I was planning a hike recently on one of my favorite trails, but when I came to the trailhead I found a chain across the path and the sign, “TRAIL CLOSED DUE TO WEATHER CONDITIONS.” However, there were no weather conditions that warranted closing the trail. It had rained in the area days earlier and the ground was damp in spots, but I’ve hiked that trail many times when it was far muddier.
I concluded that whoever is in charge of taking down such signs hadn’t gotten around to this one yet. So I climbed over the chain and started up the trail. I had brought my lunch and was looking forward to some time alone with God on my favorite bench at the top of the trail. A minute or so into the hike, however, Romans 13:1 flashed into my mind: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”
As I thought about the text, I could find no loopholes for tardy park rangers. Paul didn’t say that we are to submit to the governing authorities only when they’re right. In fact, the authority to which he referred was the emperor who eventually beheaded him. I concluded that I was breaking God’s word so I could spend time with him. Convicted by that irony, I turned around and left the trail. I was still unhappy with the park ranger who closed it, but felt at peace with the Lord.
Where has God closed a trail in your life? What plans have been frustrated? What hopes have not come to pass? You’re not the first or last believer to wonder why our Father sometimes disappoints us. In the midst of Paul’s second missionary journey, his team was “kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia” (Acts 16:6). Later on, “they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to” (v. 7). In writing to the Romans, Paul told the church that he had “planned many times to come to you” but that he had “been prevented from doing so until now” (Romans 1:13).
What he could not know at these frustrating junctures was that the Father had a much bigger plan for him than he could see. Paul’s closed doors in Asia led the apostle to Philippi (Acts 16:9-10), where he introduced the gospel to the European continent. His desire to visit Rome was realized when he arrived as a prisoner, with the result that “boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31).
I read this morning Oswald Chambers’ assertion: “Paul’s secret joy was that God took him, a red-handed rebel against Jesus Christ, and made him a captive, and now that is all he is here for. Paul’s joy was to be a captive of the Lord, he had no other interest in heaven or in earth.” If God is my King, I am his servant, captive to his will and joyful in my obedience.
It’s been said that when the Lord closes a door he opens a window. When he closes one trail, it’s because he has a better one planned for us. If we’ll trust his Spirit to direct our steps and guide our days, our Father will lead us in his “good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2) until he leads us home.