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The God that Opens and Closes Doors

Jim Davis

Acts 16

Some years ago an energetic young man began as a clerk in a hardware store. Like many old-time hardware stores, the inventory included thousands of dollars' worth of items that were obsolete or seldom called for by customers. The young man was smart enough to know that no thriving business could carry such an inventory and still show a healthy profit. He proposed a sale to get rid of the stuff. The owner was reluctant but finally agreed to let him set up a table in the middle of the store and try to sell off a few of the oldest items. Every product was priced at ten cents.

The sale was a success and the young fellow got permission to run a second sale. It, too, went over just as well as the first. This gave the young clerk an idea. Why not open a store that would sell only nickel and dime items? He could run the store and his boss could supply the capital. The young man's boss was not enthusiastic. "The plan will never work," he said, "because you can't find enough items to sell at a nickel and a dime." The young man was disappointed but eventually went ahead on his own and made a fortune out of the idea. His name was F.W. Woolworth. Years later his old boss lamented, "As near as I can figure it, every word I used in turning Woolworth down has cost me about a million dollars!" (Bits and Pieces, Vol F, #41)

Most of us are familiar with lost opportunities. All of us are probably more familiar in dealing with the doors the world closes to us than we are in dealing with doors of opportunity, which are open to us. There seems to be many more closed doors than there are open doors of opportunity. At times this causes us great grief. The apostles were not immune to this problem. We find them facing the discouragement of closed doors in the following verses.

Acts 16:4-10
As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers. 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. 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. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." 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. (NIV)

It is comforting to know that even the apostles were not always clear as to what God's will was for them. They must have been a bit discouraged. It is always discouraging to discover resistance to our plans. They had been doing a great work in preaching the gospel, but here they find God resisting their efforts. However trying this might have been, God was in the process of opening a greater door of opportunity than they could ever imagine.

Struggling with open and closed doors is a healthy part of life. When I hear someone they hope their children don’t have to experience the hardships they went through—I don’t agree. Those hardships made us what we are. You can be disadvantaged in many ways, and one way may be not having had to struggle.

New Testament writers saw God as the one opening and closing the doors of opportunity in their lives. When Paul returned to Antioch from his first missionary journey Luke records that the missionaries "On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. (Acts 14:27 NIV) Later Paul spoke about this experience recorded by Luke in Acts 16 by saying, " . . . when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me . . ." (2 Corinthians 2:12 NIV)

Revelation 3:7-9
"To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars-- I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. (NIV)

Whether God has set before us opened or closed doors, is dependent upon our desire to know and keep his word.

God Seeks to Open Knocked Doors

We will not receive God's call if we refuse to knock on heaven's door. We find Paul and his companions a bit confused about where they should go and what they should do, but we find them seeking and knocking on heaven's door. The Holy Spirit kept them from preaching the gospel in Asia. So they tried to enter Bithynia and the Spirit would not allow them to pass. During the night Paul had a vision where a man from Macedonia was begging him to come and help them. The missionary party concluded that God was calling them to Macedonia. A door was opened because they were knocking.

Regularly I am ask, "If you were going to start studying the Bible, where would begin?" The person usually wants to know if you would begin your study in the Old Testament or the New Testament. The question has always dogged me as to how it should be answered. It would be easy to rattle off several answers. I could encourage the person to read my favorite books of the Bible. I could tell them to begin in Genesis or Matthew. Beginning any place would be better than never finding a beginning place to launch the most important study of life. Sometimes I have wanted to simply answer by saying, "Oh, just start anywhere, one place is as good as another. Sometimes I think it would be great if one started with a thematic study on the church or salvation, etc.

However, I have come to realize that the greatest starting place for Bible study begins with you. Begin your study with questions you would like to have answered. What are my needs? Where am I spiritually? Where do I need to be spiritually? What are my phobias and shortcomings? You can even begin by dealing with the issues your unbelief raises in your mind. Why not begin where you are? If you don't start knocking on heaven's door, the door will never open and you will never find the answers to life's most important questions. I believe the questions that arise in our minds about belief or unbelief is God's way of seeking us. He designed us to ask these questions. So, why not start with the questions on your mind?

The questions raised in your mind are God's way of knocking at your door. Jesus said, "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." (Revelation 3:20) It is not enough to just hear God knock, we must seek to open the door.

"The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it. (Richard L. Evans, Bits & Pieces, March 4, 1993, p. 2.)

Jesus always began his teaching by considering the needs of the people in an effort to open a door into their lives. He often determined their needs by the questions they asked. If they failed to ask a question, Jesus taught to provoke a question from them about their deepest need. After Jesus teaching about living water, the Samaritan ask for the living water Jesus spoke of. Jesus then began with her needs. He revealed to her that he knew she had had five husbands and the man she was presently living with was not her husband. Jesus began with her need.

Jesus asked the impotent man at the well who had been cripple for 38 years, "Do you want to get well?" How much more personal can you get. The vast majority of the New Testament was written to deal with the personal needs of the recipients. Their needs presented God with the open door of opportunity through which he could enter.

