|Publisher:||Tyndale House Publishers|
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All the Places to Go ... How Will You Know?
God Has Placed before You an Open Door. What Will You Do?
By John Ortberg, Jonathan Schindler
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2015 John Ortberg
All rights reserved.
ALL THE PLACES TO GO ... HOW WILL YOU KNOW?
If you had to summarize your life in six words, what would they be?
Several years ago an online magazine asked that question. It was inspired by a possibly legendary challenge posed to Ernest Hemingway to write a six-word story that resulted in the classic "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."
The magazine was flooded with so many responses that the site almost crashed, and the responses were eventually turned into a book. Not Quite What I Was Planning is filled with six-word memoirs by writers "famous and obscure." The memoirs range from funny to ironic to inspiring to heartbreaking:
"One tooth, one cavity; life's cruel."
"Savior complex makes for many disappointments."
"Cursed with cancer. Blessed with friends." (This one was written not by a wise, old grandmother but by a nine-year-old boy with thyroid cancer.)
"The psychic said I'd be richer." (Actually, this author might be richer if she stopped blowing money on psychics.)
"Tombstone won't say: 'Had health insurance.'"
"Not a good Christian, but trying."
"Thought I would have more impact."
The challenge of the six-word limitation is its demand to focus on what matters most, to capture briefly something of significance. Winston Churchill once sent a dessert pudding back to the kitchen because "it lacked a theme." I don't want my life to be like Winston's pudding.
It is striking to think about what the characters of Scripture might write for their six-word memoirs. I think they would revolve around the intersection of the story of that person's life with God's story. They would all be inspired by a divine opportunity that God had set before them and the response—the yes or no—that shaped their lives.
Abraham: "Left Ur. Had baby. Still laughing."
Jonah: "'No.' Storm. Overboard. Whale. Regurgitated. 'Yes.'"
Moses: "Burning bush. Stone tablets. Charlton Heston."
Adam: "Eyes opened, but can't find home."
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: "King was hot. Furnace was not."
Noah: "Hated the rain, loved the rainbow."
Esau: "At least the stew was good."
Esther: "Eye candy. Mordecai handy. Israel dandy."
Mary: "Manger. Pain. Joy. Cross. Pain. Joy."
Prodigal Son: "Bad. Sad. Dad glad. Brother mad."
Rich Young Ruler: "Jesus called. Left sad. Still rich."
Zacchaeus: "Climbed sycamore tree. Short, poorer, happier."
Woman caught in adultery: "Picked up man, put down stones." Good Samaritan: "I came, I saw, I stopped."
Paul: "Damascus. Blind. Suffer. Write. Change world."
"Not quite what I was planning" is the six-word memoir any of them could have written. In none of these cases would these characters have been able to predict where their lives would take them. They were interrupted. They were offered an opportunity or threatened by danger or both. This is how life works. We are neither the authors nor the pawns of our life stories but rather partners somehow with fate or destiny or circumstance or providence. And the writers of Scripture insist that, at least sometimes, in at least some lives—in any lives where the person is willing—that unseen Partner can be God.
Often in the Bible these opportunities seem to come in unmistakable packages. A burning bush. A wrestling angel. Handwriting on the wall. A fleece. A voice. A dream. A talking donkey like in Shrek.
But there is another picture of God-inspired opportunity sprinkled across Scripture that is easier for me to relate to. It is a picture of divine possibility that still comes to every life. It is a picture I have loved since my college professor Jerry Hawthorne introduced it to me:
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." (Revelation 3:7-8, emphasis mine)
A door, Dr. Hawthorne said, is one of the richest images in literature. It can mean safety ("my door is chained and locked") or hiddenness ("no one knows what goes on behind closed doors"). It can mean rejection ("she shut the door in my face") or rest (young mothers' favorite room is the bathroom, where they can close the door and be alone).
But in this passage a door means none of those things. Rather, it is an open door, symbolic of "boundless opportunities. Of unlimited chances to do something worthwhile; of grand openings into new and unknown adventures of significant living; of heretofore unimagined chances to do good, to make our lives count for eternity."
An open door is the great adventure of life because it means the possibility of being useful to God. The offer of it, and our response to it, is the subject of this book.
God Can Open a Door for Anybody
When my dad was soon to turn fifty, my mom asked him abruptly in the kitchen one day, "John, is this all we're going to do for the rest of our lives? Just this same routine of going to work and talking to the same people?" My dad, a very stable CPA who had lived in Rockford, Illinois, his whole life and never thought of living anywhere else, said, "I guess." But he started wondering if there might be something more.
Often an open door to another room begins with a sense of discontent about the room you're already in.
