What falls out when I shake a Christian cliché?

“When God closes a door, He opens another.”  This is one of my readily available Christian sayings when I’m in a tough spot, dead end, or beating my head against a door.  I’m more nostalgically attached to it than anything, I suppose.  So, I want to play with it for a minute.  I want to untie it from my baggage and my high school years and see what happens when I take the screws out and take the cover off.  What am I implying when I say it and post it with inspirational photos on status updates and feeds?  I am saying that God cares about me.  I am saying that God has a plan for me.  I am saying that when bad things happen, or when nothing happens, I believe that I should keep pushing and searching for the abundant life that God has for me to love God, love my neighbors, and love myself.  These are admirable faith statements and I think I could stand upon just about any of those for a good amount of time if needed or pressed; however, if I shake this statement around a little bit more, some other implications and loose parts that I don’t know what to do with that fall out onto my proverbial table.

  • I’m saying that God closes doors on me. Whether these are doors that need to be closed or doors that might hurt me or cause me to stray from God, I am saying that God is responsible somewhat for my decisions and my ability to choose the direction and events of my life.
  • I’m implying a distance from God. Much like a stranger God who wishes to measure my reactions and test my behaviors, it seems to be more of an evaluative process than a relationship of intimate spiritual connection.
  • It outlines a linear journey through a series of single doors that we walk through until the end. In reality, I imagine there are countless doors that I have never tried let alone eliminated as faithful options.  I only try the doors that I want to open.  God never opened the door for me to become a professional athlete, a mechanic, or a pharmacy tech.  But, I never tried those doors.
  • It suggests that a closed door is a door I should give up on.

Through these smaller and maybe non-intentional statements, I might begin to define success in life by the doors that are open to me and the doors that I can walk through.  I may  begin to define faithfulness and God’s will by whether something succeeds or not– whether I am able to successfully walk through and seize an opportunity or if it blows up in my face or shuts me out becomes an effective measure of discipleship and faithfulness.  These are my own personal assumptions and concerns, but they worry me.  They worry me, because I am not sure that’s the message and kingdom of God that Jesus was trying to tell me about.

In fact, when Jesus sent the twelve disciples out in the gospel of Matthew, he sent them out across the region and he gave them instructions, “Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave.  As you enter the house, greet it.  If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  If anyone will not welcome you or listen to you words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”  As I read that in light of our message, the disciples were instructed to carry the message of the Kingdom of God whether someone slammed the door in their faces or not.  Jesus didn’t promise them any open doors, but he did promise them that they would be fed, clothed, and provided for regardless of the state of the door in which they found themselves knocking or leaving.  They weren’t evaluated or cared for by the number of doors they successfully navigated; rather, on their willingness to faithfully carry the news and  promise of the kingdom of God to each and every door that they came across.

Also, let’s be honest, some doors in life are hard to open.  The inability to accept that a door or a way is closed off is a strong lesson to learn.  Jesus told a parable about a neighbor who woke up his nearest neighbor at midnight to borrow some food to feed a friend who just dropped by to visit.  The sleeping neighbor did not want to get out of bed to help and readily supplied a convincing list of reasons to not get out of bed.  You can imagine in what tone of voice or what other choice words this neighbor might have shouted through the door at such an hour.  However, Jesus’ lesson at the end of this parable is funny, “Even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence, he will get up and give him whatever he needs.”  In a sense, if this was you, “The neighbor wasn’t willing to get up and get you what you needed just because you’re a friend, but trust me, keep banging on his door and don’t let him sleep, you’ll eventually get the things that you need.”  He ends his lesson with the iconic words, “Ask, and it will be given you, search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Some doors that start off locked just take a little more pounding, knocking, and kicking than others

I look at the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis as the shining example of the phrase, “When God closes a door, He opens another.”  As the favored and somewhat spoiled son of Jacob, Joseph soon found himself literally at the bottom of a pit with his brothers arguing over whether they were going to kill him or sell him into slavery and just say that they killed him.  Through a variety of situations and scandals, Joseph experiences his fair share of doors opening up for him through hard work and divine blessing only to find them shut in his face and seemingly needing to start all over again from square one, working his way from the pit of a hole or dungeon to the position of top administrator and civic official in all of Egypt, subject to only Pharaoh.  Maybe there is more to the story and lesson than Joseph experiencing faithful living through God closing doors and opening others.  What if we measured faithfulness through transformation instead?  How much of a change did he experience from the little pampered spoiled kid that didn’t want to get his clothes dirty and didn’t even know where to find his brothers when they went out in the fields to work to a man responsible for caring for every person in the greatest known kingdom of his day?  Maybe the greater miracle is not that he got to rule and exercise authority and direction over the entire land of Egypt.  Maybe the greater miracle was that this young man, through a life of devastating circumstances, through the fair and unfair situations that he found himself, began to walk in such a way that it didn’t matter what doors opened or closed in front of him, he transformed from a man focused on his own comfort and position to a man devoted to serving and fulfilling the needs of more than just his family and those around him, but an entire kingdom.

“When God closes a door, he opens another.”  There is nothing wrong or hurtful in saying it, but I believe it’s an incomplete picture of God and who God is calling each of us to be.  Our lives are not measured by the amount of doors that we successfully walk through and the amount of doors that we find in the dark, but by persistence for the very heart of God and a deep love for our neighbor and who God has made us to be.  For that, there are no closed doors, there are no windows to squeeze through, and no guessing on what doors lead to the right job or the right relationship.  I can’t imagine God was with Joseph because God needed Joseph on top of the world, and I can’t believe God’s with us because God needs us to walk through the right doors at the right moment.  God is with us because God promised he would be with us guiding us, comforting us, counseling us, reminding us, and loving us in front of every door that we find ourselves regardless of what’s on the other side.