God’s answer to lockdown

I’m not a hoarder; I regularly clear out clutter. But recently I was intrigued when I unearthed a tiny page of really old sermon notes headed ‘Open and Closed Doors’. I have taken a fresh look at these texts, and invite you to consider, if you will, the practical implications of various biblical doors; some we still need to keep tight shut, and others that should stay wide open.

Here’s the ‘thesis’ in one sentence that indicates what’s what:

[] When we open our personal and corporate lives to Christ anew, and

[] close the closet door to distractions and threats,

[] he will open –

* a door into heaven,

* prison doors here on earth, and

* doors of opportunity for us to bear witness to others and bestow blessings on them.

Lesson 1: Keep ungodly attitudes outside your heart’s door

The very first Bible reference to any subject nearly always conveys a main lesson that will be elaborated in later scriptures. Genesis 4:6-7 is the nub of the tale of the first reported murder. God had indicated his delight in the ascending odours from Abel’s roast lamb. Did the smoke rise heavenward for God to inhale so that ‘the Lord was pleased with the aroma of the sacrifice’ (Genesis 4:3 and 5 – all quotations from The Living Bible unless otherwise indicated)? And did he show his distaste maybe by withholding fire from heaven to consume Cain’s offering, or by blowing smoke back in his face perhaps? We may not be sure how God showed his displeasure, but we don’t need to guess why. Hebrews 11:4 plainly recognises that brother Abel’s righteousness was the fruit of his faith; but God exposed Cain’s utter lack of his sibling’s humble attitude of heart in the presence of his Creator. No wonder then that the Lord warned angry Cain to ‘watch out! Sin’ in its full-grown state of murderous hatred against Abel ‘is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master’ (Genesis 4:7). Tragically, Cain opened his heart to anger – not in its furiously explosive form but in its nurtured, seething, jealous, hateful, plotting style! Of course, we understand through the New Testament revelation that self-control is more than gritted teeth determination, but is a divine attribute – ‘the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control(Galatians 5:22-23).

Lesson 2(a): Close your closet door to find intimacy with your heavenly Father

Jesus put it plainly that: ‘when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you’ (Matthew 6:6). That reward is primarily heart-to-heart intimacy with himself. ‘Come close to God, and God will come close to you.’ And we prepare ourselves to do this with clean hands and pure, undivided hearts (see James 4:7-10). Intimacy should be our prime desire. That word came into the English language from Latin: intus translates as inside/within/inner, of which intimus is its superlative, meaning innermost. This brings to mind a spiritual song of past decades: ‘I want more of Jesus so I’ll give him more of me.’

Lesson 2(b): Open your hearts’ door to the Lord’s presence

Among Christ’s final words to the churches in Asia Minor via ‘revelation to his servant John’ (Revelation 1:1) was: ’turn from your indifference. Look! I stand at the [church] door and knock. If [any one of you] hears my voice and opens the door I will come in [to him], and share a meal together as friends’ (Revelation 3:19-20). Significantly it was ‘Then, as I looked, I saw a door standing open in heaven, and … the voice said, “Come up here and I will show you what must happen after this”’ Revelation 4:1).

Lesson 3: Recognise when God had closed or opened a door

Keep on asking, and … the door will be opened to you’, Jesus assured us in Matthew 7:7. And he is ‘the one who has the key of David. What he opens, no one can close; and what he closes, no one can open (Revelation 3:7).

In Acts chapter 16 we are told by Luke that young Timothy had recently joined Paul’s ministry team. His earliest ventures were missions with them to churches already established and growing. Then, wham! ‘Next Paul and Silas travelled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas’ (Acts 16:6-8).

While staying there Paul had a vision in the night of a man in northern Greece pleading with him for help. A new door had just swung open! Arriving in Philippi the team visited a group of women ‘meeting for prayer’.’Lydia from Thyatira’ was among them and, ‘as she listened to [their message], the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. She was baptized along with other members of her household’ (Acts 16:13-15) Opening her home, she urged the team to stay as her guests.

On their daily visits to the place of prayer’ they were heckled by a demonised lassie. When Paul could stand her constant banter no longer, he exorcised her of a demon. Annoyed at their loss of income, the girl’s owners got Paul and Silas arrested, flogged and thrown into jail. Unable to sleep, they praised the Lord fortissimo at midnight. God acknowledged their zealous singing with an earthquake that burst the prison wide open. But their real open door was that of the jailer’s heart. He was so impressed that the duo had not taken their chance to escape. They preferred to stay and then step through God’s door of gospel opportunity and bring to birth a new church.

In Hosea 2:14-15 (New International Version margin) Israel’s tender-voiced God promised, ‘I will lead her [= Israel] into the desert. … There I will … make the Valley of Trouble [= Achor] a door of hope’. Paul could have quoted this verse meaningfully when he wrote from Western Turkey to the church in Corinth: ‘There is a wide-open door for a great work there, although many oppose me (1 Corinthians 16:9).

Lesson 4: Even at a distance, prayer is a master-key to unlock doors for the gospel

While imprisoned in Rome Paul wrote to the church in far-off Colossae. In his letter he requested their prayer, not particularly for his release but: ‘Be faithful to pray as intercessors who are fully alert and giving thanks to God. And please pray for me, that God will open a door of opportunity for us to preach the revelation of the mystery of Christ, for whose sake I am imprisoned. Pray that I would unfold and reveal fully this mystery, for that is my delightful assignment’ – whether inside or outside of jail (Colossians 4:2-4 The Passion Translation).




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