Very rarely in the Bible does God command someone to “Stay.” He opens a door, and then He invites us to walk through it—into the unknown. And how we choose to respond will determine the life we will lead and the person we will become. In fact, to fail to embrace the open door is to miss the work God has made for us to do. In All the Places to Go . . . How Will You Know?, bestselling author John Ortberg opens our eyes to the countless doors God places before us every day, teaches us how to recognize them, and gives us the encouragement to step out in faith and embrace all of the extraordinary opportunities that await. So go ahead—walk through that door. You just might do something that lasts for eternity. It’s a grace to welcome John Ortberg to the farm’s front porch today…
If you had to summarize your life in six words, what would they be?
Several years ago an online magazine asked that question. It was inspired by a possibly legendary challenge posed to Ernest Hemingway to write a six-word story that resulted in the classic “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
The magazine was flooded with so many responses that the site almost crashed, and the responses were eventually turned into a book. Not Quite What I Was Planning is filled with six-word memoirs by writers “famous and obscure.” The memoirs range from funny to ironic to inspiring to heartbreaking:
“One tooth, one cavity; life’s cruel.”
“Savior complex makes for many disappointments.”
“Cursed with cancer. Blessed with friends.” (This one was written not by a wise old grandmother but by a nine-year-old boy with thyroid cancer.)
“The psychic said I’d be richer.” (Actually, this author might be richer if she stopped blowing money on psychics.)
“Tombstone won’t say: ‘Had health insurance.’”
“Not a good Christian, but trying.”
“Thought I would have more impact.”
The challenge of the six-word limitation is its demand to focus on what matters most, to capture briefly something of significance.
Winston Churchill once sent a dessert pudding back to the kitchen because “it lacked a theme.” I don’t want my life to be like Winston’s pudding.
It is striking to think about what the characters of Scripture might write for their six-word memoirs.
I think they would revolve around the intersection of the story of that person’s life with God’s story. They would all be inspired by a divine opportunity that God had set before them, and the response—the yes or no—that shaped their lives.
Abraham: “Left Ur. Had baby. Still laughing.”
Jonah: “‘No.’ Storm. Overboard. Whale. Regurgitated. ‘Yes.’”
Moses: “Burning bush. Stone tablets. Charlton Heston.”
Adam: “Eyes opened, but can’t find home.”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: “King was hot. Furnace was not.”
Noah: “Hated the rain, loved the rainbow.”
Esau: “At least the stew was good.”
Esther: “Eye candy. Mordecai handy. Israel dandy.”
Mary: “Manger. Pain. Joy. Cross. Pain. Joy.”
Prodigal Son: “Bad. Sad. Dad glad. Brother mad.”
Rich Young Ruler: “Jesus called. Left sad. Still rich.”
Zacchaeus: “Climbed sycamore tree. Short, poorer, happier.”
Woman caught in adultery: “Picked up man, put down stones.”
Good Samaritan: “I came, I saw, I stopped.”
Paul: “Damascus. Blind. Suffer. Write. Change world.”
“Not quite what I was planning” is the six-word memoir any of them could have written.
In none of these cases would these characters have been able to predict where their lives would take them.
They were interrupted. They were offered an opportunity or threatened by danger or both. This is how life works.
We are neither the authors nor the pawns of our life stories but rather partners somehow with fate or destiny or circumstance or providence. And the writers of Scripture insist that, at least sometimes, in at least some lives—in any lives where the person is willing—that unseen Partner can be God.
Often in the Bible these opportunities seem to come in unmistakable packages. A burning bush. A wrestling angel. Handwriting on the wall. A fleece. A voice. A dream. A talking donkey like in Shrek.
But there is another picture of God-inspired opportunity sprinkled across Scripture that is easier for me to relate to.
It is a picture of divine possibility that still comes to every life. It is a picture I have loved since my college professor Jerry Hawthorne introduced it to me:
To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: “These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (Revelation 3:7-8, emphasis mine)
A door, Dr. Hawthorne said, is one of the richest images in literature.
It can mean safety (“my door is chained and locked”) or hiddenness (“no one knows what goes on behind closed doors”).
It can mean rejection (“she shut the door in my face”) or rest (young mothers’ favorite room is the bathroom, where they can close the door and be alone).
But in this passage a door means none of those things.
Rather, it is an open door, symbolic of “boundless opportunities. Of unlimited chances to do something worthwhile; of grand openings into new and unknown adventures of significant living; of heretofore unimagined chances to do good, to make our lives count for eternity.”
An open door is the great adventure of life because it means the possibility of being useful to God.
The offer of it, and our response to it, is what lies ahead for each one of us.
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, Soul Keeping, If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get out of the Boat, The Life You’ve Always Wanted and his latest release, All the Places to Go.
Born and raised in Rockford, Illinois, John graduated from Wheaton College and holds a Master of Divinity and doctorate degree in clinical psychology from Fuller Seminary. Prior to joining MPPC, John served as teaching pastor at Chicago’s Willow Creek Community Church. John is a member of the Board of Trustees at Fuller Seminary, serves on the board for the Dallas Willard Center for Spiritual Formation, and is a former board member of Christianity Today International.
All the Places to Go is an invitation to step out in faith and embrace the possibilities God places before us every day. Are you willing? Go ahead. Walk through that door. Yes, yes, yes.