School of The Rock


Sometimes People Close the Doors

Written by Paul Race

I know that the phrase "When God closes a door, He opens a window" is supposed to be encouraging.  Used to console someone who has missed an opportunity, it usually means something like, “Don't worry, something else will come along, and maybe something better."  And I have no problem at all with that interpretation.

But sometimes it plays into a bigger issue, such as trying to find God's will for your life.  Yes, that's always hard to do.  You pray, and you prepare, and you try things, and if they don't work out, you might try the same sort of thing in another setting, or you might try something else altogether.  And even if nothing fulfills your idea of what God has called you to, you might find yourself "settling for" something entirely different than your original goal, but discovering that God is using you there in ways you never considered.

Unfortunately, some people who use the phrase "God closes a door," routinely take one setback as a sign that you have totally misunderstood God's direction for your life and you should try something else altogether, without ever really examining why this particular circumstance didn't work out the way you thought it should have.

Please be aware that sometimes God doesn't close the door; sometimes people do. Sometimes you were doing the right thing, gaining experience that God wanted you to have, and things went sideways simply because someone who should have been looking out for you put other priorities first.

I may be a little more sensitive to this sort of thing than I should be, but I was saved into a church that preached, among other things, that God had given each Christian one perfect path in life and if you made one wrong decision that took you away from that path, you would never be in the center of God's will again.

So we prayed about our life decisions, as all Christians should, but each prayer contained an element of fear that if we made the wrong decision we would wind up, essentially, never being able to really please God again.

And when we made any major effort or decision that didn’t work out, our leadership had conditioned us to take it as a sign that we hadn’t heard from God at all, and we should repent from following “other voices” and make really, really sure we were hearing from God the next time we tried anything important.  To say we often suffered from “paralysis by analysis” would be an understatement.

Yes, some decisions CAN make it harder for you to serve God in the way you might feel called.  For example, a foreign-missions-oriented youth who marries someone determined never to leave the US will find himself or herself scrambling for an alternative way to serve. 

And sometimes you may make what you consider "all the right moves," but have a family tragedy or debilitating illness or other issue derail your plans. 

But unlike the teaching I received in my early Christian life, God's HIGHEST will for your life is always you making sure you do everything in your power to stay close and to grow closer to Him, and helping those around you to do the same.  And that's something you can do even if what you perceive to be your calling is thwarted.

Frankly, it took me a long time to realize that.  And I went through a number of "ministries" and career positions before I did.

And that's where the question of "who really closed that door?" comes in.  As a 65-year-old with a ridiculously wide range of interests and experiences, I have had plenty of doors closed in my face.  And I have to say that at least some of those doors closed for reasons like nepotism, cronyism, and - sometimes - just plain bad timing (like graduating college in a glutted market that was wide open when I chose my major). 

For much of that time, I was told that every such setback was a sign from God that I wasn't ready or my heart wasn't right or some such.  I learned to bide my time and "bloom where I was planted," and to "make lemonade out of lemons" or whatever other cliches you want to use.  Until an extreme set of circumstances forced me to face the fact that other people with agendas had closed some of those doors and that the SAME PEOPLE were telling me to take it as a sign.

Did I miss opportunities in which I may have done effective work for the Kingdom?  I'm sure I did.  Is God going to hold me accountable for other people's actions that kept me out of those opportunities?  No.  Is God going to wring His hands over me and say, "Well, that didn't work out the way I'd hoped," and stop leading me and giving me opportunities for service?  No.

That said, is God going to ask me, eventually, why I let other people with their own agendas convince me to, effectively "hide my coin in the ground" instead of finding ways to accomplish what I thought was His calling on my life?  Maybe. 

What About the Macedonian Man?

One frequently-used example for the "When God closes a door, He opens a window" "principle" is Paul's second missionary journey. 

Paul the apostle and his coworkers had been traveling west and north across Asia Minor without having any effective ministry to speak of.  Then Paul saw a European man in a dream, asking him to "Come over and help us."  At that place in the map, it's a relatively short boat ride from Asia to Europe, but Paul's boat trip started a chain of events that eventually affected an entire continent.

"See," people say, "God closed the door to Asia and opened a window to Europe."  But God didn't open a window to Europe, He opened a really big door.  And he did it for someone who was already well experienced in the SAME kind of ministry that he would be performing on the new continent.  In fact, Paul was already traveling in that general direction.  If he’d been sitting back in Antioch suffering “paralysis by analysis,” instead of already out doing the best he could, the history of the early church in Europe would have been entirely different.

Yes, this is a great example for how sometimes God will change your direction for you (once you're already active in some ministry, that is).  But I'm not sure that trying to extract a universal spiritual principle from that one event is any more appropriate than, say, setting out sheepskins, Gideon style, to determine God's will for our lives.  

In retrospect, maybe God did close the door to certain ministries, including pastoral ministry for me.  Knowing what I now know about my own shortcomings, He probably protected multiple congregations in the process. And knowing what I now know about church politics, He was probably protecting my family as well.

Sadly, several of the people who were chosen for advancement or opportunities ahead of me thirty or forty years ago have come to sad outcomes, including loss of integrity, loss of faith, and even, in one case, loss of life.  So there is no element of jealousy in this writing.. 

But the point is, when you suffer a setback and people tell you "When God closes a door, He opens a window," they are mostly just trying to make you feel better.  They're certainly NOT telling you that you were on the wrong track and you should completely rethink whatever you were trying to accomplish. 

They're not even telling you that it was God Who closed the door, really.  They're just telling you not to give up.

If one door closes, there is NOTHING wrong with trying other doors.  Or making your own, even if it takes a sledgehammer. 

In the end, what matters is your attitude and your determination to keep finding ways to work for the kingdom, even if sometimes you have to do it in spite of other people.  And - consequently - you'll be all the more experienced and prepared if and when greater opportunities do open up. 

God bless and guide you through your life choices -

Paul Race

On another note:

Soon after I wrote this, I saw this cartoon on Mary Englebreit’s site:


It’s part of a snarky new collection called “Mary Engledark.”  This collection  may not set the “warm and encouraging” emotional tone we’re used to getting from Mary, but it says a lot of things the rest of us have been thinking for a long time.  Go there and buy some stuff so Mary feels better about letting me use this cartoon here.




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