stay in his home in contentment. But he does know and he can’t stay. With a sigh, he shuts the door to his house, and starts off down a path that will lead him on a life changing adventure.
At first, Bilbo was afraid to step out into the unknown, through that open door because he knew that he would be changed forever if he did so. Fear of the unknown of course is not the stuff of fiction. We, by our very nature as humans are fearful of what lies beyond the threshold of the open door. Look at medieval maps of the world never yet explored, and you will see images of frightful dragons. It was only when explorers finally pressed out beyond the known boundaries, that they discovered there were no dragons. They discovered something else instead: exotic new lands. Their whole world was changed. You cannot sail the high seas if you are unwilling to leave the safety of the shore. Does “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what a ship is built for” come to mind? You cannot have the fruit of God in your life unless you get out on a limb where the fruit is. You cannot discover new lands unless you risk the dragons and venture out into that fearful unknown. “He is not worthy of the honeycomb,” said Shakespeare, “who shuns the hive because the bees have stings.” Fear of the unknown can lock us into a room of open doors.
Another lock on that door is the fear of the impossible. It’s an interesting word, impossible; one that we brandish a bit too hastily and revere a bit too quickly. After all, what was impossible a hundred years ago, or even ten years ago, is no longer impossible today. In fact, as one person put it, we live in a day when those who are saying “it can’t be done,” are often interrupted by those who are doing it. “I have learned,” said scientist Wernher von Braun, “to use the word impossible with the greatest caution.” If there’s any agency in the world that should use caution with that word, it is the household of God, for as the angel said to Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God.” Yet how often we who worship this God of the impossible, live as if it were only our own limited capabilities we trusted? How often we who serve this God of the impossible respond to challenges and opportunities as if our own resources were all we had to work with?
Here, for instance, are the children of Israel camping at an Oasis called Kadesh just south of the land that God has promised to give them. Twelve scouts, one from each 3 of the tribes, are sent ahead to scope it out and report back. After forty days, the twelve return with a unanimously glowing report about what they’ve seen. “Truly it is a land flowing with milk and honey.” All twelve scouts agree on that. But from here their consensus disintegrates! Two of the scouts, Joshua and Caleb, are full of confidence that because it is God calling, God will give them the land. The other ten offer a quite different perspective: “Sure it’s the land of dreams,” they say, “but the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified up to heaven; and on top of that, we saw there are giants in the land. We are like grasshoppers in comparison!”
Twelve people all see the same landscape but draw utterly different conclusions about what they see. Do you see the crucial difference? Ten measure the challenge in the light of their own grasshopper self image and say, “We can’t because the challenges are bigger are to great.” Two measure the challenge in the light of God’s limitless power and say, “We can because God is with us.”
I truly believe that Gov. Palin has spent her life measuring challenges in the light of God’s limitless power instead of her own self image. She mentions in her book, America By Heart that listening to anyone other than God actually limits our abilities to make a difference and change the world in which we live. Gov. Palin discusses that Dr. Charles Stanley taught her an important truth, ‘If something is presented to you as “you must decide right now or the opportunity ends,’ take that as a sign that your answer should be no. An opportunity tied to a rushed or ironclad ultimatum is rarely from God.”
Governor Palin has definitely walked through some open doors in her life and career. With God’s good guidance she was able to run for office. She had the opportunity to serve our nation as a mayor, a commissioner, a governor, and a vice presidential candidate. For the past few years, a lot of us had thought God had an open door for her to run for President of the United States. In fact, three years ago this month, Governor Palin said that if there was an open door to run for President she would.
“If there is an open door in 12 or four years later, and if it’s something that is going to be good for my family, for my state, for my nation, then I’ll plough through that door,” she told Fox News on Monday night. “Show me where the open door is. Even if it’s cracked up a little bit, maybe I’ll plough right on through that and maybe prematurely plough through it, but don’t let me miss an open door.”
It seems, however, God has closed that door. None of us wanted to see that door shut. Should we just assume that the door to the White House for Gov. Palinis truly closed? At what point to do we conclude that we should walk away from the closed door?
