We talk much about guidance and mistakes in the Christian walk. If one sure mistake exists, it’s to eat half a bag of dark chocolate peanut M&Ms after 10:30 PM. Even now, my pancreas begs for mercy.
But I get like that when I’m pondering tough questions. One’s mind drifts in the ether, trying to solve all of life’s questions, and the hand reaches into that bag again and again. Soon, half the bag’s gone, replaced with ruing buying the dumb, corn-syruped thing in the first place.
(Drop me a line at 4:00 AM and see if I’m still wired.)
The topic that started the binge concerns open and closed doors. Evangelicalism obsesses over the idea that God opens and closes doors as part of the way He guides us. If I’d invested a dollar for every time in the last thirty years I’ve heard a Christian pray that God would open a door, my manservant, Bill Gates, would be serving me Château d’Yquem nightly in my palatial Seychelles island estate.
I’m fascinated by the open/closed door metaphor that we Christians so easily conjure for guidance. When I ponder its origins, a couple verses come to mind:
“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: “This is the message from the one who is holy and true. He has the key that belonged to David, and when he opens a door, no one can close it, and when he closes it, no one can open it.
[Paul and Timothy] traveled through the region of Phrygia and Galatia because the Holy Spirit did not let them preach the message in the province of Asia. When they reached the border of Mysia, they tried to go into the province of Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.
I believe those two verses form the backbone of the open/closed door theology many Christians use today to justify guidance and the decisions they make.
What does the open/closed door theory of guidance look like? Well, a person has a decision to make, sets before the Lord the options, then pursues the option that “opens” or abandons the one that”closes,” perceiving the opening or closing of a “door” as the sanction or denial of a particular option.
Truthfully, I’ve struggled immensely attempting to understand that view of guidance. Yet so many Christians I know live and die by the open/closed door method of discerning God’s will.
- Is an “open” door truly God’s will? I could decide to park my car on a bridge, climb on top of the railing, then hurl myself off simply because that opportunity might be open. However, there’s no guarantee that God’s going to save me from my stupidity. Nor is hurling myself off a bridge God’s will. The Bible clearly does not support self-destruction, so it can never be God’s will to attempt to destroy one’s person. Satan tried that same temptation with the Lord, if we remember!
- Is a “closed” door truly closed? The door was obviously closed to the woman who pleaded with the judge to vindicate her against her enemy. She got nowhere with the judge. One day, though, under her persistent badgering, he relented, and she received what she desired. Should we use that verse to justify banging on closed doors?
- Is a “closed” door the result of God willfully closing it or from the interference of evil spiritual forces. (Likewise, could evil open a door?) Woo! Don’t ask too many of your Christian friends to deal with that one! Would a little extra prayer open the closed door? Remember, as Jesus noted, some closed doors that involve the demonic can only be resolved with prayer and fasting. They may eventually open.
It gets more complex than this, too.
Let’s look at two options:
- Door A offers a possibility that flies in the face of conventional Christian thinking. Many Christians would reject it, though they may do so based more on enculturation than explicit Scriptural admonition. For the person faced with this door, its opening would provide an immediate solution that, while not popular with some, would offer more immediate benefits.
- Door B offers a more traditional solution, but with more uncertainty and fewer immediate benefits, with the distinct possibility of fewer long-term benefits (or outright hardship). This door has the blessing of more Christians.
What, then, would one do if God “opens” Door A and not Door B? Walking through Door A might garner serious brickbats from fellow Christians. But didn’t God “open the door?”
On the other hand, if Door A is rejected in hopes that Door B opens, what happens if Door B stays “closed?” Are Church people willing to come to the aid of the person who rejects A on principle only to have B fail to open? My own experience in this scenario doesn’t give me much comfort that the Church will pick up the slack should someone take the tough stand and resist open Door A, only to later find Door B wedged shut. It also raises the troubling question that God doesn’t seem to know what He’s doing because He didn’t open the more popular “Christian” option.
I’ve had more than a few people tell me I’m one of the smartest people they’ve ever met. But being (supposedly) smart doesn’t resolve this open/closed door dilemma, at least for me. I know that when I face open/closed doors, particularly when the situation is pressing, I can rarely figure out what to do. As I get older, I find that indecisiveness growing rather than lessening. So much for the wisdom of the aged!
