Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, reminds us that God has a plan for our lives, that God has, in fact, prepared something for us that is beyond our wildest imaginings, something outside our experiences that cannot even occur to us. After 40 plus years in one ministry or another, after innumerable conversations with friends, acquaintances, students, parents and other teachers,priests and ministers, I have come to realize that God’s plan for us is in the here and now as well as in the afterlife. Furthermore, because God’s plan is from all eternity and is so overwhelmingly wonderful and perfect for us, our lives offer us many opportunities to further embrace and live that plan. (This is only logical, if you think about it!) The opportunities for growth and maturation and genuine happiness, however, are often open doorways that we resist entering. Sometimes we delay walking through the doors as long as possible before surrendering. Other times, we simply refuse to walk through voluntarily, and we miss the blessings God has intended for us. Why is this so? As I thought about this and meditated on my own life, I came up with four reasons why we resist God’s open doors.
First, God’s opportunities are often disguised as problems. The external appearance turns us off because the problem seems too extreme or too far removed from what we think of when we think of following God’s plan. Sometimes we are literally surrounded by insurmountable opportunities—insurmountable because we don’t know where to begin to address the challenges.
Too often what we perceive as obstacles—not enough money, not enough friends, not enough community connections, not enough energy to see the job to its conclusion—are God’s opportunities in disguise. We shouldn’t miss an opportunity just because it’s wearing a disguise and looks like a problem. We need to look beyond appearances and beyond our own expectations and biases.
The second reason we resist opportunities sent by God is due to the fact that opportunities are sometimes time sensitive. When Walt Disney was working on the planning and development of Disneyland, he offered one of his good friends the opportunity to buy up the surrounding land. Disney knew that the land’s value would skyrocket once the project became successful, but the friend wasn’t so convinced. He told Disney that he would “think about it.” Because Disney needed an answer quickly, his friend lost the opportunity, not to mention tremendous wealth besides. Unlike human investment opportunities, which are often a once-in-a-lifetime event, if we fail to seize an opportunity God puts before you, it does not mean that God’s plan for you is over or that you will never again have an opportunity to get yourself in the flow. But it does mean that someone else may be given the same opportunity.
Remember what Jesus told the Jewish leaders when they failed to grasp that He was their long-awaited messiah. “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it” (Matthew 21:43). As a result of Israel’s reluctance to walk through the door of opportunity opened to them, God turned to the Gentiles and offered them the Gospel. So we need to be attentive and not allow our hesitation to become procrastination.
Third, opportunities are often tested by opposition. Some people have gotten halfway through an open door and turned around when they encountered opposition. They thought, “We must not have heard God correctly. This opposition can’t be from God.” St. Paul reminds us later on in this same letter to the Corinthians that we should expect resistance, that everything will not go smoothly for us, that going through the door of opportunity does not mean instant gratification. If Paul anticipated opposition when going through God’s open doors, we should too (1 Corinthians 16:8-9). Opposition can actually be a sign that you heard God correctly, but that your actions have disturbed the balance of shadow and light in the world, and the shadow side doesn’t like that at all.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul and Barnabas warned the churches in Asia Minor, “We must go through many tribulations to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Entering the kingdom does not refer primarily to enjoying eternal salvation, but in particular it means experiencing all the blessings God has in store for those who love Him in the here and now (1 Corinthian 2:9). God desires abundance and the fullness of every good gift for every one of us, so we can be sure that these blessings begin immediately when we open ourselves to them. The key, then, is not to overlook a blessing-filled life by trying to have a problem-free life.
Last, opportunities are often missed because of our own fear. Personally, I can’t think of a God-given opportunity I ever received without a few sleepless nights and a queasy stomach. Far greater and holier people than myself have reported the same thing on their spiritual journey. Even Mother Theresa records in her autobiography, how alone she felt and fearful that God had abandoned her completely. This dark night of the soul tried her faith in God for a very long time, but eventually she found peace by surrendering to God and by continuing on the path. She may have felt that God was no longer with her, but there was no doubt that she never let go of God’s hand.
All opportunities and all open doors have one thing in common: they focus on the future. When we’re looking toward the future, we have two choices—to walk in faith or to walk in fear. God has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7), but He has promised to go with us wherever we go in His will (Hebrews 13:5). God does not bring tragedy and pain into our lives, but God can use both of these to our benefit. God rejoices when life gets us to the place where we can admit that our own strength and cleverness are not sufficient. It is precisely at this point that God’s doors open in a powerful way, as the Book of the Apocalypse reminds one of the churches, “for you have…little strength” the door is open wide. As Paul reminds us, God’s power is perfected and made evident most clearly through human weakness.
Right at this moment, God is reaching out to us, trying to open a door to our best and brightest future. It may be that for some of us, that open door is making us nervous and frightened. Others might feel weak and not up to the task God is asking of them. That’s perfect! That means we are exactly where we need to be in order to see clearly the door God is opening for us. It also means we are more likely to trust God as we walk over the threshhold into that uncertain future. After living in fear and hesitation for so long, simply trusting God and letting go will be a welcome relief.