The Powerful Beauty of a Closed Door–sermon text version

Today, I’m going to let you in on a few secrets of my life. Things that people don’t necessarily know about me. They are all related to today’s message on The Powerful Beauty of a Closed Door.

We all know what closed doors are like. Sometimes it’s a closed door of a job, of a promotion we wanted, of a season of life, of a residence, maybe of a relationship, of a ministry, or even the closed door upon a long-cherished dream. God closes doors and God doesn’t answer, or so it seems, our prayers sometimes. Instead the door closes and all we’re left with is something that we didn’t want…when what we wanted was on the other side of that door.

So today we’re going to talk about the Powerful Beauty of a Closed Door and find 6 beautiful aspects of closed doors. And I’ll reveal a few secrets along the way.

My first secret is that I go through phases where I really enjoy Country Music. Garth Brooks has a song called Unanswered Prayers and the lyrics in part go like this:

  • Just the other night at a hometown football game
  • My wife and I ran into my old high school flame
  • And as I introduced them the past came back to me
  • And I couldn’t help but think of the way things used to be
  • She was the one that I’d wanted for all time
  • And each night I’d spend prayin’ that God would make her mine
  • And if he’d only grant me this wish I wished back then
  • I’d never ask for anything again
  • Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
  • Remember when you’re talkin’ to the man upstairs
  • That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care
  • Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers

The Powerful Beauty of a Closed Door is that it forces us down a different path in the company of different people. Such was the case with our Book of Acts. Last week, you may remember that Barnabas and Paul came to a fork in the road and took it. Barnabas, ever the encourager, takes Mark who was rejected by Paul and they set sail for Cyprus. They became a new ministry team and eventually God would bless their work and heal old disagreements. Mark would write the Gospel of Mark and he would return to a useful place of ministry in healed relationship with Paul, as did Barnabas and Paul before him.

But for now, Paul takes Silas and God’s crazy math in which division is actually multiplication, and subtraction is really addition takes place. Silas would prove an excellent partner for the second missionary journey of Paul. His presence could easily be explained as ongoing delegation and training up of next generation missionaries. God’s closed door with Barnabas and Mark actually opens a door for Silas and Timothy who we’ll meet today.

We’re in Acts 16 which you can find on page 784 of your pew Bibles if you’d like to follow along.

Our first beauty of a closed door is this: A door that’s closed to one person is a door that’s available to another.

Acts 16:1 He [Paul] came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. 2 The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. 3 Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

4 As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.

We could talk at length about why Timothy had to be circumcised when that letter from James and the Jerusalem Council last week made it clear that a person doesn’t have to become a Jew first, but that discussion will have to wait for later. We could guess why God chose Silas and Timothy as Paul’s new partners in ministry. There are things about the closed door that we will never know on this side of heaven, but here’s the thing: Mark’s experiencing of a closed door created an opening for Timothy and Silas.

Picture it kind of like an elevator with room for 1 person with some baggage or 2 people who travel without baggage. When the elevator door opens and the 1 person waiting has way too much baggage, it makes it possible for the two to ride and yet another elevator will come along for the 1 person who travels heavy. We all get where we’re going, but the beauty of the closed door is that a door closed to someone can actually open a door to others.

Secret #2: people ask me a lot what God’s will is for their lives. On All-Experts which is a web site I’ve been on for more than a decade now, people often ask me questions of a biblical nature. But most often it turns into a Dear Abby kind of thing because they’re seeking answers if they should marry this person or that, what God’s will is for their job, their life, their home, their kids, their parents, their desire for a tattoo…

In many cases (except the tattoo which I really don’t think God cares what the person does with a tattoo on their body so much as how He cares about their love and respect for the authorities in that person’s life), I will suggest that they pray and then consider the will of getsmartGod like one of those automated door opening pads they used to have at the grocery store. You step on the pad, or today, step into the doorway, and if the door opens, walk through it. If the door is closed, consider why it’s closed (is the store not open yet or are you after-hours? Is it a holiday? Is it not the right door? Are you trying to get in to a place where you don’t have one of those approved id’s that tells the door to open? Or maybe it’s like the old TV show Get Smart where all the doors open for Agent 86 until he dead ends at a phone booth and he needs to phone it in. If there’s no good reason why the door is closed, then try it again since perseverance can be a good thing. But if it remains closed after repeated tries, move on. Not even a phone in your shoe will help you get CONTROL over the KAOS.

So how should we consider closed doors with respect to God’s will for our lives?

Our second beauty is that closed doors prevent us from sacrificing God’s best on the altar of expediency. That was what happened in our OT reading this morning.  Abram and Sarai and Hagar brought problems on themselves by not honoring the closed door and instead tried to find a way around it.  Ishmael was no Isaac.  But we see an honoring of a closed door in today’s passage with Paul and Silas and Timothy. All is going swimmingly but suddenly another closed door:

6 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. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.