The problem of the open/closed door doesn’t always resolve through reading Scripture either. Some situations become one of “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” and one can pile up Scriptures on either side to the point of utter confusion.
Some claim they make decisions by sensing more peace in one option than the other, yet I’ve seen the “peaceful” door turn out to have tigers lurking behind it. So I’m not sure the peace angle works.
I tend toward the countercultural angle, as I find that the wisdom of the culture reflects as no wisdom at all. Certainly not God’s wisdom. That means I often choose the door that runs counter to prevailing wisdom. I’m finding that, more often than not, my feet wind up on the narrow road, unpopular though it may be, even with other Church people.
Some may say that whatever path one winds up on reflects God’s will, but that doesn’t sit well with me, especially when following that supposedly God-directed path generates catcalls from other Christians, often the very ones who most support God’s sovereignty in all things. What, they’re suddenly not happy with God’s leading because it looks unconventional?
So I don’t know about the open/closed door means of discernment. It poses too many traps, too many Gideon-like fleeces, little of it reflecting true faithfulness. While God may very well lead that way, it may be the exception rather than the rule.
44 thoughts on “Guidance the Monty Hall Way”
I think you are right to point out that the doors model of guidance fails to distinguish between opportunity and temptation.
But at the same time, I think it does provide a useful model, but one which should only be applied AFTER questions about Biblical obedience, passions, advice from wise Christians, and so on.
If, for example, I had a desire to serve God in the Far East (but not a specific country), which church and friends all supported, and there was an opportunity in Cambodia but not in Laos, then that might well be a useful form of guidance.
My experience has been that the questions that come after only muddy the water. My wife and I moved cross-country right after marrying for me to take my dream job, only to have my dream job vanish after less than a year on the job (my entire department was eliminated). We asked twenty Christians we knew to ray about the move and all but one said we should go—the one claimed his saying no was for selfish reasons.
Were they all wrong?
Plus, we had Bible verses and concepts that supported both staying and leaving. Since the opportunity was so great and so perfect for me, it was hard to say that God was not leading. But years afterward, we still wonder what was gained (or lost) by the move.
Dark chocolate peanut M&M’s eh?
I get thinking, writing, and I tell myself I know better than to even have the stuff in the house. When I have succumbed and there is red licorice in the house, I tell myself not to put it on the computer desk.
My self-deception is as amazing to me as how quickly I can go through a whole bag.
Please don’t look at the time stamp on this comment.;^)
I was not even aware that they M&M Mars made dark chocolate peanut M&Ms, though I knew about the regular kind (which I found too sweet).
but I thought dark chocolate was good for you…
Just a thought, brother, in reference to your initial black and white definition as setting before the Lord “options” and then reacting to whichever “opens” or “closes”: it’s not always two or more options that lead to the direction I may take. I pray for guidance regularly, not like Gideon’s fleece, just plain guidance. And there are times things just don’t go the way I wanted them to go. Period. You bring up a good point with the persistant widow and possible demonic-closed doors. But there are times I get “No” from my Lord, and it is a clear no. I must move on by faith knowing that my Father will take care of me and the Holy Spirit will guide me.
Great line: “As I get older, I find that indecisiveness growing rather than lessening. So much for the wisdom of the aged!”
Another wonderful post.
Expand please: “I pray for guidance regularly, not like Gideon’s fleece, just plain guidance.”
What does that look like practically?
Practically, it looks like desperate dependence, non-stop, “I need you, I need you, I need you…” prayers.
It’s not a “which of these options, Lord, is your will?”
It’s “your will be done.”
And then I just live…come what may…”Que Sera Sera”…yada, yada, yada…blah, blah, blah…
It means just because I want something doesn’t mean my Lord wants that same thing for me.
It means I need to be okay with that.
Okay…you got me…I’m not exactly what it looks like practically…
Okay, so you pray the “I need you” prayers over and over and then…?
And what is “God’s will be done” when you are the one who has to decide between three equally dangerous options? Especially when what may be God’s will runs counter to prevailing Christian belief?
Jonah decided to “just live,” but he got thrown off a boat and swallowed by a fish.
How do we determined the best from the merely good?
What if the merely good distracts us for years from the best—and minimizes our effectiveness for the Lord in the long run?