God will not answer the door until we begin seeking and knocking. Paul and his companions were seeking where they should go to preach the gospel. They had a lot of questions as to what they should do. It was in their knocking on God's door that they found their answers. Jesus said, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8 NIV)

When God Opens Doors of Opportunity

God only opens doors for us when we have a willingness to obey his call. When Paul and his companions heard God's call, they sought to respond through obedience. When Paul received the Macedonian call they "put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days. (Acts 16:11-12 NIV) God opened the doors because they were willing to obey his call.

God opens doors of opportunity when we allow his call to challenge our plans for our lives. We want every thing in life firm and fixed, but this is impossible. For those who seek God there must be a degree of uncertainty. It is the kind of uncertainty that induces us to properly seek God's will. Paul and his companions were searching for direction but uncertain which way to turn. As Lydia listened to God's call she had to closely examine what she already believed. To question what we believe as firm and fixed is our greatest challenge to discovering the open doors God provides.

God opens doors of opportunity when we are willing to listen to his call. Luke continues in Acts 16 as he writes, "On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. "If you consider me a believer in the Lord," she said, "come and stay at my house." And she persuaded us. (Acts 16:13-15 NIV) God opened the door of Lydia's heat because she was willing to listen to Paul's message. God opened Lydia's heart but Lydia's part in her salvation was not passive. She listened attentively to the Word of God.

God opens doors of opportunity when the world challenges what we believe. It is very discouraging to know you are obeying God's call and you find opposition from the world. However it is encouraging to know God can use our enemy's opposition as a means to open the door of opportunity. Luke continues in Acts 16:

Acts 16:16-18
Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved." She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, "In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!" At that moment the spirit left her. (NIV)

God is an expert at opening doors the world is seeking to close. It is wonderful to realize that most of the difficulties we face as Christians always present us with open doors of opportunity. When Paul cast the evil spirit out of the slave girl the town became enraged. Initially only the owners were upset but eventually the whole crowd got caught up in the rage.

Acts 16:19-22
When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, "These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice." The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. (NIV)

There is little doubt that the rage of the crowd served to heighten the attention of the whole city to the message Paul was preaching.

I notice something in Acts 16; open doors do not usually lead to an easy way of life. Obeying God's call is a challenge. It challenges to walk were we have never walked. It causes us to meet the kind of opposition we may have never met. It forces us to rely totally upon God. It can bring us to wit's end.

Psalms 107:23-31
Others went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. They saw the works of the LORD, his wonderful deeds in the deep. For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits' end. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven. Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men. (NIV)

God opens doors of opportunity when we seek to sing his praises and seek him in prayer. When there seems to be no reason for rejoicing Paul and Silas praise God and seek him through prayer.

Acts 16:23-26

After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody's chains came loose. (NIV)

Songs in the night can only come from those who believe there are no closed doors God can't open. The earth shaking power of God opens doors in our world no matter how carefully the world is in trying to guard itself from hearing what Christians believe. The earth shaking power of God to open doors is available for believers today. I like it when Luke writes, " At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody's chains came loose."

Colossians 4:1-5
Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven. Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. (NIV)

There was no doubt in the jailers mind about who opened the doors. He had probably heard about the message Paul was preaching before he led Paul to his prison cell. But now he was experiencing the power of behind the message.

Acts 16:27-33
The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, "Don't harm yourself! We are all here!" The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved-- you and your household." Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. (NIV)

The jailer's question, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" reveals that he knows who is in charge. God's opening the prison doors also opened the door to the dungeon of the jailer's heart. He knew it was God. He knew he was helpless. This opened the doors of his heart to God's call.

Acts 16:33-34
At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God-- he and his whole family. (NIV)

God opens doors when we stand for what is right. There is a golden thread of truth running through Acts 16. God opens doors when we seek to stand firm in his will. From the outset of this chapter Luke reveals that they have sought to do the right thing. In their discouragement of not knowing which way to go all the way to the prison cell, they sought God's right way. They displayed courage as they took their stand.

Acts 16:35-40
When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: "Release those men. "The jailer told Paul, "The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace." But Paul said to the officers: "They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out." The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city. After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia's house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them. Then they left. (NIV)


There is no way that I can tell you where your journey begins and where it will end. Only God knows. I do learn from Acts 16 how to begin our journey to God. Start searching right where you are. It begins with your need to obey God's will for your life.

You must start where you are. The apostle's search for direction began where they were. Lydia's search for direction began at a worship service where she was seeking God. The jailers search began with the question, "What must I do to be saved?" These individual's came to Christ as they reflected on their personal need.

Why not find yourself in scripture. Find out who you are. Discover what you are made of. Sounds scary, but I assure you that is where you will begin the most important and rewarding study of your life.

Initially, it may sound a little self-centered, but you will discover it isn't. God gave us the Bible to guide our personal lives to him. I sincerely believe God allows questions to be raised in our minds to point us to him.

A study of the Bible without God's purpose in mind becomes a superficial fruitless exercise. It is one thing to know about God and quite another to know God for yourself.

It begins with this simple personal question, Lord, "What must I do to be saved?" It can't get any more personal than this.

Every spiritual journey begins with believing on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. Paul and Silas taught the jailer and his household what to believe. They evidently told them there was something they had to do, for they were baptized when the Bible study was over.

Believing in Jesus involves obeying the things Christ taught.

Matthew 28:18-20
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."" (NIV)

God is ready to assume full responsibility for the life wholly yielded to Him. - Andrew Murray


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