A new year is just another number on the page, but it stands for something much deeper: that we serve a God of fresh starts and new beginnings. I can still recall my first day as a student at Fuller Seminary, thinking about all the possibilities that lay before me-and it fills me with great delight now to remember that day, and the promise of that open door I faced. Now we stand on the threshold of a new year, 2017. What might it hold in store for us? What great opportunities and possibilities might God hold out before us?
I come from a long line of preachers, with a long line of stories about how they each got their "call."
My great-grandfather, Robert Bennett Hall, ran away from an orphanage when he was 12 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 there, or anywhere else. 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 or speaking through a bullhorn telling us what to do.
When the invitation to move from California to Chicago to serve as a pastor at Willow Creek Community Church came back in 1994, 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 my wife, Nancy, and I wrestled with this decision, and 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.
The staggering truth is that this very moment is alive with opportunity. What could you be doing right this moment that you aren't? You could be learning to speak Chinese. You could be training for a marathon. You could be logging on to eHarmony to search for-and possibly meet-the love of your life. You could be telling a friend a secret you've never told another living soul. You could be sponsoring an impoverished child. You could be watching The Bachelor, or buying the world's sharpest knife from an infomercial, or finally making that therapy appointment your spouse has been encouraging you to make for years.
There's an open door.
But wait! There's more. "Open door" isn't a phrase to describe just any opportunity. An open door is an opportunity provided by God, to act with God and for God. In that little passage in Revelation 3 to the church at Philadelphia, the apostle John has a wonderful expression. He writes that what stands before the church is literally an opened door. Jewish writers often avoided writing the word "God" directly, out of reverence. So this is John's way of saying that the opportunity being offered did not come out of the blue. God was at work. What lies before us is more than merely human. Not simply open doors, but opened doors.
And God is in the open-door business. This means a new way of looking at God. He prefers yes to no. He loves adventure and opportunity.
This means a new way of looking at life. I do not have to be afraid of failure. I do not have to live in fear over circumstance. Each moment is an opportunity to look for a door that opens up into God and his presence.
This means a new way of looking at myself. I am no longer limited by my smallness and weakness. The God who opens the door to me is also the God who knows how small and weak I am.
This means a new way of choosing. I no longer have to live under the tyranny of the perfect choice. God can use even what looks like the "wrong" door if I go through it with the right heart. Our lives are filled with doors. What doors will be open for you this year?
Maybe you are in a rut. Your life is safe but not fulfilling. You have a desire to do more or be more.
Maybe you are in transition. People are changing jobs, companies, and whole careers more often than ever before. How do you choose wisely?
Maybe you have a passion. You have traveled overseas and seen a great need, or you have studied a problem and want to make a difference. What's your next step?
Maybe you're facing an empty nest. You suddenly have freedom and time and possibilities that haven't been available in a few decades. What is the best way to spend them?
Maybe you're retiring. But you know the word "retire" isn't in the Bible, and you're not ready for death or shuffleboard. What might God have next for you?
Perhaps you're on the brink of an exciting relationship or thinking about marriage. How do you know if this person is "the one"?
Each year we are presented with new doors. Every morning is an open door; every moment can become one. Some of us see the doors and seize them, and life becomes a divine adventure. Some of us shrink back or fail to see. To fail to embrace the open door is to miss the work God has made for us to do.
If we want to experience more of the Spirit of God in our lives, we need to train ourselves to look for and respond to moments of divine opportunity. Every journey-yours, too-will be filled with uncertainty and mystery and adventure and frustration and surprise. Whether it's at the doors of Fuller Seminary, in the frozen food aisle, or anywhere else.
God told Abram, "Go to the place I will show you." That's where the open door leads. To the place where God guides. God opened a door. Abram went. And the rest is history.
Where will your doors lead in 2017?
John Ortberg is an author, speaker, and the senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (MPPC) in the San Francisco Bay Area. His books include Who Is This Man?, The Life You've Always Wanted, Faith and Doubt, and The Me I Want to Be. John teaches around the world at conferences and churches. He is a Fuller trustee and alumnus (MDiv '85, PhD '86).
Reposted with permission from Fuller Seminary