doorA story that I think is really instructive about how we as believers can be like when it comes to seeking God’s will is a tale I once heard told by the Christian entertainer Mark Lowry. He was single at the time, and said that he had had three different women write to him and tell him that God had told them to marry him! His comment was that God must have quite a sense of humor to tell three different women that He wanted them to marry him.

Although Mr. Lowry’s way of presenting the story was amusing, I couldn’t help but find it rather sad as well, for I know that there are believers around me who act in the same way. Oh, they might not act quite as extremely as writing to some popular figure they’ve never even met and telling him that God told them to marry him. But the fact is that believers often do go to what, when we get right down to examining it, are ridiculous extremes and highly unreliable methods for trying to determine the will of God.

One thing that is always emphasized in Christian circles is seeking God’s will. Many pastors preach this from the pulpit, and many lay people are exercised in their spirits that this is something that they need to be doing. But the fact is that our teachers offer us very little help in the way of telling us exactly how to do this. The commonly suggested formula is to “pray and seek God’s will,” but very little is said about how God might answer such prayers. Thus, the actual “answering” part is left up to the imagination of those hearing the message. Because of this lack of direction, many become very inventive in seeking the ways that God might be answering such prayers.

One method I have heard people suggest for seeking God’s answer to prayers concerning His will is the “opening and closing doors” idea. This idea states that if we pray and ask God’s will about something, and if He then makes it possible for us to do what we were praying about, then that is an “open door” and an answer from God that we should do what we were unsure of. On the other hand, if it becomes impossible for us to take the step we were contemplating, then that was God “closing a door,” and that means that we should not go that way.

This idea seems quite reasonable, and certainly no one can argue against the idea that if God really wanted you to do something, then you would not run into a “closed door” along the way. So “closed doors” might indeed be a sign of God’s leading away from something. But what about the opposite? Does an open door really mean that we can know this is what God wants for us? Just because I am able to do something doesn’t always mean that I should do it. Relying on open and closed doors without using the brain God has given me to determine if what I am considering is going to be good, beneficial, and wise certainly does not seem like a good way of going about making life choices.

This idea of open and closed doors is probably based on some of the comments Paul makes about his ministry. In I Corinthians 16:8-9, Paul says, “But I will tarry in Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” In II Corinthians 2:12, he says, “Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord…” In Colossians 4:3 he states, “Meanwhile praying for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains.”

A similar passage is found in Revelation 3:8, where a last reference to an open door is made. “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.”

These are all the references I could find in the New Testament where a door being open is used of a believer having an opportunity like this. Yet notice that all of these doors have to do with those who were doing God’s work or preaching the gospel. There is no mention of God opening doors for whom a person marries, or what job a person gets, or what house a person buys, or any of the multitude of other situations that many people look to God for answers for. Moreover, there are no corresponding references to God “closing doors” at all.

When reading of this sort of situation in the life of Paul or in the future in Revelation, we need to remember that these people are living at a time when God has a specific plan He wants them to do. Paul had a specific game-plan God had given him for carrying out his work in carrying His gospel to the world. As such, every action Paul did was directed and led by God. Can we really say, though, that God has such a detail-by-detail plan for our lives, especially when many of the things we look to Him for guidance about have more to do with helping our lives “run smoothly” than they do with spreading the gospel? It seems that the idea of open and closed doors is on somewhat shaky ground when it comes to actual Biblical evidence.

But leaving the “open and closed doors” idea behind, some people come up with far more questionable ways of seeking answers from God. One such method is the seeking of some kind of sign from Him about which way to go. These signs often bear great resemblance to “good omens” or “incredible coincidences” which people take as being the hand of God. But are they really?

The fact is that, when we really want God to answer in a certain way, it is easy to convince ourselves that He is answering in that way even when He is not. We can look for “incredible coincidences” or “assurances” which we use as “good omens” to tell us that what we want is correct, even though God is quietly warning us that we’re headed in the wrong way. It is all too easy to put words in God’s mouth. Like those three women in the story Mark Lowry told, we can always find an omen to justify our own selfish desires if we wish. Then, if we get our way and yet things don’t go right afterwards, we can always blame God for not steering us in the right direction! But the idea that omens or coincidences are the way we determine what God wants us to do is foreign to the Scriptures.

Many use Judges 6:36-40 and Gideon’s sign of the fleece as evidence that looking for signs like this is something that we can do. But the fact is that Gideon was a man whom God had chosen as judge and leader of His people. As such, Gideon had a right to ask for such a sign. Yet even he was not asking God for a sign about whom he should marry or where he should buy a house, but rather about whether or not the message he had been given that he would rescue God’s people was really God’s will. Our own petty concerns hardly seem to match up to the importance of this, no matter how crucial they might seem to us personally. And the fact is that when we come right down to it, in I Corinthians 1:22, Paul tells us that “Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom.” What God has given us as non-Jews is the wisdom found in His Word. He does not give us signs today, even if we seek Him.

I believe that the way we really need to take in order to find the answer from God about His will in our lives is to read His Word. Many there are who seek God’s will in the specific situations of their lives who don’t even know God’s general will for everyone’s lives as it is set forth in the Scriptures! Why should He reveal to us the specific when we don’t even take the time to find out the general which He has written so clearly in His Book? This seems like putting the cart before the horse, and is probably the reason why many find themselves so lost and clueless in seeking what God would have them to do.

But what if we want more specific direction about circumstances? Well, we can seek omens or open and closed doors if we wish. But, if we instead will study the Word, then I believe God will give us wisdom to handle situations as they arise and will help us to find the best path. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, Who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” In these sorts of situations, it is important to “be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) If we will just be still, trust in Him, and listen to what He has to say in His Word, He will reveal His will to us. We do not have to seek for omens. We don’t even have to rely on open and closed doors. Instead, we can use the wisdom found in His Word to guide us at every turn.

And, finally, we can pray. Then, when we do make our decisions, we can be at peace that, no matter what, God will aid us with the consequences. I leave you with these great words of the Holy Spirit in Philippians 4:6-7. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”