One point is indisputable. Scripture abounds with examples of those who found open doors at points when many would have concluded they were bolted shut. As we read through the Bible, we find numerous instances where individuals reached important horizons late in life, or after repeated tries, or in spite of extreme obstacles. Joseph realizes his dream of leadership after years of servitude and imprisonment. Moses becomes a champion of his people forty years after his first passionate attempt utterly fails. David becomes king of Israel in spite of severe ridicule from his brothers, apathy from his father, and numerous battles with Saul’s forces. Hannah gives birth to many children long after her husband has accepted her barrenness and encouraged her to do the same. Zechariah and Elizabeth are blessed with a child in their old age, and the angel declares that this gift is in response to their longstanding prayer.
It’s examples like these that led author Garry Friesen to claim that the Bible doesn’t recognize the concept of permanently closed doors. In his Decision Making and the Will of God, Friesen notes, “Interestingly, though Christians today speak of doors that are “closed,” Scripture does not. The need for open doors certainly implies the existence of some that are closed. But that doesn’t seem to be the mentality of Paul. If he were sovereignly prevented from pursuing a plan, and yet the plan itself was sound, he simply waited and tried again later. He did not view a blocked endeavor as a “closed door” sign from God that his plan was faulty.”
Paul and Silas had already experienced some open doors. There had been open doors on the first missionary journey as church after church was planted. There had been open doors on this second missionary journey. It was open when Paul and Silas receive the support of their home church(Acts 15:40), when they were able to strengthen churches already established(15:41), and when they recruited Timothy(16:1-3). But now there is a closed door. The closed door is the door to Asia. Paul and Silas had been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. It’s hard to read this passage and not conclude that some doors were firmly shut against Paul They made two valiant attempts to enter regions for ministry that didn’t open to them. And they accepted without question that these doors were closed (Acts 16:8).They had plans to start churches in this area, but the Holy Spirit said, “Not now.”
The point is that today’s closed door might be open tomorrow. God sometimes closes a door only temporarily. The lesson to be learned is that specific opportunities may close to us, and the time may come when we must accept that such doors are unquestionably shut. But we should also realize that the door is not permanently shut against our broader, long-term aspirations that are based on our God-given gifts. There eventually was an open door in this area. Indeed, there would be seven open doors in this area. How do I know that? Because the book of Revelation is addressed to seven churches that were eventually planted in this area.
I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. (Revelation 3:8)
While Paul was waiting for the door to open, he wasn’t just sitting on his hands waiting for God to show him what to do. He had a plan of action. Paul was action oriented but sensitive to and obedient to the leading of the Spirit. We all need to do that when presented with a shut door. We need to be working and making plans ever sensitive to the leading of the Spirit and willing to submit to the leading when and if the door opens.
This brings me back to the dialog between Coach Taylor and Mr. Bridges in Facing the Giants. After Coach Taylor admits he is having a tough go of it, Mr. Bridges shares the story of two farmers. He says, “I heard a story about two farmers who desperately needed rain. And both of them prayed for rain, but only one of them went out and prepared his field to receive it. “
And I feel that is exactly what Governor Palin is doing. She is preparing the fields. While the door to the White House appears to be shut at this specific time, she is busy doing what she feels God is calling her to do. She isn’t content to just sit by in Wasilla and watch the world pass by. She is speaking out against every force that wants to keep America from returning to her roots. She is not sitting on the sidelines as some venture to say.
We know that the door isn’t shut because she fears to walk through it. In fact, Gov. Palin has walked through doors others would never venture through. She walked through the door of resigning the governorship of Alaksa because she felt it was what she was being called to do. She saw that door as an opportunity to “fight for Alaska, and America, more effectively in a different venue-then my state would have suffered from the obstruction and paralysis of my office by the politically motivated attacks.” She walked through a door a majority of Americans who find they are expecting a child with Down Syndrome never do. She stepped over that threshold into being Trig’s mother and what she considers “the most positive and life-changing thing ever to happen for us.” Gov. Palin also knows that nothing is impossible with God. Like we all do, I suspect Gov. Palin is watching to see if that door stays shut or if it just might swing wide open.
Note: All quotes from Gov. Palin come from “America By Heart” unless otherwise noted.