Very unexpectedly, through my wife, my dad was offered a job by a church in Southern California. However, it would have been a pretty radical move—two thousand miles away from the only place he'd ever lived, in a job he wasn't trained for, with people he didn't know. After checking it out, he told the church leaders that it just wouldn't work: the salary was too low, the houses were too expensive, the career shift was too big, the pension was too small, he was too old, and the people were too weird.
It was the right decision, he thought. It would have been too big a risk. He breathed a sigh of relief and went home.
But strange things began to happen after he said no. My dad had a dream one night where it seemed God was saying to him, "John, if you stay on this course, you will neither sow nor reap." My dad was from a very nonemotional, nondemonstrative Swedish church where people might talk to God but never expect God to talk to them. They didn't even talk to each other much. So he didn't make much of the dream.
When he woke up, he read in my mom's j ournal—something else he'd never done—where she had written, "I don't know how to pray for John; I don't think he's doing what God wants him to do."
All this made him not want to go to church, so he stayed home but ended up seeing a TV church service where the preacher said, "If proof is possible, faith is impossible." It struck him that he had wanted proof that if he took this new job, everything would work out okay. But if the preacher was right, such proof would rule out the very thing God wanted most, which was my dad's faith.
So the next week he went back to church. The sermon was on the ABCs of faith: that you must abandon your old life, believe God's promises are trustworthy, and commit to a new journey.
So my dad got on a plane to go back to California, even though the pastor of the California church said they were now looking at other candidates. While on the plane, he opened his Bible and happened to read a passage where God promised people that if they abandoned their idols of gold and silver, the time would come when they would reap and sow.
He more or less took all of this as an open door.
Recently my sister, my brother, and I spent three days together with my parents to celebrate my dad's eightieth birthday. He's retired now, as is my mom, but they moved to that church in California, and both were on staff there for a quarter of a century, and it was the great, risky, thrilling adventure of their lives.
We wrote out eighty cards, eighty memories of life with my dad. It was amazing how many memories came flooding back—my dad's voice when he'd read to us when we were young; the math flash cards he'd use to teach us; the scent of his Aramis cologne I would borrow for dates.
But the most dramatic card in my dad's jar, the decision that divided his life into Before and After, was his choice to go through an open door that he did not initiate, never expected, and felt unprepared for.
"I know that your strength is small," God says to the church at Philadelphia. People in the church may not have been hugely flattered when they read that line. But what a gift to know that open doors are not reserved for the specially talented or the extraordinarily strong. God can open a door for anyone.
God Can Open a Door in Any Circumstance
Viktor Frankl was a brilliant doctor whom the Nazis imprisoned in a concentration camp. They took away his livelihood, confiscated his possessions, mocked his dignity, and killed his family. They locked him in a cell with no way out. A room without an open door is a prison. But he found a door that his guards did not know about: "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
Frankl discovered that doors are not just physical. A door is a choice. He found that when his circumstances had closed every outer door to him, they revealed to him the doors that matter far more—the doors through which a soul can leave fear and enter into courage, leave hatred and enter into forgiveness, leave ignorance and enter into learning. He discovered that his guards were actually far more imprisoned—by cruelty and ignorance and foolish obedience to barbarism—than he was imprisoned by walls and barbed wire.
Some people learn this and become free; some never see it and live as prisoners. There is always a door.
Columbia researcher Sheena Iyengar has found that the average person makes about seventy conscious decisions every day. That's 25,550 decisions a year. Over seventy years, that's 1,788,500 decisions. Albert Camus said, "Life is a sum of all your choices." You put all those 1,788,500 choices together, and that's who you are.
The ability to recognize doors—to discover the range of possibilities that lie before us in every moment and in any circumstance—is a skill that can be learned. It brings the possibility of God's presence and power into any situation on earth. People who study entrepreneurs say they excel in something called "opportunity alertness." They look at the same circumstances as everyone else, but they "notice without search opportunities that have hitherto been overlooked." They are "alert, waiting, continually receptive to something that may turn up." Perhaps there is a kind of "divine opportunity alertness" we can cultivate.
Sometimes the opportunity doesn't involve going to a new place; it means finding a new and previously unrecognized opportunity in the old place. In a sense, this is the surprising story of the nation of Israel. Israel thought it was on a journey to national greatness, with a powerful army and abundant wealth. Instead, it knew exile and oppression. But with the closed door of national greatness came an open door to a kind of spiritual greatness. Israel changed the spiritual and moral life of the world. And while nations like Assyria and Babylon and Persia have come and gone, Israel's gift to humanity remains.
Open doors in the Bible never exist just for the sake of the people offered them. They involve opportunity, but it's the opportunity to bless someone else. An open door may be thrilling to me, but it doesn't exist solely for my benefit.
An open door is not just a picture of something good. It involves a good that we do not yet fully know. An open door does not offer a complete view of the future. An open door means opportunity, mystery, possibility—but not a guarantee.
