We might be surprised to find out what we have taken as the wisdom of God is really dialogue from a musical. In the Sound of Music, Maria wants to be a nun. The Reverend Mother tells her she must first go spend a few months as a governess taking care of seven children. She sees this as an unnecessary diversion and pauses on the way out and says, “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.”
When a path to something we pursue or desire is closed, a simple Bible misquote leads us to believe what we want is not cut off from us, but simply requires a workaround to achieve our goal. We can confuse our goals with God’s and decide we just need to circle the house to find the proper entrance to arrive at our destination. The question we should ask is if our goal is one given by God, and if so, what is the door or window he is opening, understanding there is also a real possibility it is not God’s goal at all and no entrance needs to be found.
It is a comforting thought to think our desires are accessible if we can just figure out the proper entrance to the house of God’s will. We want our discouragements to be simple detours so we will still receive our aspirations. However, just like Maria discovers in the musical, there is no window which magically opens when God shuts a door. At times, God closes a door and he commands it shut and no other entrance will be opened to us.
In order to know how to respond to a door the Lord has closed, two proverbs provide precepts to follow. The first precept is found in Proverbs 16:9. “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” The verse is not discouraging planning. In the scriptures there are many examples of plans which God blesses and provides the open doors. It was King David’s habit to make a plan and then bring it before God and ask if the plan was approved, or established on a foundation the Lord approved. When the families of his men were captured, he made a plan to pursue them with his army, but before doing so, he asks God for wisdom: And David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I pursue after this band? Shall I overtake them?” He answered him, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue” (1 Samuel 30:8). This was a door God opened. David planned, he asked, and the way was opened. But then there are closed doors.
The Apostle Paul wanted to spread the Gospel in Asia. God had other plans.
“And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (Acts 16:6-7).
Twice God closes the door to Paul’s plans. Paul does not try another way, he does not look for a window, he makes new plans and continues on. With a new direction God doesn’t bring Paul to Asia or Bithynia, but to a third location, Macedonia.
So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:6-10).
God rewrites Paul’s plans and closes one door, opening another in a whole new direction. Humans plan, but God establishes the steps to take.
A second precept is found in Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” Again, we are not discouraged to plan. In fact, we might have many plans in our minds. The precept reminds us the foundation of where these plans lead is not our own desires, but the purpose of God. No clearer example of this precept can be found than in the story of the cross and the death of Jesus. The chief priests and scribes in Jesus’ day desired to kill him to eliminate his opposition of their leadership. “It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him” (Mark 14:1). They were making plans and would succeed in carrying them out. However, what they did not see was God’s purpose to have Christ die in order that we may be saved. They saw the cross as the end of Christ, Jesus saw it as the key to the power of his Kingdom. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Thus a second precept is set down. People may make all the plans they want, but God’s purpose will always be the outcome in the end.
This returns us to our Bible misquote: When God closes a door, he opens a window. What we are wanting the saying to mean is opportunity is never missed. If I didn’t get the job, the gift, the trip, or wish I put forward by walking through the door, I need only look around for the window God has opened to obtain what I want. But when God closes a door the only truth we are assured of is that God will establish our steps, putting them on a foundation which will lead to the fulfillment of his purposes.
This closed door will lead to one of three directions. God may be redirecting our course to the same goal, but just on another path. God may be asking us to wait and return later to the door. These first two sound much like the misquote, but the quote misses a third truth. God may not want us to have what was behind the door and he has shut it to prevent us from moving that direction. God may have no other way for us to go and fulfill whatever it is we have desired.
God is sovereign, meaning he is in control of our history. Nothing is beyond his power. Either by time or direction, he may just have our destination or purpose on pause. God might be redirecting us for a short time. But it is an error to believe this is always the case. At times a closed door is exactly that, a closed door. God may be leading us in a different direction on purpose. We need to always consider his direction may include keeping us from a certain path.
An argument can be made from Romans 8:28 that the open window is always there. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” The verse sounds like an open window type of verse. If I love God, everything will always turn out for the good. Only there is a bit more to this verse, “called according to his purpose.” There it is again, the precept in which God establishes our steps in the direction that his purpose will come to fruition. This is not a Christmas present verse where we love God and he is somehow obligated to follow our plans. Rather it is because we love God, we trust in the path he takes us on which will result in a good in that is in-line with his purposes.
The truth is God does open and close doors and windows. He does this not to fulfill our plans and desires, but to establish his purposes. Not because he wants us to be miserable, but because his plans are what is best for us. Our happiness is found in his desires and plans. He knows our hearts better than we know ourselves. The door closes. The window might open, it might not. God says no at times, not leaving a yes for us to find around the corner. The quote would be better stated, “When God closes a door, he ‘might’ open a window.”
When the door closes, we should be praying for clarity of direction. Other mature believers can give advice in how they see what is there. Proverbs 11:14 instructs, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” It is possible your plans were biblical in their intent, but not God’s plan for you. You see that as Paul is redirected on his own journey towards Asia. His desire to spread the Gospel was good. God had another location in mind.
As we pray, we should consider other directions which may also be biblical in their purpose and nature. Rather than let redirection disappoint us, we should see the adventure of following Christ and have an anticipation for what his future holds. When Marie found out there was no window back to her dreams, she discovered a new direction. She found a family and a husband she never thought she would have. Her journey was beyond a fictional one of the movie. The movie depicts a true story. She never found the open window into the convent, instead she discovered God giving her a different life.
We should watch for the doors God does open and pray for the wisdom to know where to walk. Pray with the Psalmist, “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name (Psalm 86:11).