Of Shut and Open Doors

“(Paul, Silas & Timothy) passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia;  and after they came 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.  A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying,  “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. So putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis; and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a [Roman] colony.” (Acts 16:6-12)

I always wondered how God shut the pathway from Asia Minor to Macedonia. Here were Paul, Silas and new traveling companion Timothy, intent on sharing the gospel message with Jews and Gentiles in the cities of the Roman Empire with good hearts and good motives. But God had somehow blocked the entrance to Europe. It was verboten — forbidden. I’m sure there wasn’t an angel with a flaming sword but how did God shut the door? The Greek word here for “forbidden” is kolyo, which means “kept from, hindered, stopped, restrained.” It is an active word, meaning they were literally being opposed by God. Good motives and all. Why? I don’t know. Because, according to the text, Paul has a dream one night and inside it a man beckons him to come to Macedonia. So the missionary band grabs their suitcases and boards the next boat for Macedonia — with success.

Like I wrote before, this story leaves me wondering. It says in Acts 16 that they were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak in Asia” and “the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them” to travel across the Aegean Sea. I can only imagine that the crew tried to board a ship and engine trouble kept it from leaving the dock. Or their flight got canceled. Or maybe Paul twisted an ankle on an imaginary rock and couldn’t walk for a few days. The possibilities are endless. What really happened is a mystery. For some reason, God was not ready (or perhaps, someone’s heart was not ready) in Macedonia. In Paul’s ambition he had jumped ahead of God’s plan and was testing the divine timing. When God opened the door to Macedonia, He let Paul know in a definitive way. I dream just about every night but never have I had someone say, “Come to such-and-such a place and help me!” If I have, I don’t remember it! Maybe that has happened to you.

Open and shut doors are a touchy subject for most people. We want to think that when we have a passion for something — or someone — we have God’s blessing to just “go for it.” Many times this is true and the fruit of our efforts proves it. But at other times He is working on a different plan, and He wants you to step back and wait for Him to open the door. Only He can see all things in play in a particular situation. Only He can see hearts. In Macedonia, God was at work ahead of Paul’s team preparing the harvest. But the timing wasn’t right for them to join the harvest field. The crops weren’t ready. So God shut the door to the wonderfully-ambitious mission team. It wasn’t rejection by the Holy Spirit. He just delayed the team until the time was right.

A closed door doesn’t mean you’re not doing the right thing. Or that you don’t have the right heart. I’m sure God loves it! In Paul’s case, God had blessed his zeal for the gospel everywhere the apostle and his team had gone before. God just has all things in mind, so to speak, and a closed door may not stay closed forever. Keep looking at it. If it opens, I hope you find out like Paul and board that boat to Macedonia. But PLEASE don’t look at a closed door in your life as a rejection by God of your heart or faith. He loves a heart that seeks Him. Just see it as a divine timing issue and wait on the Lord. To be honest, that door may never open. But God is not cruel and unkind. Instead there may be an open door just to your right. If you turn your head, you’ll see it. If you keep staring at the closed door, you may miss a golden opportunity and end up in a ball of frustration.

Don’t end up in a ball of frustration.