Leave me alone!
Just kidding, of course. You raise great questions, all of which have answers that would raise more questions.
My main premise for writing was to address the “options” statement you made. It was not to negate in anyway your main points of the post, which were excellent.
As I’ve said to you before, choices are a million times more difficult when they affect others we dearly love, when they don’t just affect us.
The Bible is full of “waiting” commands and stories, yet that does not justify my sitting on my scrawny butt when a decision is required of me. I must choose with an attitude of dependence and hope (and sometimes with trepidation). And then I must live, whether that means getting thrown from the boat or not. I can tread water for a good fifteen minutes before I sink like a stone.
So I’ll close this comment like I closed the last:
Okay…you got me…I’m not exactly what it looks like practically…
mvu erja af.;iw k foaqmcoiap… whew, I think I can type now. That made my head spin! Seriously, open/closed doors better never be the sole basis upon which any Christian makes a decision. We have the Holy Spirit within, and a sound mind given by God, and the unerring word of God. We ought to be able to make decisions without tarot cards, magic cubes, or mystery doors.
I’m convinced 99% of Christians operate on the open/closed door theory of guidance. It’s ubiquitous. In fact, I hear of almost no other means of discerning God’s will.
God forbid that we should have two similar doors, each with serious positives and negatives, open at the same time!
Excellent, excellent post! For too much of my life I tried to negotiate the closed and open doors, desperate to avoid life-altering mistakes. It didn’t take me very many years (and disappointments) to realize that we can’t always assume the alternative was the “right” choice. How do we know that another option would have turned out better? I find it interesting to note how often people who subscribe to the open/closed door approach hear conflicting directives from God within an astonishingly short period of time. 🙂
I find the open/closed door approach is based more on pragmatism than Christianity. This is especially true when we believe that a particular open door reflects the optimum outcome. But how do we know? God’s wisdom is higher than ours and His view of that door may indeed be very low.
The hard part is to pass on an open door because it’s not God’s will!
Dan, I can’t nest anymore comments in our conversation above, so I’m posting a new one that’s actually a continuation…
Okay, here’s a practical example. A few years ago, my pastor started talking about planting a church. I had the option to join him in the new plant or stick it out in the ministry in which I was involved. My brain made the obvious choice. I would go with my pastor. I love him dearly. We’re close friends. He is a dynamic man of God. It was a no-brainer.
But as he prayed and talked with others, he began to reconsider whether he himself should plant or stay. He chose to stay. And that made my choice much easier. During that time, as I sought the face of my God in private, He made it very clear that He wanted me to pour myself into that ministry. At the same time, He made it very clear to my pastor that he actually should be planting.
So my pastor left and planted a church. And I stayed and became more involved in the leadership of the ministry. I knew it was where the Lord wanted me.
Some time has passed. And I’ve been feeling a stirring within me to once again join this man in his ministry. There are a myriad of reasons. So I’ve been once again seeking the face of my God with my wife and with others, begging others to pray as well. We are confident that our Lord is leading us to join that church plant and possibly plant from that plant. I believe with all of my heart that this is where our Lord is leading us.
The leadings of our Lord may be for a season, as I feel my decision to initially stay was. I learned countless lessons and have grown in my faith through that choice. It was not about right or wrong. It had nothing to do with opened or closed doors. It was just stepping out in faith.
This is just one example, and it is obviously not a perfect one, nor is it even close to the caliber of decisions we often have to make that drastically affect our loved ones. But it is a recent one where I made decisions based on where I believed the Lord was leading me at that time.
Remember Abraham? If he was a man of reason, he never would have agreed to sacrifice his only son born to him in his old age. If he was merely a man of conviction, he would have rebuked the voice of the angel that told him to withdraw the poised-to-kill knife. Yet his faith was larger than reason and deeper than conviction. So he made a choice both times that seemingly contradicted each other.
Ecclesiastes says that He makes all things beautiful in His time. Notice that His time is not our time.
In America, this presents enormous difficulties because no one, not even Christians, has much tolerance for waiting for anything. Waiting doesn’t seem like work, but it is. While that flies in the face of “God can’t steer a parked car,” I see nothing in the Bible that supports living like a shark, perpetually cruising the waters. Instead, “be still and know that I am God” seems more the heart of he Lord.
