At Gateway Church in Austin, we started our series called “Bad Lip Reading”
When times get tough for people around us, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out what to say. We often resort to trite sayings like “God never closes a door without opening a window,” hoping to offer comfort and a sense of direction in times of uncertainty or disappointment. But since sayings like these are often misattributed to God and His Word, is the saying even true? When God does seem to close a door, how can we make sure that He’s the one guiding us to our alternate destination?
These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.
Video of the Message John shared (16:40 minute mark):
Here are notes from the message written by Jon Burke:
Today we’re starting a new series called Bad Lip Reading because there are lots of things people think the Bible says or Jesus said but they’re putting words into God’s mouth. There are many things people often think are from the Bible but are not, for instance, “God never closes a door without opening a window”. It’s a commonly quoted idea that we’re going to focus on today.
“God never closes a door without opening a window”, is often said when it a door has closed to something you desire, and you’re really bummed out, and some well-meaning Christian is trying to encourage you that God’s going to get you there another way—he’ll open a window to go through even if the door closed. But is this true, how does God guide. If we don’t understand, we can resort to superstitious kinds of ways to seek guidance that can be dangerous.
Like the guy who wanted guidance from God, so he took his bible and prayed, God show me what to do…flipped through the pages, landed his finger on a verse, and read “Judas hanged himself.” He thought “that’s not helpful”, so he tried again and read “Go and do likewise” – So flipping for direction is dangerous—but how does God guide? That’s what we’re talking about today.
I’m gonna share with you what I’ve learned over 28 years of studying the Bible, seeking to follow God’s guidance, and watching Him lead and direct me & Kathy in ways that I look back now and just marvel—it’s truly direct evidence to me that God is guiding me, directing my ways, just because of the things He’s led me to do that I would never have imagined I could do or would do. But I’ve loved it—it’s been the Adventure of a Lifetime that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Yet it’s mysterious how God leads.
Decision-making in God’s Will
These are the principles of scripture and steps Kathy and I have followed over the years on Decision-making in God’s will. It can be summarized PRAY, MOVE, TRUST
PRAY Persistently for God’s Will – God promises to guide us in many places in Scripture, a favorite is Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6 God promises to guide your paths, but notice, as you trust Him fully and submit your ways to Him. Jesus disciples asked him, “How should we pray” and one of the big ideas was “Our Father… “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10 God’s will is perfectly done in Heaven, but how is God’s will brought to earth? Through the hearts of willing people—which is also why earth is so screwed up—how willing are most people to seek God’s will above my will. But God gives us freedom.
So when you want God’s guidance, the first thing you need to do is search your own level of Willingness to be Guided—to do God’s will. For instance, let’s say you want God to guide you to the perfect job, find the perfect spouse, but you don’t want to do what He says in Scripture is His will ethically at work or morally in your dating – you’re selectively willing. I want God’s will where it serves my will, but I don’t want God’s will if it conflicts with my will. See the problem—you’re not really willing for God to guide—you’re selectively willing to have God guide you. But the proverb says “in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6 So the first thing I do when seeking God’s guidance is search my own heart. I pray David’s prayer in Psalm 139 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24 You start praying that way “God am I willing to do Your will above my will? If not, show me where I’m resisting Your guidance and I’ll turn back.” That’s the kind of heart God loves, that frees God up to guide us in more specific, unclear ways, when we are willing in the more general, very clear ways.