God doesn't say, "I've set before you a hammock."
He doesn't say, "I've set before you a detailed set of instructions about exactly what you should do and exactly what will happen as a result."
An open door doesn't mean all will be pleasant and smooth on the other side. One of those six-word memoirs looks like Jesus could have written it: "Savior complex makes for many disappointments." An open door is not a blueprint or a guarantee.
It's an open door. To find out what's on the other side, you'll have to go through.
God Can Open Doors Very Quietly
God often does not tell us which door to choose. This is one of God's most frustrating characteristics.
Many years ago my wife, Nancy, and I stood before an open door. We faced a choice to move across the country—from California, which was Nancy's lifelong home, to a church called Willow Creek near Chicago. It was a very difficult decision between going to that church in Chicago and staying in California. We were driving on the decision-making journey the same day, on the same freeway, that O. J. Simpson made his famous low-speed escape run in his white Bronco.
I leaned toward Chicago because I thought if I didn't go there, I'd always wonder what might have been. (We're marked by the doors we go through and by the ones we don't.) Nancy leaned toward California because the church in Chicago was in Chicago. We thought and prayed and talked and talked some more. Choosing a door is rarely easy. I was haunted by the fear of getting it wrong. What if God wanted me to choose door #1 but I chose door #2? Why couldn't he have made the choice plainer?
We do not always get to know which door we're supposed to go through. Jesus says to the church in Philadelphia, "I have placed before you an open door" (Revelation 3:8). But he does not specify which door it is. I can only imagine their questions. How will we know? Are we supposed to vote on it? What if we go through the wrong one?
This has been an ironic and often painful part of my life. God opens doors but then doesn't seem to tell me which ones I'm supposed to go through.
I come from a long line of preachers, with a long line of stories about how they got their "call." My great-grandfather, Robert Bennett Hall, ran away from an orphanage when he was twelve and ended up working for a shopkeeper and marrying his daughter. One day he was sweeping out the store when he got the call, put down his broom, went home, and told my great-grandmother that he'd been called to be a preacher.
My brother-in-law, Craig, was working at a grocery store when he received what was to him an unmistakable summons to become a pastor. He got his call in the frozen foods section.
I never got a call—at least not one like that. I used to hang out in grocery stores sometimes, but I never got a call. It took me many years to understand that God may have very good reasons to leave choices up to us rather than sending us e-mails telling us what to do.
When the invitation to go to Chicago came, I faced the same dilemma. If pastors change churches, they're supposed to have a clear call—especially if the new church is bigger than the old one. Pastors will usually say things like "I didn't want to go anywhere, but I got this strange sense of unrest in my spirit, and I had to obey." Pastors almost never say stuff like "This new church is way bigger than my old church, and I am super excited about that."
But I had thoughts like that. I knew they weren't my best thoughts, or my only thoughts, but they were in the mix. And I had to struggle with them. I think maybe that's part of why God works through open doors. They help us struggle with our real dreams and motives.
So Nancy and I wrestled with this decision. As we were considering what to do, my friend Jon gave me a book that had recently been written and which I had never read. It was by a man named Dr. Seuss, whom I had never consulted for career guidance. He had written:
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose....
Oh, the places you'll go! ...
Except when you don't.
Because, sometimes, you wont.
Oh, the places you'll go. This was the promise that came to all those characters in the Bible. This is the promise of the God of the open door.
I think Dr. Seuss's words resonate so deeply with thousands of graduates every year because what matters is not a guarantee about the outcome. What matters is the adventure of the journey. That's what struck me when I first read the book.
I thought about my parents and the great adventure of their lives in moving from Illinois to California. I thought about how sharp my dad's regret was when he said the safe no and how keen his joy was when he said a risky yes.
We ultimately decided to go to Chicago. We got no divine direction or supernatural indicators as far as we could tell. But we chose it because the adventure of yes seemed more alive than the safety of no.
Very rarely in the Bible does God come to someone and say, "Stay." Almost never does God interrupt someone and ask them to remain in comfort, safety, and familiarity. He opens a door and calls them to come through it.
Excerpted from All the Places to Go ... How Will You Know? by John Ortberg, Jonathan Schindler. Copyright © 2015 John Ortberg. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 All the Places to Go… How Will You Know? 1
Chapter 2 Open-Door People and Closed-Door People 21
Chapter 3 No Mo FOMO: Overcoming the Fear of Missing Out 57
Chapter 4 Common Myths about Doors 79
Chapter 5 Door #1 or Door #2? 103
Chapter 6 How to Cross a Threshold 133
Chapter 7 What Open Doors Will Teach You-About You 161
Chapter 8 The Jonah Complex 181
Chapter 9 Thank God for Closed Doors 211
Chapter 10 The Door in the Wall 231
About the Author 273