When I reflect on my foolish decisions I become greatly discouraged to the point of distraught. But when I read Proverbs 16:1-4 and Psalm 34 (entire chapter!!!) a smile warms my soul through-and-through. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
A few weeks ago I mentioned the idea of Old Testament Christians vs. New Testament Christians. Do you believe that the NT economy is the same as the OT economy? Blessing one’s plans seems more like the OT economy of earthly wealth and prosperity rather than the NT economy of dying to self and forsaking one’s own plans to take on the Lord’s plan. That throws a totally different light on the issue.
[Excellent positioning of Open/Closed Doors with OT/NT Economy] I believe the OT/NT economy is virtually the same only different in the framework. In the OT economy Israel should have been the nation set on a hill full of justice, hospitality to foreigners and care for the poor pointing to the redemptive work of Christ to come †“ God blessing them with wealth to do such. In the NT economy the Church is set on a hill full of justice, hospitality to foreigners (non-believers) and care for the poor pointing to the redemptive work of Christ †“ God blessing them with wealth to do such. Individuals will be blessed for the good of the group in each framework. Prosperity should also be a balance of Psalm 1 and 1 Corinthians 1:26. Not listening to the world’s measure of prosperity but the righteous man living to the fullness of his given gifts.
The danger of both OT/NT Economy and Open/Closed Doors is the leap to Dualism (spiritual vs secular). Is one profession truly more Godly or glorifying to God than another?
I have been a Christian for a long time. As to this question of guidance, the conclusion I have come to is this:
God doesn’t give us a formula. We are therefore forced to depend completely on Him.
We must depend and rely on His ability to guide us much more than our ability to discern His guidance.
What does that look like practically? More than likely something different every time. But I can testify that through almost 27 years of walking with Him He has ALWAYS managed to get me on the path He wants me on.
How do you determine that the path you’re on is God’s best for you? Or do you believe that the path you’re on is always God’s best for you?
Most of the time I see it as more important that I determine that my heart is choosing to obey HIM in whatever my next step is.
Let me give you an example. I needed to know if it was God’s will for me to step off the worship team. At the time I had no idea really what else He had in store for me. I was afraid that perhaps it was laziness motivating me (we do three services straight at our church and it makes for a very long day.) Yet I also knew that my position (as a secondary keyboardist) was not particularly vital, not to mention that I knew the team was not the only way my gift in music could be expressed.
I struggled for awhile, prayed and discussed it with my husband. In the end I felt it important to submit the decision to him. (He’d struggled with what to tell me.) In the end he felt it best for me to drop off.
Immediately I felt massive relief. No guilt. Only peace. PLUS almost immediately entirely new ministry opportunities rose up in an entirely different area.
Contrast this with years and years ago, when I made a similar decision-only this time the Lord spoke to me in the still small voice to do the same thing-then a few years later guiding me back ON the team.
I have to trust that God is more interested in guiding me than I am in being guided, and I have to understand that God is more interested in refining and sanctifying me than He is in meeting my goals for ministry or life in general. What might look to an outsider to be a stupid decision might very well be the perfect will of God for me for shaping my character, and conforming me into His image.
I believe that God was working in my life in certain personal areas -such as trusting my husband!- just as much as He was freeing up my time for more fruitful ministry.
I have to understand that God is more interested in refining and sanctifying me than He is in meeting my goals for ministry or life in general.
I think that’s a good word.
As for the peace you experienced, I wonder if that is a male/female thing. I hear far more women saying they received a peace about a decision than I ever hear from men. Is it because men are more often the deciders of big decisions? I think men second-guess their decisions more often than women do, too, especially when things don’t turn out as planned.
I appreciate your comments re: peace. I have dear friends (sisters) who I sometimes feel take a path of less resistance and justify what seems unwise to me saying “God gave me peace about it”. Who am I of course to say He didn’t!? but I cannot help but sense a disturbing pattern. I’m sure many were “given” peace in spite of participating in the great evils of segregation and persecution….etc. I hope you’ll add more! Thanks.
I believe it was Reggie McNeal who once said that we need to teach fellow Christians that whatever decision that they make, God will bless them, as we usually spend way too much time agonizing over “open doors/windows.” I usually add to that, what we learn may be not to do what we have just done again, but that can be a real blessing. The Presbyterian Polis had a posting not long ago on the randomness of it all, which may be looking at.
