One of our neighbors, for a retirement gift, gave us a beautiful wrought-iron hanging flower basket along with a plaque that reads: “WHEN GOD CLOSES ONE DOOR–HE WILL OPEN ANOTHER.” As we leave the full-time pastorate of a little rural community Bible church where we have been since its beginning some 37 years ago, we look forward to the doors of ministry God will open for us in the days ahead.
We recently got an email from Tom Lough, a college friend with whom I roomed for a year in the basement of the home of a family from Grace Baptist Church where we both attended. We sang in a quartet that ministered in some of the little churches around Bozeman and also participated in intramural sports together. We had become good friends and Tom supported in our work with Rocky Mountain Bible Mission and then supported Three Lakes Bible Church where I pastored. It had been more than 40 years since we’d seen one another. Tom invited us to meet him in Kalispell (where he lived growing up) for lunch a couple weeks ago. It was a great blessing to see him again and to reminisce about our time in college and in our youth group (COLLYP–for College Youth Group), and to catch up on what has been happening in our lives–our joys and our sorrows– and what God is currently doing. We were both wondering, of course, whether or not we’d recognize each other. It seems something happens to our bodies over 40 years of time!
Tom gave us a little autobiographical summary of his life which he had written up. It was in terms of all the open and shut doors in his life to this point and how God has directed his steps. He began by quoting his favorite Bible passage, Proverbs 3:5,6 where Solomon wrote: “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 direct your paths.” Tom said, “Growing up in a Christian family, these two verses were very familiar to me; however, the significance of them in my life was only realized many years later when, in retrospect, I was able to observe the doors that God had opened and closed for me along my pathway of life.” Interestingly, I had chosen a very similar passage for a power-point presentation at the retirement celebration at our church. My verse is: “The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps” (Pr. 16:9). As we visited with Tom, it became very apparent that we could both look back from this point in our lives and see how the hand of God has led us through closing some doors and opening others, in His sovereign plan for our lives. We were both engineering students in college, he in Electrical and I in Industrial, and both started out our careers in engineering. While working in engineering for Hyster in Portland, Oregon, I did lay work for Campus Crusade for Christ and ended up leaving Hyster to become a missionary with Rocky Mountain Bible Mission in Montana, which led into pastoring Three Lakes Bible Church. Tom worked in Butte, Montana for Montana Power Company and did lay work for 25 years for Young Life.
Sometimes when God closes a door in our life it can be confusing, disconcerting, and we could even choose to doubt God’s love at the moment, but as someone put so well, “When you can’t see His hands, trust His heart.” God leads through closing doors as well as opening others. I think of an experience which the Apostle Paul had on his second missionary journey. He wanted to go and visit the churches that he and Barnabas had helped establish on their first journey. After a heated discussion with Barnabas over taking Mark with them again, Paul and Barnabas split up. Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus (Acts 15:36-39) and Paul chose Silas as his traveling partner (v. 40). They traveled “through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches” (v. 41). Then we have a very interesting passage in the account of his journey. We read in Acts 16:6-10: “And they passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and when they had come to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas (across the Aegean Sea from Greece). And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ And when he had seen the vision, immediately we (Luke, the writer of Acts probably joined the team here) sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. “
Notice how God closed one door and opened another for Paul and his missionary team. Because of the closed door in parts of Asia, the Gospel spread to Macedonia and Greece in Europe. It’s interesting to note in the passage in Acts 16 that though it was a man of Macedonia that appeared in Paul’s vision, asking him to come over and help them, it was Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabric, who was the first convert to Christ in Europe (vv. 13-15). Then we have the story of how Paul prayed for a slave girl whose spirit of divination brought profit to her masters by fortune telling. Because she was delivered from the demon who enabled her to tell fortunes, her masters saw their money-making scheme was gone and “they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, ‘These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans'” (Acts 16:19-21). As a result, Paul and Silas were beaten with rods and thrown into prison and placed in stocks (vv. 22-24). “But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately ALL THE DOORS WERE OPENED, and everyone’s chains were unfastened” (VV. 25,26). (Talk about God closing and opening doors!!) The jailer was aroused from his sleep and when he saw that the prison doors were open, he was going to kill himself “but Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Do yourself no harm, for we are all here!’ And he called for lights and rushed in and, trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household'” (vv. 28-31). And thus, because God closed the door to further missionary work in Asia, we see the church now being established in Europe. Praise the Lord for closed doors as well as opened ones. Remember, “WHEN GOD CLOSES ONE DOOR HE OPENS ANOTHER!” And, He will give you the grace and strength to handle both as you trust Him with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding (Pr. 3:5,6).