God wouldn’t let them go in. They tried a couple of different door opening techniques and entry points to try to go the way Paul thought he was supposed to go. But no dice.

How is it possible that God would keep them from preaching somewhere? What gives… on that one?? Didn’t Jesus say to go into all the world?? Make disciples???

Pratmaze.jpgaul was only doing what Jesus had called him to do. He was probably pretty confused. He may have felt like a rat in one of those mazes with nothing but dead ends and no cheese.

I know how that feels. A third secret of my life is that I’ve faced a lot of closed doors for a lot of reasons. Professionally. Personally. And it can be every bit as painful as confusing.

But here’s another beauty of a closed door. Closed doors have a way of driving us to our knees in prayer.

A fourth secret is that I don’t pray enough. I have an ongoing conversation with God almost all day long, but to get on my knees and weep before the Lord? Not so much. But closed doors drive me there.

That’s the place where I’ve laid down my anger at the pastor who had his wife call me and leave a message with my teenage son to tell his mother (me) that I was rejected.  Even though I had been contracted through Trinity’s speaker’s bureau to preach for over a week, he decided to have a man (one of their elders) preach in less than 48 hours.  Instead of my preaching the message I’d been preparing for over a week. Anger. That a man was too chicken to tell me himself and instead, he had his wife do his dirty work on a Friday when Sunday was nearing. And she took the road of least resistance by forcing my 15 year old son tell his mother the painful rejection. I can handle rejection.  I wonder about a stranger putting my child in such a position.  How is that possibly loving? Closed doors drive us to our knees in prayer. It is there, in prayer that we lay down our pain, our rejection, our anger, and we learn what it means to forgive.

Closed doors that happen on account of human sin when someone prays that God will open up a way for me to serve and then when God clearly does, he doesn’t have the guts to honor God,  Instead, how does he respond?  Quickly fill the job with a man.  Basically responding to God by his actions, “Well, I didn’t mean that way.” This man’s disobedience equaled further rejection of me. And the hits just kept on coming. Closed doors drive us to our knees in prayer. It is there, in prayer that we lay down our pain, our rejection, our anger, and we learn once again why it’s important to forgive.

Closed doors after 3 years of dedicated volunteerism to tell me I’m no longer welcome to volunteer, assuring me I’d done nothing wrong, with a trumped up reason of “just a case of too many volunteers, too many choices.” Oh, and well, I’m not ordained, something he knew from before the time I started. All the while he was knowing that ordination is kind of a sore topic for me because I’m living proof that one denomination that trains women will not ordain them. If the problem is that I was too Christian or too evangelistic, just say so. But to stick a knife in the ordination wound and twist it was pretty cruel. Especially from a Christian. Especially from a “leader.”  Closed doors drive us to our knees in prayer. It is there, in prayer, that we lay down our pain, our rejection, and yes, our anger, and better yet, we learn to forgive even if the wound still bleeds.  It bleeds as a reminder that Jesus set the example from the Cross saying,

Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34)

Prayer is also the place where we can cry out to God, “I don’t understand!!!!” when we’re trying to do His will and all we get is pain after pain, rejection after rejection, closed door after closed door.

Great! I’m developing “character.”

A sorry consolation prize for the person who is totally confused and seeking understanding of the ways of God. And all that seems to be there is God’s great big silent voice saying nothing about why all this is happening. I’m crying out in confusion and God is not saying a word.

My life has been a series of closed doors as I run down the hall in Scooby Doo and I’m trying door after door and running to find the one that opens while some cartoon villain chases me and all I can say is Ruh-Roh and hope that a door opens up before the cartoon ends and the smart girl, Velma Dinkley finds her glasses and solves the mystery.

sundoorBut down the hall and down the road, there is an open door and an answer to the mystery. For this reason, the verses we’re about to look at are among my favorites in the entire Bible. Another secret told.

Closed doors can be a way of moving us to a place of answers. To doing God’s greater work with greater character on account of the closed doors of life.

Closed doors are what brought me to you…for a while…until I need to get off the elevator so that your next pastor that God will bring can find an open door and enough room to ride and to run his race.

I love this story:

8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 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.

Want to know another secret? Closed doors can cultivate zeal for the open door. It did with Paul. I love this. Luke, the author of Luke’s Gospel and the Book of Acts now changes to the personal pronoun from “they” to “we.” The “we” passages –not like an Irish wee-people—but a plurality in which Luke includes himself. From here forward, Luke will be one of Paul’s ministry companions. Some scholars believe that Luke was the man of Macedonia in Paul’s vision and then Paul’s seeing Luke in person was confirmation–God’s confirmation!–that the vision of heading to Macedonia was in fact God’s will. An open door. Finally.