I can’t support McNeal’s assertion. The path the majority of Christians in America have taken is one of utilitarianism, pragmatism, and consumption. Is that truly God’s will for the American Church? I find that hard to believe, but that is the plan that most of us have adhered to. Seems to me that’s the easiest path to wrecking one’s soul, so how can God be blessing that?
Dan, you asked, “What if the merely good distracts us for years from the best—and minimizes our effectiveness for the Lord in the long run?”
Well, what if it does? Since when do we determine our own effectiveness for the Lord? The Master is the one who has the right to assess how His plan is being carried out. And only He decides whether what we are doing is “effective” in His sight.
Maybe the real choice isn’t where I am obedient to go, but what I am obedient to be. Am I willing to fail according to the understanding of others? Am I willing serve in a small place that may get even smaller? Can I serve the Lord with gladness, even though all the doors are closed and the sheep is now naked?
The following comes to mind:
For God has already placed Jesus Christ as the one and only foundation, and no other foundation can be laid. Some will use gold or silver or precious stones in building on the foundation; others will use wood or grass or straw. And the quality of each person’s work will be seen when the Day of Christ exposes it. For on that Day fire will reveal everyone’s work; the fire will test it and show its real quality. If what was built on the foundation survives the fire, the builder will receive a reward. But if your work is burnt up, then you will lose it; but you yourself will be saved, as if you had escaped through the fire.
—1 Corinthians 3:11-15
It seems to me that Paul is clearly stating that we have some obligation to correctly use the opportunities we have been given. By missing the best, we build with wood or straw. The wise builder must always ask, “What is lasting? What is the best building material? And how should I build with it?”
What you are saying is true–I guess what I mean is that we are not always the best judge of what is going to be truly lasting. Only God knows that. We don’t always have a correct perspective “in the moment”. Sometimes, it seems that God is more interested in conforming us to Christ than in our “doing” great works as we understand them. His work in transforming us will always be greater than anything we can actually do for Him.
Perhaps the gold or silver or wood or stubble are really the degree of receptivity in our own hearts to His conformation process.
BTW, I really do appreciate your posts–There is a reality and a transparency in your blog that isn’t always seen in others. And, to me, that is a sign of a receptive heart.
Thank you, Kat. I hope to always be teachable.
I like what you have to say about the Lord transforming us, too.
What a great discussion!
The idea of open/closed doors and the subsequent emotional ‘peace’ that accompanies staying put (closed door) or moving out (open door) has always frustrated me. Yes, it’s a user-friendly metaphor to use when discussing God’s will and the mysteries of His guidance. But like many of your respondents, I am slowly and sometimes painfully learning that spiritual maturity is measured not in terms of outcome (open door/forward motion) but more accurately in terms of the PROCESS in our lives:
Do we wait well?
Are we gracious and kind even when the choices are confusing?
Are we willing to do something (squeezing through a keyhole in a seemingly “closed door”?) that seems impossible, counter-intertuitive, crazy even?
How can we glorify God?
Not that outcomes and choices aren’t vitally important, but discernment of God’s will is a lot clearer when I am obedient in the process.
All great thoughts, Michelle. Asking if we wait well is a good one. Actually, I do wait well. Sadly, that means others who don’t get impatient and forge ahead, though I am still waiting. That makes it look like I’m the one in the wrong, though I know otherwise. It appears as if I don’t have faith to move ahead when the truth is that faith is found in the waiting.
We Americans don’t get waiting, do we?
Boy, oh boy, that’s an understatement! Americans not only don’t get waiting but Somehow, we seem to have come to the point of assuming that all motion is good motion (that whole busyness thing again). Maybe we’ve just taken the notion that “idleness is the devil’s workshop” to the utter extreme. Idleness may be the devil’s workshop, but this lack of patience, or busyness, is the devil’s playground.
My daily walk is full of decisions. How I make decisions is steeped in mystery, but is essentially based upon who I am as a person, which is anchored in all the decisions I’ve made in my past.
