God's will has been full of surprises for me. I imagine for you, too. This morning, in my Bible time in Acts 16, I was reminded that God alone opens doors -- and closes them (Rev. 3:7-8). He is in charge. I'm not. Never have been. I doubt that Paul had planned to visit Macedonia when he left Antioch on his second missionary journey with Silas. But the door to Asia was closed. Ditto for Bythinia. Can't go there. We're in Troas. Where now?
Every place I've lived I've been surprised to have lived there. Every ministry I've had I've been surprised to have had it. Every single one. When I was in high school, Biola wasn't on my radar screen. When I was a student at Biola, going to Basel was never in my plan. Teaching Greek was never a goal I had set for myself. I never expected to have spent the last 23 years of my life serving students in North Carolina. I never planned to have a retreat center on a farm in rural Virginia. I never expected to write any of the books that would be published. Not one of them. I never planned on making a trip to Central Asia, let alone 13 of them. I never asked to go to Ethiopia or Ukraine or Armenia or the Middle East.
For what it's worth, here's what I've learned. If the door is closed, don't try to force it open. Let it go. No door closes without God's loving approval. If the door is closing, let it close. Don't keep trying to go into Asia. God has other plans.
Likewise, no door opens without God's direction. As I said, I am amazed at how my life has unfolded. The key is being willing to accept God's will. When you sense the door opening, you walk through it. You don't tell God your agenda. You simply say, "I will go wherever you want me to go." He takes full responsibility for your life.
As for prayer, Scripture is clear: "Call on me and I will answer you" (Jer. 33:3). Jesus said basically the same thing in Matt. 7:7-8. If we could read his words as they were recorded in the language of the New Testament, they might sound something like this:
Keep on asking and you will receive. Seek and seek and seek and you will find. Keep knocking long and hard and the door will be opened to you.
Keep on praying until the Lord shows you the door you should go through. Learn to pray until he speaks. We can keep on praying until he says, "Yes, I will open that door," or "No, I am not going to open it." If he says no, move on.
As I've gotten older, I've been trying to take this advice more seriously myself.