As I pray this searching prayer, I’m also asking—it’s not wrong to ask God for things, He’s a good Father, who wants to give good gifts to His children, so Pray about what’s on your heart, in fact if your heart is aligned with the Lord, you can trust what’s in your heart more and more. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn…. Psalm 37:4-6 “Take Delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” I don’t think this means “he will give you that Lamborgini if you’re happy clappy enough.” I’ve come to believe 2 things about this—first Relationship is what God’s guidance is all about. Don’t miss this, because it’s so important. We care most about an end—the outcome of a decision—but He cares more about the Relational Journey together. When God is our first love, when we recognize God as the ultimate Source of all we love (which He is), and we delight in Him—when you commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him, first, he promises he will reward that, often on earth, definitely in Heaven; but secondly, he will give you the desires of your heart. Which I think means you can trust what’s in your heart because He’s putting that desire in your heart—Your heart is aligned with His, so your desires ARE His desires, so you can trust your own desires the more you pray. So first Pray Persistently—fully willing to align your heart with God’s—ask for the things you desire believing He’s good, then ultimately you have to…
MOVE Forward in Faith
I’ve seen God’s very clear guidance, looking back, but almost never is it super clear looking forward—which I hate. He doesn’t always answer my 3 desires like with Russia. And eventually, after praying long enough, weeks to months on big decisions, you have to Move forward in faith—trusting God is giving you the desires or reasons in your heart—and move forward toward it. As the saying goes “God can’t steer a parked car.” Paul, who was adept at God’s guidance said, “For we walk by faith, not by sight….Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:7-9
I always want God to lay out the whole plan and path—all the steps, where it will lead, no risk, great reward—and He NEVER accommodates me in that one. He tends to light up One step at a time—Move there, then another, move there—and I hate that. I have to trust. He gives me the next step, then another, then another. Why? Because He cares more about the Relationship than the Destination—he wants us to trust Him and love Him—that’s what faith is, trust. I have so many great memories with God, really, we’re great friends and I personally know God well—I know how kind, loving, good, mysterious, faithful, even Funny he is–from experience.
Hebrews 11 chronicles all these people who are God’s heroes because they walked by faith, “by faith Enoch, by faith Noah, by faith Abraham, by faith Rahab –and the summary 11:6 “Without faith it’s impossible to please God” Hebrews 11:6 So you pray, align your heart and will, then move forward in faith, trusting that what He’s put in your heart—though sometimes scary—He will do if you step out. He will guide Everyone willing to trust in faith.
TRUST God’s Redirect and Reward
In Acts 16 we see how Paul the Apostle, who wrote a good chunk of the New Testament, was guided and redirected by God’s Spirit. Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. Acts 16:6 So Paul and company Prays and then Moves forward in faith into Asia thinking that’s where God wants them to go, but the Holy Spirit closed the door into Asia—we’re not told how or why. So God closes a door, does He open a window—well, not to go to Asia, so they decide to head to Bithynia (modern day Turkey). When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. Acts 16:8 So again, a door closes, but no clear window opens—they just keep praying and moving forward in Faith with what seems good to them and the Spirit. But it must have been confusing—walking days and weeks then shut down. Then while in Troas…During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Acts 16:9 So when doors close, Paul keeps praying and moving forward in faith, a window doesn’t open—Paul didn’t get what he was thinking would happen, but Paul’s trusting God’s redirect. Sometimes we have to hold on loosely to where we think God’s guiding. He’s prayed, he’s aligned his heart and will, he moves forward and trusts that God loves him enough to redirect if he’s missing something—he holds Asia and Bithinia in open hands, and God does redirect. Strangely, they get to Philippi in Macedonia and it’s not a man they meet (like in the dream), but a woman, Lydia who comes to faith and starts the Philippian church in her house. So as we move forward in faith, hold the outcome in open hands, trust God’s redirect.
I’ve used this process over and over and seen God’s miraculous guidance over and over. I pray and align my heart, willing to do His will. I look at the desires He seems to be giving me, and I move forward in faith, but I always say “Okay Lord, it seems like this is what You’re leading me to do, that’s what seems right in my heart, but I also trust that if I’m missing it somehow, You love me enough to redirect me. And He does. When you hit closed doors, even if it doesn’t go as you thought it should, trust it’s going the way God thinks it should, and He will reward you and let Him redirect you. It’s the ride of a lifetime.
So what decisions are before you? Where do you need God’s Guidance? We all do. Will you start to PRAY Persistently for God’s Will, MOVE Forward in Faith, TRUST His Redirect and Reward. I can tell you from experience—you won’t be sorry. It may not always be easy, but it will be Good!–better than anything you could have holding tightly to your own plans.