Living a life founded upon God’s word leads to decisions made on a foundation of His will. As intuition is based upon an unconscious awareness of information related to the issue, so a life immersed in God will result in decisions made in conjunction with His desires. It is not a roll of the dice, as the sailors on Jonah’s ship made, but sure knowledge, as Jonah explained to them. As we mature in the Christian faith, we are more certain of His leading. It is immaturity and self-will that leads to crap-shoots. It is second-guessing God that leads to multiple choice.
So once a choice is made, then what? If disaster befalls, we often go back to second guessing, either ourselves or God. How we react to the situations that befall us are a part of the whole maturity issue. Mature Christians are as prone second guessing as anyone: Think of John the Baptist plaintive enquiry to Jesus, “Are you the One who is to come, or should we be looking for another?” Here was a man whose unswerving devotion to God landed him in prison, and ultimate execution. But how we deal with the uncetainty when it comes is not only a measure of our maturity, but how we mature. Square in the face we confront doubt with Truth: “”Go back and report to John what you hear and see.” We need to constantly be reminded of the actions of God in our life and in the lives of others, if only to renew in us the certainty of what we believe.
So we live as we believe. If our belief is shallow, then we are perennially uncertain, always asking for more doors. If our belief is built upon a firm foundation, then we can be “sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.”
I must say that my faith must not be doing very well, then. I think I am doing the right thing, but “wise counsel” says otherwise. What then?
No other issue troubles me more than the guidance one. I’ve seen too many people wreck their lives doing something they believe to be God’s will. I don’t want to be one of those people. I know that I only want to do what God wants to do.
Some would say that if that is my attitude, then I will receive that guidance. It’s not a matter of me doubting God. It’s a matter of my own uncertainty in the midst of extremely difficult decisions that will lead other Christians to judge me negatively. Other Christians tell me I must be certain of leading, but I question how one’s assessment of what is right is judged.
In America, too many of us judge God’s will by how much we get out of it. If a man is given a choice between collecting an inheritance that will net him a quarter million dollars and turning it down, there’s not an American Christian alive who would turn down that inheritance. But what if it destroys that man’s life to accept that money? He might not know that will happen, but God does. In that case, shouldn’t one know the will of God in this case? That it’s counterintuitive only makes the issue more difficult. Yet shouldn’t we assume that many of God’s plans are counterintuitive?
It’s like the old chestnut about whether someone believes one is worthy enough to be given something great; a kingdom, a power, money, whatever. Too many of us fall into the trap of thinking that if we think ourselves worthy, then we aren’t. But with God, I don’t think that’s the point. Of course we aren’t worthy!🙂
Counsel is great, if you have godly counsel. But ultimately it comes down to God and you. Sure there is wisdom in many counselors, but what good are many counselors if they and the listener don’t rely on the one Counselor that matters? We often say: “That is a godly man.” But who is measuring that godliness? Isn’t our standard, by definition, flawed? There is wisdom in many points of view, so that we may see different (certainly not all) sides. But we must always measure those varying views against the word of God.
You mention at the beginning “I must say that my faith must not be doing very well, then.” I suppose in response to my mentioning belief in my last paragraph. I consider faith (not belief) to be constant, but access to faith to be based on spiritual maturity. So it’s not so much a measure of faith, but a measure of mature reliance upon faith.
Think of faith like your lungs. A long distance runner relies on his lungs far more than his legs. We all have lungs, but few of us are fully utilizing them. If we learn to use our lungs to their fullest abilities, we are able to use our legs and arms and brain to their fullest as well. So it is with faith. The disciples asked Christ to “increase our faith”. His example to them illustrated that it is not faith that needs increasing, but practice of and reliance on faith. We doubt, and so we do not receive. Faith is not just blind belief, it is the sureness and certainty of God.
So if you believe that God is able, but are thrown into confusion because of the counsel of others, what then? By all means listen to counsel, but measure thier counsel against the word of God, and act in faith. They may be right and so you should listen and thank God for their counsel, but if the word says they are wrong, then don’t listen! If the world says you have failed, then measure it up with what the word says is failure.
