Monday, July 09, 2007

Discerning the personal will of God (Part 3)

Some of you may think I had forgotten about this series I started some time ago (As a matter of fact, I did forget for a short while!). Today, I want to finally conclude this reflection on discerning God’s personal will for our lives.
When it comes to seeking guidance from God as to His will for my life, personally, I have learned to take comfort and find security in the fact that I am where I am right now by God’s providence—that is, according to His sovereign purpose and will.

I’ve related some of my life story and testimony before. One of the reasons I consider myself “a debtor to mercy” is because my life doesn’t fit the statistics. I’m Black (or, if you prefer, African-American), born in the early 60s to an unwed teenager mother. With such a beginning, statistics would indicate that the likelihood of my growing up to finish college and graduate school, get and stay married to one woman for 17 years (and counting), and be a father to two (apparently) well-adjusted boys, is slim. That is, according to the statistics. But statistics don’t factor in God! “By the grace of God I am what I am.”

What is true of me is true of everyone: All of us are where we are in life on purpose—according to God’s sovereign will and purpose. That should be a comfort to believers, because it means we are not at the mercy of sinful men and women or chance. On the other hand, the knowledge of God’s providence should produce fear in unbelievers, because they are in the hands of One who is “a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24; Isaiah 33:14 and Hebrews 12:29), who is able to “destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

Either way, we’re in God’s hands, in God’s appointed place at His appointed time.

In my previous post on this topic of seeking guidance from God or discerning His will for our lives, I also mentioned that God has already revealed Himself through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and He has given His people a word of revelation: the Scriptures, which are the word of God. If we want to know God, we must know Jesus. We must be “born again”. If we want to know God’s will, we must read the Bible. Everything you or I need to know, as far as God’s will is concerned, is written for us in the Book.
There is one other thing that comes to mind, however. It is the matter of open and closed “doors”. Sometimes, God guides us by opening up opportunities before us or by closing the door in our face, effectively blocking our path.

We see this concept of the “open door” spoken of, most often, in connection with the ministry of the apostle Paul:

“And when they [Paul and Barnabas] arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles”(Acts 14:27).

“But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me…” (1 Corinthians 16:8-9a).

“When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there” (2 Corinthians 2:12-13a).

“At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:3-4).

The open door was God’s indication to Paul and the other believers that the opportunity that lay beyond that “door” was God’s will for Paul. Similarly, sometimes God opens doors or opportunities before us as an indication that “this is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21). Please note, however, that these open doors or opportunities must be in harmony with God’s written word. Judge all things by Scripture. It is never God’s will for us to pursue opportunities to sin.

If God opens doors of opportunity to do His will, it follows that He can also close doors, as an indication that “this is not the way, don’t go there.” Acts 16:6-7 contains perfect examples of what I mean:

“And they [Paul, Silas and Timothy] went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.”

How did the Holy Spirit make His disapproval known to Paul and his companions? I don’t know! The Scriptures do not say. But, one way or another, Luke was able to write that the Holy Spirit “did not allow them” to go the way they had planned. In some way, God had blocked their path and closed the door.

Are some of your plans being frustrated? Have you been rejected again and again for some opportunity you’ve sought? Perhaps, God has closed the door. Maybe you’ve “been forbidden by the Holy Spirit” to go that route. This is not an absolute certainty, but this is a possibility that you should consider as you pray and seek God for direction. Sometimes our disappointments are just God closing the door, blocking the path, telling us to go another way.

It seems to me that the best way to discern God’s open and closed doors is in hindsight. Prior to my accepting the public school teaching job I was recently offered, I had applied to and was passed over by seven other high school districts. I was disappointed, to say the least, and keenly felt the rejection. But, lo and behold, after all those disappointments, God created a job opening I never expected. I applied to fill that vacancy and, soon, was called in for an interview. I was interviewed and offered the job the very next day! In hindsight, I see that God had closed the doors on those other school districts because. He had another opportunity in mind. When the time was right, God opened the door to the opportunity I was eventually offered.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

One way God makes our paths “straight” is by opening and closing doors. Sometimes our frustrations and disappointments are but God’s way of directing us into His will for our lives. But, child of God, wherever you’re at in your journey, know that you are in God’s hands.

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