No Open Doors
I recently read an on-line piece that was titled “When ‘No’ Opens Doors” by Enger Muteteke, a Pastor in New Jersey. He was praying while trying to set a theme for his ministry for the coming year, and the words that kept coming to him were something he had seen in a magazine: “No Opens Doors”. His first reaction was to think that this was wrong. God uses “yes” to open doors. Then his attention was drawn to Acts 16:6-7 where Paul and his fellow missionaries had been “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they came to Mysia, they tried to go to Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” At first this sounds like God is closing doors, but the end result of God saying “NO” to Paul’s ideas of where to go meant that God opened the door for them to go to Macedonia and Greece where they had several years of fruitful ministry. Pastor Muteteke challenged his church to consider how God might be telling people “no” so that they will move into new areas of ministry.
The same day I read a commentary on Jeremiah 1:4-10 as part of my sermon preparation. James Howell pointed out that after God had dealt with Jeremiah’s objection that he was too young, God put words into his mouth and said, “See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build up and to plant.” That is not a comfortable task for a young prophet. Most of us would much rather concentrate on the building and planting, but God says that comes only after plucking up and pulling down and destroying. Howell went on to quote Marianne Williamson, “If you invite God into your life, you think God will show up like an interior decorator to spruce the place up a little—but then you look out your window, and a big wrecking ball is swinging your way. The whole thing has to be torn down to the foundations.”
These are not comfortable ruminations. Yet when we think about the last few years, how many times have we set out to do something, when covid restrictions have said no. Do we let frustrations build up? Or do we seek what doors God may be opening when the world says “no”? It feels like our world has been sent reeling, but what new things is God preparing the way for? What in our lives needs to be taken out the way so that God can “make all things new,” as promised to Israel in Isaiah 43:18-19, to Christian individuals in 2 Corinthians 5:17, and for all creation in Revelation 21:5. God is in the business of wholescale renovation of people and of nations, and if you’ve lived through a building project, it isn’t always an easy process.
On Ash Wednesday, which this year falls on March 2, we begin the season of Lent, which is a time to seek to open ourselves to renewal God wants to make in our lives. Traditionally Lent is a season when we say “no” to our wants and desires in order to be open to God’s” yes” to spiritual growth. We abstain from some meals or habits in order to spend more time with God. We save money we might otherwise spend on ourselves to give to programs that reach out to others. We seek to listen more than we speak in our prayers.
The results of opening ourselves to God are unpredictable. Like Jeremiah, we may hear a call to do something we don’t want to do. Or we may hear “well done good and faithful servant”. We may hear a “no” to something we have planned, or we may hear a “yes” when we bring our plans before God. The key is to listen, open to whatever God has for us to hear. May this be a productive Lent for all of us. And if God is telling us “no” to something, may we open to God’s “yes” to us.