Like a horse that is behind the starting gate for the big race, Paul’s muscles were eager to run, he was pawing the ground just waiting for the gate to open. He was charged up and ready to spring into action. He sees this vision; he sees confirmation, and then they all bolt from the starting gate to new territory that God has already planned. No dillydallying. No delay. No excuses. No questioning. No looking back over his shoulder wistfully at Asia, Mysia, and Bithynia, dreaming of what could have been. Nope. What does he do?

He gets right after it: A closed door cultivated a zeal for the open door

11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

As he writes to the church at Philippi about a zeal for the open door:

Philippians 3:13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Press ON! Press ON!! God led them to the political and cultural epicenter of a prominent Roman colony and the premier city of Macedonia. And that’s where Paul’s work will find great fruitfulness, honoring that vision of a man of Macedonia. So Paul, go to the place you think you’re supposed to go to and trust God with the results. Paul goes on the Sabbath (as was his custom) to a place that would be a logical starting point.

13 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. 14 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. 15 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.

Here’s another beauty of a closed door. The closed door opens our minds to God’s possibilities and causes us to release our pre-conceived ideas, our expectations, and our prejudices in order to see what God is doing.

These guys show up on the Sabbath to find a place of prayer and who do they see? Women. Not exactly their planned ministry target.

Women were culturally inferior to men back then and even speaking to a woman could get a Jew in trouble…whether he was married or not.

Had they not experienced the closed door, every one of “us” that the man of Macedonia spoke about (in “help us”) might have had to been male. A male man, not a mailman postal worker. A guy. But instead, who do they see at the place of prayer? Women who had gathered there. And so they spoke to the women. One of those women was a prominent businesswoman and in true God-fashion as He’s removing barriers of all kinds—first barriers to the Gentiles, and now the barriers to women. Lydia was there. God opened her heart. She led her household to faith and baptism and then she issued an invitation for these missionaries to stay at her home.

Had Paul and his companions not experienced all those closed doors along the way, God’s open door of Macedonia, and open heart of a woman of faith, and open home of hospitality might have been easily overlooked because of Paul’s preconceived ideas. Maybe men instead of women. Jews first instead of Gentiles first. Going east into the larger territory of Asia…instead of west to more fruitful territories of Greece and ultimately Rome.

Our New Testament is filled with a Gospel from a closed door Mark, a Gospel from Gentile Luke and a whole book recording the early church and missionary journeys written by this same man Luke…and then there are… the letters. Thirteen of which were from Paul’s missionary efforts we see in the Book of Acts. None of them are named Asia, Mysia, or Bithynia. But there are ones to the Philippians, and the Thessalonians, and the Galatians, and the Corinthians, etc.. We have the fruit of the majority of the New Testament to showcase the beauty of closed doors…and what God will do with the one He opens.

Closed Doors are not the problem they often seem to be. They’re actually beautiful for those of us who know them well. For those of us who know that…

The Powerful Beauty of a Closed Door is at least six-fold:

  1. A door that’s closed to one person is a door that’s available to another.
  2. Closed doors prevent us from sacrificing God’s best on the altar of expediency
  3. Closed doors have a way of driving us to our knees in prayer.
  4. Closed doors can be a way of moving us to a place of answers. To doing God’s greater work with greater character on account of the closed doors of life.
  5. Closed doors can cultivate zeal for the open door
  6. The closed door opens our minds to God’s possibilities and causes us to release our pre-conceived ideas, our expectations, and our prejudices in order to see what God is doing.

So we can thank God for unanswered prayers, for the Powerful Beauty of a Closed Door. But one last thing about the Closed Door is to accept it for its beauty and its power. Let me share a little secret that I’ve learned the hard way: when we perceive that God is closing a door in our lives, jamming our feet in the opening because we prefer the open door isn’t God’s way. Going against God’s closing a door only leads to heartache.  Instead, acknowledge that there’s a Powerful Beauty in a Closed Door if we’ll accept it.

Remember when you’re talkin’ to the man upstairs

That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care

Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers

 Or I might add….closed doors.  Let’s pray.








Categories Chapel Worship/News | Tags: | Posted on July 13, 2015

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1 Comment

  1. by Kathy

    On July 14, 2015

    Dear Barbara,
    I am so glad I got to meet you – at the playground, over the fence, at Rockland School!
    You bless me each time we meet, since the very beginning.
    I love this message from you. It it true to my heart in my own life as well!
    Be blessed today, and keep on being a blessing!

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