As I Was Saying

Open Doors

As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

I am starting a theological study center in Bulgaria. I traveled there last summer and was blown away by the faithfulness of the believers I met. I joined a dozen pastors on a small hill overlooking their city, and we prayed. These pastors have been praying for over 20 years. They are praying for their country—but, unexpectedly, they are also praying for Turkey. This is surprising because Bulgaria was under the Ottoman yoke for 500 years. Only the Spirit of God can cause this kind of love. I stood there, inspired, filled with love. I sensed a pleasing aroma of incense rising to the throne of God.

When I came home, I settled into the familiar routine—a new school year, work, and the hustle of life. Feeling a lack of time, I asked God for a sign. Did God really want me to spearhead a study center in Bulgaria? After all, I live in Manhattan, 4,869 miles from Varna, Bulgaria. I told God I would do it if the door was open; I asked for confirmation.

A few weeks later, I sat across from a woman on a school trip and we began to chat. As we talked about spiritual matters, I told her about the study center. She listened, and not much else happened. A few days later, she emailed me and said that her husband had translated the works of the very person in whose honor the study center would be dedicated—Gordon Fee. I recognized this as the confirmation I’d been looking for. Still, the idea of a study center felt heavy. So I asked God for another sign.

A week later, I was introduced to a professor of Early Christianity, who happens to be Bulgarian. Since then we have become good friends. She emailed me a list of Bulgarian phrases transliterated into English for a group of New Yorkers headed out to Bulgaria next week. Moreover, she will join us in Varna to bless the work there. Confirmation two.

By this time, I was encouraged to ask God for more. More than anything, I wanted Gordon Fee’s blessing and the blessing of his family. After a few weeks, I received an email that they are all in. Moreover, Gordon’s son, Craig Fee, agreed to serve on the board. To make a long story short, God gave many more confirmations, such as our first donation, which was exactly the amount we needed to get permission to translate Gordon Fee’s first book; the right board, and the perfect partners in Bulgaria. My point is simple: God opens doors.

But here is the million-dollar question: How do we find those doors?

In Revelation 3:8, God tells the beleaguered church of Philadelphia that an open door awaits them. What he means by such language is an opportunity for ministry (Acts 14:27; 1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:3). An open door equates to leaps in fruitful ministry. So how did the Philadelphians find an open door? Revelation 3:8 offers insights. Here is my translation: “I know your works; behold, I have given you an open door, which no one is able to shut, because you have little power and you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”

If we follow the logic of this passage, God offers two reasons why he gave this open door to the Philadelphians. First, the church had learned the difficult lesson of being weak in themselves. Because the church had little power, God has opened a door. Herein lies the paradox: God opens doors not for those who are strong, creative, or self-sufficient but for those who have little power.

Practically speaking, this insight makes perfect sense. When we feel strong, we rarely look for help. We believe that we can accomplish our goals through hard work. As we see this pattern repeatedly, we learn to open our own doors. This is not a bad place to be; for God has ordained the ends as well as the means. However, only God can change human hearts. For ministries to take off, God has to open doors.

It is only when we are brought low that we seek help. The church of Philadelphia was in such a position. Not only had the city faced a massive earthquake in a.d. 17, but the church also experienced persecution. Church members were put outside the city and marginalized socially and economically. From this vantage point of weakness, God reminded the church that an open door awaited them. They were finally weak enough to do something significant.

Second, the Philadelphians, though externally weak, tenaciously held onto God’s Word. When they had to pay a price for their faithfulness, they paid. This point is all the more remarkable because the majority of the churches, even much bigger ones in Asia Minor, made compromises. It is no wonder that this church was one of two that God unreservedly commended. If God is the one who holds the keys of David, then it behooves us to seek the doors he opens.

So where do we find our own opportunities for ministry? Discerning open doors starts in prayer. Prayer is the posture of being weak. We are saying that there are things far too big and powerful for human measures. Waiting is also involved. As Isaiah reminds us: “Those who hope on the Lord will renew their strength.” The Israelites in the wilderness furnished a good example. They only moved when God moved; the rest of the time they were encamped around God. Finally, submission is necessary. We need to be willing to go through the doors that are out of our comfort zones, doors that are far away, foreign, even undesirable. When we pray, wait, and go, then we will begin to see the many doors that are open to us.

We can also simply look around. What has God deposited in one area for another to bring blessing? What partnerships can be formed? Within my context, I know churches that have so many worship leaders that there is a rotation, while many others are struggling to find even one musician. Why not share? Likewise, I know congregations that have numerous able preachers who rarely get an opportunity to preach; meanwhile, others are begging for preachers.

One notable lack I’ve repeatedly seen in major cities is the presence of seniors. I believe that there is a huge open door for godly retirees to move into urban centers for mission trips to share their lives with younger believers. Those who do so will have more ministry opportunities than time—marriage counseling, life lessons, stability, and mentorship opportunities. If a few congregations were to invest even in one small condo, create a rotation system, and partner with urban churches, the door would be opened for an urban ministry that is cost effective and has great longevity.

When push comes to shove, the bottleneck is our vision. By the grace of God, let us be open to finding and walking through the open doors of the one who holds the keys of David. Fruitful ministry awaits us on the other side.

About the Author

John Lee is the head of the Upper School at The Geneva School of Manhattan, a Christian classical school. He also serves with Ben Spalink at City Grace Church in the East Village of New York City.

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