You are afraid of “ruining” your life. Define ruin. Poverty? Death? Illness? Prison? Solitude? We all too often judge by worldly standards what constitutes failure. God’s measurement of that is different than ours. If you believe God is leading you, then you should be able to prove it. Not with physical proofs, but spiritual ones. “Feelings” work well in romantic comedies and murder mysteries, but simply saying “I believe God is leading me to Mongolia” should be founded on a clear set of spiritual pilings leading to a bedrock of well exercised faith. A step in faith, even a tiny one, should have a backtrail of spiritual growth and evidence of increasing spiritual maturity. One of my bug-a-boos about the current state of Christianity in America is that we are allowing ourselves to be led by people we know nothing about. There is no backtrail, no tracks we can follow, no evidence of a relationship with God, only charisma, speaking or songwriting skill, or ability to play a guitar.
I found your blog years ago when l was searching for the veracity of a statement attributed to Luther: “Love the Lord and sin boldly.” The rebels among us will glom on to the “sin boldly” part. But foremost is “Love the Lord”. If we love God, we will do His will, even if His will is to walk off a cliff. But those who love God will also, by knowing Him, know that He wills only good for us (so He won’t tell us to walk off a cliff 🙂 ) and so we can trust Him. Paralysis in our lives comes when we see the cliff edge approaching and, surrounded by conflicting arguments which we don’t have the grounding in faith to counter, doubt.
Dan, just curious if you had looked at 1 Cor 16:8-9 in this context. Your thoughts?
Got my own version:
I remember hearing Derek Prince teach that there is such a thing ” as the highest level of the will of God and that there are lower levels..”
For me as a older christian single I can see now that there are definately proably men who are better suited for me than others. Wisdom and narrow path tends to be my leanings with decisions. Also what God requires of someone who has been a christian for 30 years is proably not the same expectation of what he requires of someone who is a christian for one year. He is our father after all and we have to grow up enough that he trusts us to be able to co-labor with him,be his PA -physician assistant!!!
And what is “God’s will be done when you are the one who has to decide between three equally dangerous options? Especially when what may be God’s will runs counter to prevailing Christian belief?
(could you possibly give an example of what you are talking about here?) Do you mean like Jay Baker heading off to NYC to minister to the gay communities? It is afterall, what he truly felt God had led him to do. His is a rather unconventional counter-Christian belief type of ministry, wouldn’t you agree? Or do you think he is just too “far off the mark” to be legitimately considered a Christian ministry at all? Are you talking about thattype of dangerous or counter-Christian?)
Jonah decided to “just live, but he got thrown off a boat and swallowed by a fish.
(yes, he did get thrown off the boat and swallowed by a fish…but, there was a greater life lesson in all of that, which was more far reaching than just saving the likes of Ninevah. What a life-lesson in obedience that we all glean from that one singlular incident. Had he obeyed to begin with and not gone through that…would Ninevah have believed him? Would they have survived? Seeing the living breathing results of disobedience to God first hand was probably what did the trick there. And it stands still today, a testament to God’s mercy and grace toward a people He was unwilling to just let perish for the sake of just one man’s lack of will to even try.)
How do we determine the best from the merely good?
What if the merely good distracts us for years from the best—and minimizes our effectiveness for the Lord in the long run?
(I believe we just “do it” regardless of the better vs. best thing. Why should we have to concern ourselves with what is better or best? We would be way farther ahead to just do it. I often find it disheartening that Christians either put “too much faith in their faith” which leads to ruin, or they spend inordinate amounts of time always trying to sort out details down to the last jot and tittle over just such things. Why can’t they just DO and let God sort it out? It seems to me that more would be accomplished this way.
Just mho here.)
A few responses to your excellent post and some of the discussion that has followed:
Sometimes the numerous “wise counselors” telling someone to choose option A are all wrong. I’ve certainly seen that a group of godly people can share the same belief and be mistaken. In fact, it has happened a few times in wrong decisions made by the elder board at my church, even though these are well respected people who also make a lot of great decisions. These mistakes weren’t deadly, but the aftermath revealed them to be the wrong calls. The leaders prayed together and presumably were in unanimous or nearly unanimous agreement, but still, they made the wrong choice.
But I can take the other side in your example of moving to accept what seemed to be a dream job, only to lose it when the department got axed. I’m not saying this is the case in your situation, but hypothetically, maybe all of those advisers were right, despite what seems to have been an unfavorable outcome. Maybe there are blessings in your life that never would have been gained otherwise, and they’re greater than what would have resulted had you not moved to take the unexpectedly brief dream job. Or maybe the hardship resulting from the loss of that job made your family grow closer to God in a way that never would have happened in the more comfortable scenario of staying put. (And maybe not; I have no idea †“ I’m just using your example to illustrate the point. I would not be so flippant as to judge your situation and the pain caused by the loss of the job.)
I have personal experience in the latter case. I had a position for five years at my workplace and was asked to take a newly created position under the same boss. I had done very well in the old position and received excellent performance reviews, and I had my doubts about how the new position would play out. Despite this, I wound up taking it. My main outside contact in the new position, though a committed Christian with whom I had prayed and discussed some personal things, wound up betraying my trust †“ relaying what essentially were previously unvoiced, largely unjustified complaints about me to the head of our entire division. My boss, with whom I had enjoyed a close relationship, wound up rebuking me and going along with the removal of one of my main responsibilities despite not even asking for my side of the story. It was a miserable experience that left me feeling sick in my gut for weeks, agonizing over the course of events through much of the day and sometimes at night in bed. Knowing how much it would hurt my wife to know what happened, I didn’t mention the situation for a week. It became too much to bear and I told her, so it became a burden to her as well (especially since she’s employed at the same workplace, though in a different department). And I got what easily was the lowest percentage pay hike in my six years at this workplace.
Looking back, one could say that I should have trusted my misgivings because then I would have avoided becoming victim to a painful injustice. I could have stayed in a position that, even putting aside what happened to me, by its very nature is much more valued by my boss and the head of our department. But I would have missed out on at least two major lessons that have changed me significantly †“ the extent of humility required for meekness and the vanity of caring too much about the results of my work. I believe it was God’s will for me to take the position. What I’m getting at is that we can’t necessarily judge whether we made the right decision †“ opened the right “door” †“ by whether the results made us happy, more prosperous, etc.
David Riggins said, “As we mature in the Christian faith, we are more certain of His leading.” As we mature, we more closely follow God’s leading, but we’re still not necessarily certain when we’re making some decisions. I’ve had serious doubt when making major decisions, even after running them through the Scripture-prayer-wise counsel-experience-common sense test. It’s often only afterward that I feel the peace that comes with the confidence of having made the right choice. (And if I make the wrong one, hopefully I’d have peace knowing that I tried my best.) God allows us to remain in doubt of ourselves and our choices, and I believe that’s because doubt is humbling and makes us more cognizant of our dependence on Him.
So I disagree with those who say you have to be certain of God’s leading before you make a decision (though I also agree with your approach of waiting patiently). If you’ve tried your best to find the truth and still aren’t sure, it doesn’t mean you lack maturity, have sin in your life, etc. It may just mean that God is causing you to walk in faith †“ not faith in your decision, but faith in the Lord that His grace will be sufficient no matter what lies on the other side of the choice you make. Doubt can be OK as long as it doesn’t paralyze us; it’s fear that we need to be mindful to overcome.
What do we make of the fact that Jesus said in the garden, “Father, if it be Thy will, let this cup pass from me”? He was not completely at ease with His decision to go through with God’s plan.
You wrote, “By missing the best, we build with wood or straw. The wise builder must always ask, ‘What is lasting? What is the best building material? And how should I build with it?'” The celestial flammability of your building material isn’t determined by how good you were at making the right decision, but rather the condition of your heart while you were making it and afterward as you dealt with the consequences of the choice.
You wrote, “Yet shouldn’t we assume that many of God’s plans are counterintuitive?” If we believe in Scripture, of course we should. God chose the youngest son of Jesse to be the first king of Israel, a stable and manger for his Son’s birth, a motley group to be Jesus’ disciples, a former murderer of Christians to be one of the first great evangelists, and on and on.
Thanks for motivating us to think!
Boy, I’m late getting in on this one! I’ve been really busy, lately, so I haven’t been reading blogs much at all.
Dan, your post brings up many interesting points. I’ve been one of those who has gone through an “open door” only to discover later that it was one of the worst things I could have done. Or was it? That’s the problem: There are so many things that we can’t know for sure, when it comes to personal guidance. We “walk by faith”, trusting that God works through the good and the “bad” to bring out His intended purpose in our lives. I appreciate you raising the points you raised.
I blogged about this topic of guidance a couple months ago. You can read it at
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